In Costa Rica, filibusters and sabaneros spice up the history of Guanacaste:
The northwest province of Guanacaste is a dry frontier land where people come to experience the harmonious beauty of endless soft beaches and warm waves.
It has not always been so.
The home and namesake of Costa Rica’s national tree has a unique history and culture that has become gritty of cattle ranching, with a memory of American invaders, and where a regional identity sways between neighboring nations. The 10,400 square kilometer province, with its 11 townships, more than 50 beaches and several national parks and reserves, is no longer what it once was.
Before the construction of the Inter-American Highway connecting the province to the rest of Costa Rica, before the arrival of mass tourism and the development of the region’s beaches and international airport, Guanacaste was a big, bumpy cow town.
Inland, it’s not hard to dig around and find that Guanacaste is a bumpy place with bumpy roads, where dark skin sabaneros ride bucking broncos and the locals dance marimba and the punto guanacasteco.
But even before that, Guanacaste was a vast land prized for its exotic mahogany timber, where foreign demand played a key role in deforestation, leaving behind a seemingly endless rolling savannah – where the sabanero, the cowboy of Guanacaste, would find his home between the two mountain ranges and the four volcanoes of the region. And before that?
According to Victor Hugo Acuña, professor at the National University (UNA), the largely mestizo culture of Guanacaste maintains some ancient Chorotega customs, such as the use of digging sticks in agriculture and traditional forms of pottery, kept alive. in the town of Guaitil, known for its indigenous pottery replicas.
It is believed that the Corobicí people migrated to the area first, followed by the Chorotegas, who arrived around 1200 and brought with them a crop of corn, tamales and tortillas, as well as other crops such as beans, sweet potatoes and yuca (cassava or cassava).
Spanish explorers, seeking a strategic interoceanic passage through the Americas, arrived on the scene in 1523 and later brought enslaved Africans with them.
The region became the Partido de Nicoya, an independent region within the Spanish Empire, before later becoming part of a newly independent Nicaragua, after the Central American region declared independence from Spain in 1821. But in 1824, despite the current provincial capital of Liberia’s insistence on remaining with Nicaragua, Guanacaste seceded from Nicaragua in Costa Rica.
In 1856, a plot to take control of a strategic interoceanic transportation route through Central America brought American filibuster William Walker to Guanacaste. As a former history professor at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) recounts, Walker wanted to get his hands on what was at the time one of the biggest U.S. investments in Latin America: the Transit Company prop of Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.
The company specializes in transporting North Americans – by land and sea – from New York and the eastern United States, through Central America, and as far as San Francisco, California. , during the Gold Rush.
Passengers were shipped across the Caribbean, to the Río San Juan in Lake Nicaragua, then rode stagecoaches on what was then the shortest land route from the Atlantic to the Pacific (which has since been the site countless failed attempts to build an interoceanic canal), then shipped to California.
Walker, now a despised symbol of American interventionism in Latin America, did not have enough mercenaries to conquer the region, according to Molina. Instead, he took control of some of the Accessory Transit Company’s boats and attempted to monopolize the interoceanic route.
A few of Walker’s 1,000 mercenaries entered Costa Rica in March 1856 while exploring the region. They didn’t stay long. On March 20, the mercenaries encountered Costa Rican troops who drove them off after a 15-minute battle known as the Battle of Santa Rosa. After a brief stint as Nicaragua’s self-proclaimed president, the Tennessee-born doctor, lawyer and journalist was executed by the Honduran government in 1860.
Livestock arrived in Guanacaste in the 17th century and developed as the region’s main industry in the 18th century. Then, in the 19th century, logging became a big industry until the 20th century.
Acuña said the most important advance in Guanacaste in the 20th century was the completion of the
in the 1960s, which increased trade and communication between the mainland and the region hidden in the northwest corner of the country.
During the Cold War era, Guanacaste was a strategic southern front for the allegedly illegally US-funded Contra war against communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Costa Rican authorities have uncovered a swath of clandestine land on the Santa Elena Peninsula that was used to supply the Contras, a key discovery in the outcome of the Iran-Contra affair.
Now booming development on the region’s coast has attracted billions in foreign investment, sparked a real estate boom that has resulted in an abundance of million-dollar homes and concession scandals in seaside, and raises questions about how a region that gets 65 days of rainfall a year plans to find the water to support its own growth.