1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Costa Rica

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COSTA RICA, a republic of Central America, bounded on the N. by Nicaragua, E. by the Caribbean Sea, S.E. and S. by Panama, S.W., W. and N.W. by the Pacific Ocean. (For map, see Central America.) The territory thus enclosed has an area of about 18,500 sq. m., and may be roughly described as an elevated tableland, intersected by lofty mountain ranges, with their main axis trending from N.W. to S.E. It is fringed, along the coasts, by low-lying marshes and lagoons, alternating with tracts of rich soil and wastes of sand.

Physical Description.—The northern frontier, drawn 2 m. S. of the southern shores of the river San Juan and of Lake Nicaragua, terminates at Salinas Bay on the Pacific; its southern frontier skirts the valley of the Sixola or Tiliri, strikes south-east along the crests of the Talamanca Mountains as far as 9° N., and then turns sharply south, ending in Burica Point. The monotonous Atlantic littoral is unbroken by any large inlet or estuary, and thus contrasts in a striking manner with the varied outlines of the Pacific coast, which includes the three bold promontories of Nicoya, Golfo Dulce and Burica, besides the broad sweep of Coronada Bay and several small harbours. The Gulf of Nicoya, a shallow landlocked inlet, containing a whole archipelago of richly-wooded islets, derives its name from Nicoya, an Indian chief who, with his tribe, was here converted to Christianity in the 16th century. It is famous for its purple-yielding murex, pearls and mother-of-pearl. The Golfo Dulce has an average depth of 100 fathoms and contains no islands. Two volcanic Cordilleras or mountain chains, separated from one another by the central plateau of San José and Cartago, traverse the interior of Costa Rica, and form a single watershed, often precipitous on its Pacific slope, but descending more gradually towards the Atlantic, where there is a broad expanse of plain in the north-east. The more northerly range, in which volcanic disturbances on a great scale have been comparatively recent, extends transversely across the country, from a point a little south of Salinas Bay, to the headland of Carreta, the southern extremity of the Atlantic seaboard, also known as Monkey Point. Its direction changes from south-east to east-south-east opposite to the entrance into the Gulf of Nicoya, where it is cut into two sections by a depression some 20 m. wide. At first it is rather a succession of isolated volcanic cones than a continuous ridge, the most conspicuous peaks being Orosi (5185 ft.), the four-crested Rincon de la Vieja (4500), Miravalles (4698) and Tenorio (6800). In this region it is known as the Sierra de Tilaran. Then succeed the Cerros de los Guatusos, a highland stretching for more than 50 m. without a single volcano. Poas (8895), the scene of a violent eruption in 1834, begins a fresh series of igneous peaks, some with flooded craters, some with a constant escape of smoke and vapour. From Irazú (11,200), the culminating point of the range, both oceans and the whole of Costa Rica are visible; its altitude exceeds that of Aneto, the highest point in the Pyrenees, but so gradual is its acclivity that the summit can easily be reached by a man on horseback. Turialba (10,910), adjoining Irazú on the east, was in eruption in 1866. Its name, though probably of Indian origin, is sometimes written Turrialba, and connected with the Latin Turris Alba, “White Tower.” The more southerly of the two Costa Rican ranges, known as the Cordillera de Talamanca, rises south of the Gulf of Nicoya, and extends midway between the two oceans towards the south-east. It follows exactly the curve of the mainland, and is continued into Panama, under the name of the Cordillera de Chiriqui. Its chief summits are Chirripo Grande (11,485), the loftiest in the whole country, Buena Vista (10,820), Ujum (8695), Pico Blanco (9645) and Rovalo (7050), on the borders of Panama. Throughout the volcanic area earthquakes and landslides are of frequent occurrence.

