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Independence Day is celebrated in Costa Rica on September 15th.

The Beginnings of Democracy

Guatemala proclaimed independence from Spain for all of Central America on September 15, 1821. Costa Rica learned the news a month later. The first constitution, the Pacto de Concordia, was soon adopted. This led to the celebration of the first elections in December of 1821.

Few Costa Ricans had actively sought independence and the notification of Guatemala's proclamation took them by surprise.

The first Chief of State of free Costa Rica, Juan Mora Fernández, was elected by Congress in 1824. He built roads and schools, gave land grants to anyone who would plant coffee, and promoted industry and commerce.

By 1838 the Central American Federation that had been formed by these former Spanish colonies existed in little more than name. Under the administration of Chief of State Braulio Carrillo, Costa Rica withdrew and proclaimed herself a sovereign state.

In 1842 the General Assembly, under the leadership of ex-president of the Central American Federation, General Francisco Morazán, declared that Costa Rica would continue to be part of the Federation.

The four principal Central Valley towns San José, Cartago, Alajuela and Heredia squabbled for several years in a civil war over the question of membership in the Central American Federation vs. total independence.

In 1848 Costa Rica again declared her sovereignty and in 1850 she was recognized as an independent state by Spain.

In March 1856, the American adventurer William Walker, who had designs on all of Central America to make it part of a "Confederacy of Southern American States," invaded Costa Rica. He was met and successfully pushed back into Nicaragua by a people's army of 9,000 armed with farm tools and old rifles. The heroic sacrifice of one soldier in this battle, Juan Santamaría, gave Costa Rica her only war hero.

The first totally free elections were held on November 7, 1889; a day that marked the beginning of an era of progress toward a truly popular government.

After a brief civil war in 1948, a new constitution was ratified on November 7, 1949. That constitution, still in effect today, included the prohibition of a standing army.

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Updated on September 1, 1998