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In 1821 Spain granted independence to all of its Central American colonies, including Costa Rica. The first head of state, Juan Mora Fernandez, took office in 1824. He declared San Jose the capital.Throughoutthe 1800s, a series of strong dictators ruled Costa Rica.They gained power by using force. However, in 1889 Costa Rica became a democracy. For the first time, the people truly elected their own leader.
(1831-1856) In 1856 Juan Santamaria became a national hero when he helped defeat an army from Nicaragua. He ran towards the building where enemy troops were hiding and set it on fire. The troops shot at Santamaria, and he died of his wounds on 11 April. But his brave action saved the Costa Rican troops. Today, 11 April is a national holiday honouring Juan Santamaria.
National flag and emblem
In 1848 Costa Rica adopted its flag and emblem. The Costa Rican fl (see page 46) has five horizontal stripes in blue, white, and red with the national seal in the centre. The words "Republica de Costa Rica" su rrou nd the national seal.
Coffee brings changes
In the 1800s, Costa Ricans began growing coffee beans. By the 1840s, Costa Rica was sending high quality coffee beans overseas. The economy boomed. So did the population. It increased from about 100,000 in 1850 to 250,000 by 1900.The cities grew, too, and there was more entertainment available, such as ice rinks, circuses, and bullfights.
In 1940, Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia became president of Costa Rica. Calderon worked to improve conditions for workers by establishing a minimum wage, unemployment benefits, and paid holidays. He also founded the University of Costa Rica.
But when he sought re-election in 1948, he lost. His defeat led to a civil war between Calderon's supporters and followers of Jose Maria ("Don Pepe") Figueres Ferrer. Don Pepe, who was supported by the governments of Guatemala and Cuba, seized the cities of Cartago and Puerto Limon. Calderon gave in before Don Pepe could take over the capital city, San Jose. The war lasted 40 days. About 2,000 people died.
Don Pepe became one of Costa Rica's most important leaders. He extended voting rights to women and black people. Under his leadership, Costa Ricans adopted a new constitution and abolished the army.
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