The narrowness of the level ground between the mountains and the sea renders almost impossible the formation of any navigable river. The most important streams are those of the Atlantic seaboard, notably the San Juan, which drains Lake Nicaragua. Issuing from the lake within Nicaraguan territory, the San Juan has a course of 95 m., mostly along the frontier, to the Colorado Mouth, which is its main outfall, and belongs wholly to Costa Rica. Its chief right-hand tributaries are the San Carlos and Sarapiqui. The Reventazon, or Parismina, flows from the central plateau to the Caribbean Sea; despite the shortness of its valley, its volume is considerable, owing to the prevalence of moist trade-winds near its sources. Six small streams and one large river, the Rio Frio, flow across the northern frontier into Lake Nicaragua. On the Pacific coast all the rivers are rapid and liable to sudden floods. None is large, although three bear the prefix Rio Grande, “great river.” The Tempisque enters the Pacific at the head of the Gulf of Nicoya, and tends to silt up that already shallow inlet (5-10 fathoms) with its alluvial deposits. The Rio Grande de Tarcoles also enters the gulf, and the Rio Grande de Pirris and Rio Grande de Terrabis or Diquis flow into Coronada Bay. The Rio Grande de Tarcoles rises close to the Ochomogo Pass and the sources of the Reventazon, at the base of Irazú; and the headwaters of these two streams indicate precisely the depression in the central plateau which severs the northern from the southern mountains.

Costa Rica is not differentiated from the neighbouring lands by any very marked peculiarities of geological formation, or of plant and animal life. Its geology, flora and fauna are therefore described under Central America (q.v.).

Climate.—Owing to the proximity of two oceans, and the varied configuration of the surface of Costa Rica, an area of a few square miles may exhibit the most striking extremes of climate; but, over the entire country, it is possible to distinguish three climatic zones—tropical, temperate and cold. These generally succeed one another as the altitude increases, although the heat is greater at the same elevation on the Pacific than on the Atlantic coast. It is, however, less oppressive, as cool breezes prevail and damp is comparatively rare. The tropical zone comprises the coast and the foothills, and ranges, in its mean annual temperature, from 72° F. to 82°. In the San José plateau (3000-5000 ft.), which is the most densely populated portion of the temperate zone, the average is 68°, with an average variation for all seasons of only 5°. Above 7500 ft. frosts are frequent, but snow rarely falls. The wet season, lasting during the prevalence of the south-west monsoon, from April to December, is clearly defined on the Pacific slope. It is curiously interrupted by a fortnight of dry weather, known as the Veranillo de San Juan, in June. Towards the Atlantic the trade-winds may bring rain in any month. Winter lasts from December to February. The normal rainfall is about 80 in., but as cloud-bursts are common, it may rise to 150 in. or even more. Rheumatism on the Atlantic seaboard, and malaria on both coasts, are the commonest forms of disease; but, as a whole, Costa Rica is one of the healthiest of tropical lands.

Population.—In 1904, according to the official returns, the total population numbered 331,340; having increased by more than one-fourth in a decade. Spanish, with various modifications of dialect, and the introduction of many Indian words, is the principal language; and the majority of the inhabitants claim descent from the Spanish colonists—chiefly Galicians—who came hither during the 16th and subsequent centuries. The percentage of Spanish blood is greater than in the other Central American republics; but there is also a large population of half-castes (ladinos or mestizos) due to intermarriage with native Indians. The resident foreigners, who are mostly Spaniards, Italians, Germans and British subjects, numbered less than 8000 in 1904; immigration is, however, encouraged by the easy terms on which land can be purchased from the state. The native Indians, though exterminated in many districts, and civilized in others, remain in a condition of complete savagery along parts of the Nicaraguan border, where they are known as Prazos or Guatusos, in the Talamanca country and elsewhere. Their numbers may be estimated at 4000. They are a quiet and inoffensive folk, who dwell in stockaded encampments, and preserve their ancestral language and customs. For an account of early Indian civilization in Costa Rica, see Central America: Archaeology. The Mosquito Indians come every summer to fish for turtle off the Atlantic coast. As only 200 negroes were settled in Costa Rica when slavery was abolished in 1824, and no important increase ever took place through immigration, the black population is remarkably small, amounting only to some 1200.

