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History, The Colonial Period

Juan Vasquez, rich coast, Costa Ricans, subsistence farming, New Spain

Christopher Columbus sailed along Costa Rica’s Caribbean shore in 1502 and gave it its name (“rich coast”). Spanish conquest, however, came later than in most of the rest of Central America, delayed by the hostility of the natives and the absence of obvious wealth. After Juan de Cavallon led the first successful colonizers into Costa Rica in 1561, Juan Vasquez de Coronado followed from 1562 to 1565 with the establishment of Cartago and other settlements in the central valley, where most of the population is still concentrated. Within the kingdom of Guatemala (in the viceroyalty of Mexico, called New Spain) from 1570 forward, Costa Rica was principally a small dependency of Nicaragua throughout its colonial period. Such circumstances as its remoteness from Guatemala City and its lack of wealth allowed it to develop with less direct interference and regulation than the other provinces of Central America. Costa Rica’s relative obscurity gave it some of its unique characteristics. The Europeans were unable to subjugate a sedentary native population, nor could they afford to import African slaves, as was done in areas of more apparent commercial agricultural or mining potential. Costa Ricans consequently turned to subsistence farming on small land grants, without the extremes of wealth and poverty that characterized so much of Latin America. Government and church officials were fewer than in the centers of authority and production. Thus, Costa Rica played only a minor role in the kingdom of Guatemala, and it developed to a large degree apart from the mainstream of Latin American history. It was first in the late 18th century, when Spanish emphasis on commercial agriculture led to the growth of tobacco as a major export, that the colony became of some importance to the Guatemalan authorities.



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