1902 Encyclopedia > Costa Rica

Costa Rica




COSTA RICA, THE REPUBLIC OF, the most southern of the five states of Central America, occupies the isthmus between about 8° and 11° N. lat., and 82° and 86° W. long. It is bounded on the N. by Nicaragua, the frontier claimed on this side running from the Pacific coast at the stream called La Flor, immediately north of Salinas Bay, to the Lake of Nicaragua, and along its southern shore to the Bio San Juan, and thence down the right bank of the river to its most southerly mouth—but this line is disputed by the Nicaraguan Government; on the S. by the Colombian state of Panamá, the recognized boundary extending from the Golfo Dulce to the Chiriqui river south of the islet called Escudo de Veragua—this line also over-lapping a debatable borderland ; on the N.E. by the Caribbean Sea ; and on the S.W. by the Pacific Ocean.
Its area within these limits, officially stated at 26,040 English square miles, has been found by planimetric measurements, made at Gotha, to be more accurately 21,495 square miles, or not quite double that of Belgium.
The population, which consists mainly of people of Spanish descent, little mixed with foreign elements, is officially estimated at 175,000 (according to M. Belly it is 154,000), including about 5000 civilized Indians of pure blood, 1200 negroes, and 600 Chinese ; but besides these there are from 10,000 to 12,000 uncivilized Indians within the limits of the republic.
The Atlantic coastland is generally low, and is characterized by numerous lagoons which have been formed by the prevailing currents opposite the river mouths, the chief break in its extent being the great Lagoon or Gulf of Chiriqui ; the Pacific coast rises higher and is marked by the two large peninsulas which inclose the Gulfs of Nicoya and Dulce. Inland the surface of the country is much diversified, but is chiefly occupied by mountains, plateaus, and valleys. In the northern portion a great volcanic range extends from north-west to south-east, from between the Lake of Nicaragua and the Pacific coast to the centre of Costa Bica, separating a narrower Pacific descent from the broader slope to the Atlantic ; the peaks of Orosi (5200 feet), Bincon de la Vieja, Miravalles, Poas (8845 feet), Barba, Irazu (10,850 feet), and Turrialba, (10,330 feet) are the summits of this range. The form of the southern half of Costa Rica is determined by the great range called the Montaña Dota, 7000 to 9000 feet in elevation, which extends from west to east nearly across the country, in about 9° 40' N. lat., and from which two branch range extends south-eastwards, the one close along the Pacific coast as far as the lower Terraba river, the other through the centre of the country, rising to its highest points in the Cerro Chiripó and Pico Blanco or Nemú, 11,740 feet above the sea. Between the northern and southern masses lie the broad table-lands of San José and Cartago, marked out on the Pacific side by the ridges called the Cerro del Aguacate and Cerro de Candelaria, and towards the Atlantic by the Cerro Mateo. This central plateau has an elevation of from 3000 to 4000 feet above the sea, and is the most important, and as yet almost the only cultivated region of the country.
The rivers which flow down the Atlantic slope in the N.E., the Rio Frio, San' Carlos, Sarapiqui, and Colorado, are tributaries of the boundary river San Juan, the outlet of Lake Nicaragua ; the others of this slope from N. to S., the Reventazon, Pacuar, Chiripó or Matini, Sixaula or Estrella, Changuenola, and Chiriqui, flow independently to the Atlantic lagoons. On the Pacific side from N. to S. the chief rivers are the Tempisque and Las Piedras, flowing to the head of the Gulf of Nicoya ; the Rio Grande, from the high borders of the plateau of San José ; the Rio de Pirris, Naranjo, and Rio Grande de Terraba.
In contrast to the south-western descent, the Atlantic slope is covered with dense impenetrable forest, and has remained almost closed to traffic and civilization from the earliest times of colonization. Indians still living in a savage state occupy some portions of this wild forest country. The former tribes of the Reventazon and Pacuar have been completely exterminated ; those remaining are the Pranzos or Guatusos Indians of the valley of the Rio Frio in the north, the Bizeita tribe on the Sixaula River, and the Terrbis on the Changuenola, in the south-east, sometimes collectively called the Talamanca Indians. The latter tribes have remained in hostility to each other since the discovery of the country ; they are perfectly uncivilized, hunters with bow and arrow, and independent of the Government ; they trade a little with adventurers from Jamaica, bartering sarsaparilla, hides, and turtle-shells for arms and powder, cotton stuffs, and tobacco. The Mosquito Indians come annually in canoes to the Atlantic coast in May and June to fish for turtle in the Lagoon of Chiriqui. The Pacific slope, on the other hand, is char-acterized by wide savannahs or llanuras, bordered by forest, and is much more accessible.