Chief Towns and Communications.—The whites are congregated in or near the chief towns, which include the capital, San José (pop. 1904 about 24,500), the four provincial capitals of Alajuela (4860), Cartago (4536), Heredia (7151) and Liberia or Guanacaste (2831), with the seaports of Puntarenas (3569), on the Pacific, and Limon (3171) on the Atlantic. These, with the exception of Heredia and Liberia, are described in separate articles. The transcontinental railway from Limon to Puntarenas was begun in 1871, and forms the nucleus of a system intended ultimately to connect all the fertile parts of the country, and to join the railways of Nicaragua and Panama. It skirts the Atlantic coast as far as the small port of Matina; thence it passes inland to Reventazon, and bifurcates to cross the northern mountains; one branch going north of Irazú, while the other traverses the Ochomogo Pass. At San José these lines reunite, and the railway is continued to Alajuela, the small Pacific port of Tivives, and Puntarenas. The railways are owned partly by the state, partly by the Costa Rica railway company, which, in 1904, arranged to build several branch lines through the banana districts of the Atlantic littoral. Apart from the main lines of communication the roads are very rough, often mere tracks; and the principal means of transport are ox-carts or pack-mules. The postal and telegraphic services are also somewhat inadequate.

Agriculture and Industries.—The name “Costa Rica,” meaning “rich coast,” is well deserved; for, owing to the combination of ample sunshine and moisture with a wonderfully fertile soil, almost any kind of fruit or flower can be successfully cultivated; while the vast tracts of virgin forest, which remain along the Atlantic slopes, contain an abundance of cedar, mahogany, rosewood, rubber and ebony, with fustic and other precious dye-woods. The country is essentially agricultural, and owes its political stability to the presence of a large class of peasant proprietors, who number more than two-thirds of the population. Coffee, first planted in 1838, is grown chiefly on the plateau of San José. The special adaptability of this region to its growth is attributed to the nature of the soil, which consists of layers of black or dark-brown volcanic ash, varying in depth from 1 to 6 yds. Bananas are grown over a large and increasing area; rice, maize, barley, potatoes and beans are cultivated to some extent in the interior; cocoa, vanilla, sugar-cane, cotton and indigo are products of the warm coast-lands, but are hardly raised in sufficient quantities to meet the local demand. Stock-farming, a relatively undeveloped industry, tends to become more important, owing to the assistance which the state renders by the importation of horses, cattle, sheep and swine, from Europe and the United States, in order to improve the native breeds. In the south-east farmers are often compelled to retire with their flocks and herds before the thousands of huge, migratory vampires, which descend suddenly on the pastures and are able in one night to bleed the strongest animal to death. The manufactures are insignificant; and although silver, copper, iron, zinc, lead and marble are said to exist in considerable quantities, the only ores that have been worked are gold, silver and copper. At the beginning of the 20th century the silver and copper mines had been abandoned. The goldfields are exploited with American capital, and yield a fair return.

Commerce.—The exports, which comprise coffee, bananas, cocoa, cabinet-woods and dye-woods, with hides and skins, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell and gold, were officially valued at £1,398,000 in 1904; and in the same year the imports, including foodstuffs, dry goods and hardware, were valued at £1,229,000. Over £1,250,000 worth of the exports consisted of coffee and bananas, and these commodities were of almost equal value. Nearly 85% of the coffee, or more than 20,000,000 ℔, were sent to Great Britain. The development of the banana trade dates from 1881, when 3500 bunches of fruit were exported to New Orleans. This total increased very rapidly, and in 1902 a monthly service of steamers was established from Limon to Bristol and Manchester. The service to England soon became a weekly one, while there are at least three weekly sailings to the United States. In 1904 the number of bunches sent abroad exceeded 6,000,000. So important is this crop that the rate of wages to labourers in the banana districts is nearly 3s. daily, as compared with an average of 1s. 8d. in the coffee plantations. The bulk of the imports comes from the United States (52% in 1904), Great Britain (19%) and Germany (13%). Almost the whole foreign trade passes through Limon and Puntarenas. In 1904, exclusive of banana steamers, there were regular steamship services weekly from Limon to the United States and Germany, fortnightly to Great Britain, and monthly to France, Italy and Spain; while at Puntarenas four American liners called monthly on the voyage between San Francisco and Panama.

Finance.—The valuable resources of the republic, and its comparative immunity from revolution, formerly attracted the attention of European and American investors, who supplied the capital for internal development. In 1871 the government contracted a loan of £1,000,000 in London, and in 1872 it borrowed an additional £2,400,000 for railway construction. The outstanding foreign debt amounted in 1887 to £2,691,300, while the arrears of interest were no less than £2,119,500. An arrangement with the creditors was concluded in 1888; but in 1895 the republic again became bankrupt, and a fresh arrangement was sanctioned in March 1897, by which the interest on £1,475,000 was reduced to 21/2% and that on £525,000 to 3%. It was provided that amortization, at £10,000 yearly, should begin in 1917. In 1904 the service of the external debt, which then amounted to £2,500,000, including £500,000 arrears of interest, was again suspended; the total of the internal debt was £815,000. About one-half of the national revenue is derived from customs, the remainder being principally furnished by railways, stamps, and the salt and tobacco monopolies. In the financial year 1904–1905 the revenue was £503,000, the expenditure £390,000. Education, internal development and the service of the internal debt were the chief sources of expenditure.

Money and Credit.—There are three important banks, the Anglo-Costa Rican Bank, with a capital of £120,000, the Bank of Costa Rica (£200,000), and the Commercial Bank of Costa Rica (£100,000), founded in 1905. On the 25th of April 1900 a law was enacted for the regulation of the constitution, capital, note emission and metallic reserves of banks. On the 24th of October 1896 an act was passed for the adoption of a gold coinage, and the execution of this act was decreed on the 17th of April 1900. The monetary unit is the gold colon weighing .778 gramme, .900 fine, and thus worth about 23d. It is legally equivalent to the silver peso, which continues in circulation. The gold coins of the United States, Great Britain, France and Germany are legally current. The metric system of weights and measures was introduced by law in 1884, but the old Spanish system is still in use.

Constitution and Government.—Costa Rica is governed under a constitution of 1870, which, however, only came into force in 1882, and has often been modified. The legislative power resides in a House of Representatives, consisting of about 30 to 40 deputies, or one for every 8000 inhabitants. The deputies are chosen for a term of four years by local electoral colleges, whose members are returned by the votes of all self-supporting citizens. One-half of the chamber retires automatically every two years. The president and three vice-presidents constitute the executive. They are assisted by a cabinet of four ministers, representing the departments of the interior, police and public works; foreign affairs, justice, religion and education; finance and commerce; war and marine. For purposes of local administration the state is divided into five provinces, Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia and San José, and two maritime districts (comarcas), Limon and Puntarenas. All these divisions except Guanacaste—which takes its name from a variety of mimosa very common in the province—are synonymous with their chief towns; and each is controlled by a governor or prefect appointed by the president. Justice is administered by a supreme court, two courts of appeal, and the court of cassation, which sit in San José, and are supplemented by various inferior tribunals.

Religion and Education.—The Roman Catholic Church is supported by the state, and the vast majority of the people accept its doctrines; but complete religious liberty is guaranteed by the constitution. The Jesuits, who formerly exercised widespread influence, were expelled in 1884. Of the other religious communities, the most important are the Protestants, numbering 3000, and the Buddhists, about 250. Primary education is free and compulsory; the standard of attendance is high and the instruction fair, but a large proportion of the older inhabitants were illiterate at the beginning of the 20th century. In the matter of secondary education considerable neglect has been shown. In 1904 there were only six secondary schools, including the institute of law and medicine and the training-school for teachers at San José. The state grants scholarships tenable at European universities to promising pupils, and there are three important public libraries.

Defence.—Military service in time of war is compulsory for all able-bodied citizens aged 18-50. There are a permanent army, of about 600; a militia, comprising an active service branch to which all under 40 belong, with a reserve for those between 40 and 50; and a national guard, including all males under 18 and over 50 who are capable of bearing arms. On a war footing these forces would number about 36,000. A gunboat and a torpedo boat constitute the navy, which, however, requires the services of an admiral, subordinate to the ministry of marine.

History.—The origin of the name Costa Rica (Spanish for “Rich Coast”) has been much disputed. It is often stated that the territories to which the name is now applied were first known as Nueva Cartago, while Costa Rica was used in a wider sense to designate the whole south-western coast of the Caribbean Sea, from the supposed mineral wealth of this region. Then, in 1540, the name was restricted to an area approximately equal to that of modern Costa Rica. In such a case it must have been bestowed ironically, for the country proved very unprofitable to the gold-seekers, who were its earliest European settlers. Col. Church, in the paper cited below, derives it from Costa de Oreja, “Earring Coast,” in allusion to the earrings worn by the Indians and remarked by their conquerors. He quotes evidence to show that this name was known to 16th-century cartographers.