The climate varies with the elevation, from the tropical heat of the coast, which is often fever-stricken, to the tem-perate and healthy air of the plateau and the cold of the mountain heights. In the plateau of San José the north-east trade wind, prevailing from October to April, brings dry weather; from April to October the south-west mon-soon, blowing up from the Pacific, brings almost daily rain, excepting within a remarkable period of about a fortnight of dry weather in June, called the " Veranillo de San Juan." The rainfall at San José (3872 feet above the sea) averages from 40 to 60 inches annually ; the average temperature here is about 68° Fahr., rising to 76° in the hottest month of summer and falling to 55° Fahr. in the coldest. The country is subject to earthquakes ; a very severe one occurring in 1841 destroyed the town of Cartago.
Costa Rica is exceedingly fertile, its forests being filled with an immense variety of timber trees and useful dye woods, such as mahogany, ebony, Indian-rubber, Brazil-wood, and oak ; almost all the fruits of the tropical and temperate zones are found to thrive, and flowering plants are in rich profusion. Coffee is the staple cultivated pro-duct of the country, and is grown chiefly on the plateau lands of San José and Cartago,—-the special adaptability of these to the growth of this plant being attributed to the nature of the soil, which consists of layers of black or dark brown volcanic ash of from 1 to 6 yards in depth. Bice, maize, barley, potatoes, beans, bananas, and yucca are also cultivated to some extent in the interior; cocoa, vanilla, sugar-cane, tobacco, cotton, and indigo, on the warm coast lands, but as yet only for home consumption. About 1150 square mile3 of the country are under cultivation.
In the forests the wild animals of Central America— the tapir, jaguar, ocelot, puma, deer, and wild pigs—are numerous ; a multitude of birds, including the humming bird and the splendid quetzal or trogon, fill the woods; the reptiles include the alligator of the rivers, the iguana, and many other lizards, the boba, tuboba, black snake, rattle-snake, and corale. Among domestic animals oxen and mules are the most valuable, almost all the traffic of the country being carried on by means of ox-waggons.
As yet the chief highway of Costa Rica is the waggon road from Punta Arenas on the Gulf of Nicoya virtually the only port of the country, to the capital San José, and thence to Cartago on the central plateau. Mule tracks lead north-westwards from Punta Arenas through the province of Guanacaste to Nicaragua, from San José north-east by the valley of the Sarapiqui to Grey Town on the Atlantic, from Cartago eastwards to Puerto Limon also on the Atlantic, and southward over the western spurs of the Montana Dota to the plains of Terraba. A railroad from Alajuela to the capital and through Cartago to Puerto Limon, part of a proposed inter-oceanic highway, was begun in 1871, and in December 1873 the portion between Alajuela and Cartago, 42 miles, had been completed. Owing to financial difficulties, however, the work ceased in 1874, and only sufficient hands were employed to keep the part finished in working order. Two hundred miles of telegraph line had been completed in 1875.
There are no manufacturing industries in Costa Rica. The country is rich in minerals—gold, silver, copper, iron, nickel, zinc, lead, marble—but up to the present time gold, silver, and copper are the only ores that have been worked. The principal gold mines are—(1) those of Trinidad, 4 leagues inland from Punta Arenas, 1200 feet above the sea, worked on a small scale by a Costa Rican company,—the quartz yields gold of a fineness of about 17| carats; and (2) the mines of the Cerro del Aguacate, one of which is worked by the native "Compania de la Montana del Aguacate," also in an imperfect manner, but with good results. Another called the " Sacra Familia," lies a little north of the Aguacate mine, at an elevation of 3000 feet above the sea ; it has two chief veins, one containing galena and zinc blend, with silver, and grey copper ore also yield-ing silver, and a second, with a lode of gold quartz similar to that of Trinidad, This mine is also worked on a small scale by private individuals, and gives gold of about 15| carats fine. Gold is said also to exist in the wild Indian country of the Atlantic slope, but the position of the sup-posed mines is uncertain.