With the rest of Central America, Costa Rica remained a province of the Spanish captaincy-general of Guatemala until 1821. Its conquest was completed by 1530, and ten years later it was made a separate province, the limits of which were fixed, by order of Philip II., between 1560 and 1573. This task was principally executed by Juan Vazquez de Coronado (or Vasquez de Coronada), an able and humane governor appointed in 1562, whose civilizing work was undone by the almost uninterrupted maladministration of his fifty-eight successors. The Indians were enslaved, and their welfare was wholly subordinated to the quest for gold. From 1666 onwards both coasts were ravaged by pirates, who completed the ruin of the country. Diego de la Haya y Fernandez, governor in 1718, reported to the crown that no province of Spanish America was in so wretched a condition. Cocoa-beans were the current coinage. Tomás de Acosta, governor from 1797 to 1809, confirmed this report, and stated that the Indians were clothed in bark, and compelled in many cases to borrow even this primitive attire when the law required their attendance at church.

On the 15th of September 1821 Costa Rica, with the other Central American provinces, revolted and joined the Mexican empire under the dynasty of Iturbide; but this subjection never became popular, and, on the establishment of a Mexican republic in 1823, hostilities broke out between the Conservatives, who desired to maintain the union, and the Liberals, who wished to set up an independent republic. The opposing factions met near the Ochomogo Pass; the republicans were victorious, and the seat of government was transferred from Cartago, the old capital, to San José, the Liberal headquarters. From 1824 to 1839 Costa Rica joined the newly formed Republic of the United States of Central America; but the authority of the central government proved little more than nominal, and the Costa Ricans busied themselves with trade and abstained from politics. The exact political status of the country was not, however, definitely assured until 1848, when an independent republic was again proclaimed. In 1856–60 the state was involved in war with the adventurer William Walker (see Central America); but its subsequent history has been one of immunity from political disturbances, other than boundary disputes, and occasional threats of revolution, due chiefly to unsatisfactory economic conditions. The attempt of J. R. Barrios, president of Guatemala, to restore federal unity to Central America failed in 1885, and had little influence on Costa Rican affairs. In 1897 the state joined the Greater Republic of Central America, established in 1895 by Honduras, Nicaragua and Salvador, but dissolved in 1898. The boundary question between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was referred to the arbitration of the president of the United States, who gave his award in 1888, confirming a treaty of 1858; further difficulties arising from the work of demarcation were settled by treaty in 1896. The boundary between Costa Rica and Panama (then a province of Colombia) was fixed by the arbitration of the French president, who gave his award on the 15th of September 1900. The frontiers delimited in accordance with these awards have already been described.

Bibliography.—In addition to the works on Central America cited under that heading, the following give much general information: G. Niederlein, The Republic of Costa Rica (Philadelphia, 1898); R. Villafranca, Costa Rica (New York, 1895); L. Z. Baron, Compendio geographico y estadistico de la Republica de Costa Rica (San José, 1894); H. Pittier, Apuntaciones sobre el clima y geographia de la Republica de Costa Rica (San José, 1890); P. Biolley, Costa Rica and her Future (Washington, 1889); M. M. de Peralta, Costa Rica (London, 1873). For an account of immigration, commerce and other mainly statistical matters, see J. Schroeder, Costa Rica State Immigration (San José, 1894); Bulletins of the Bureau of American Republics (Washington); British Diplomatic and Consular Reports (London); U.S.A. Consular Reports (Washington); Reports of the Ministries (San José). For the history of Costa Rica, see L. Z. Baron, Compendio de la historia de Costa Rica (San José, 1894); F. M. Barrantes, Elementos de historia de Costa Rica (San José, 1892); J. B. Calvo, The Republic of Costa Rica (Chicago, 1890), gives a partisan account of local politics, trade and finance, authorized by the government. Frontier questions are discussed fully in Col. G. E. Church’s “Costa Rica,” a very valuable paper in vol. x. of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society (London, 1897); and, by Dr E. Seler, in “Der Grenzstreit zwischen den Republiken Costa Rica und Colombia,” in Petermann’s Mittheilungen, vol. xlvi. (1900). For a detailed bibliography see D. J. Maluquer, Republica de Costa Rica (Madrid, 1890). The best maps are that of the Bureau of American Republics (1903), and, for physical features, that of Col. Church, published by the R.G.S. (London, 1897).