Costa Rica is divided into six provinces, in which the population is distributed as follows according to the estimate of M. Belly :—
San José, 45,000 Capital—San José, 15,000
Cartago, 36,000 ,, Cartago, 10,000
Hérédia, 30,000 „ Hérédia, 9,000
Alajuela, 29,000 „ Alajuela, 6,000
Guanacaste, 8,000 ,, Liberia, 2,000
Punta Arenas, 6,000 „ Punta Arenas, 1,800 The government is vested in a president elected for four years, and a first and second vice-president, aided by four ministers and the national congress of deputies also elected for four years. The present constitution, the seventh which has been in force in the republic, dates frojn 1871. All men between the ages of eighteen and thirty form the militia of the republic, and in 1874 numbered 16,380,— 900 being employed in active service. All men between the ages of thirty and fifty-five years form a reserve. The religion of the state is Roman Catholic, but full liberty for the public exercise of all religions is granted by the con-stitution. The revenue of the republic, derived from customs, monopolies of spirits and tobacco, from the national bank, sales of land, and various taxes, chiefly that on the exportation of coffee, amounted in 1875 to £517,605 ; the expenditure in the same year was £556.221, showing a deficit of £38,6i6.
In 1871 the Government contracted in London a loan of £1,000,000, and in 1872 another of £2,400,000 for the construction of an inter-oceanic railwa}'. In 1875 the external debt from this source was £2,401,300. Of this sum £1,116,000 had been spent on the railroad previous to the close of 1873, when the further execution of the work ceased. The interest and sinking fund of this loan are far in arrears; the country is bankrupt, and the Government has made no attempt to pay even part of its liabilities.
The value of the coffee exported in 1874 was estimated at £892,800 ; and that of hides, timber, &c, at £20,000.
Imports are chiefly of Manchester goods, hardwares, flour, salt, and sugar, chiefly shipped from England ; but trade with France, Germany, and the United States was increas-ing in 1875. Only about a fourth part of the trade of the republic passes through Puerto Limon on the Atlantic, to which there is a mule track, the bulk of goods being carried round to the Pacific port of Punta Arenas, whence there is a highway to the interior.
Costa Rica was one of the first discovered portions of the American continent ; Columbus touched on its shores in his third voyage, and it is probable that Spanish adven-turers first established themselves within it after the fourth voyage of Columbus in 1502. In 1821, when all the pro-vinces which formed the kingdom of Guatemala declared their independence of the mother country, two parties, one desiring union with Mexico under the dynasty of Iturbide, the other seeking to form a separate republic, divided opinions in the revolted provinces. In Costa Rica the town of Cartago chose the former; San José the latter. The opposing factions met at a place called the Laguna de Ochomogo. The republicans were victorious, and the seat of government was transferred from Cartago to San José. In 1824 Costa Rica joined the federation of the Central American States, but on the dissolution of that union in 1839 became an independent republic. Internal disturb-ances and overturnings of the Government have been less frequent in Costa Rica thau in the other states of Central America, and its progress has been correspondingly greater. Of recent years, however, the Government has been obliged to maintain an army to guard itself against smouldering revolutions, and at the present time (1877) angry dis-cussions are taking place with Nicaragua on the question of boundaries. On the other hand, an attempt is being made to induce the Central American republics to join again in forming one government. See GUATEMALA map.
Frantzius, Dr A., "Der südöstliche Theil der Rep, Costa Rica,"
Petermann's Mittheilungen, 1869 ; " Klimatischen Verhältnisse Cen-
tral Americas, " Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde, Berlin, Bd.
iü. 1869, Bd. iv. 1869 ; and "DieCosta Rica Eisenbahn," Das Aus-
land, 1868, Wo. 6 ; Boyle (Fred.), Wanderings in Nicaragua and Costa
Rica, London, 1868 ; Belly (Felix), A travers l'Amérique Centrale,
Paris, 1872; Peralta (Manuel M.), "Costa Rica/'iß Globede Geneve,
x. 1871 ; Gabb (\V. M.), " Notes on the Geology of Costa Rica,"
American Journal of Science and Art, Nov. 1874 and March 1875 ;
Molina (Felipe), Bosquejo de la Republiccc de Costa Rica, Madrid,
1850 ; Wagner (M.) and Scherzer (C. ), Die Republik Costa Rica,
Leipsic, 1857; Reports from H. M. Consuls, Part iii. 1874, Part v.,
1875 ; Polakawksy (Dr H.), "Central America," in Das Ausland,
Nov. 1876. The best map is Original Karte von Costa Rica von A.
von Frantzius, Gotha, 1869. (K.J.)









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