Monday, February 10, 2020

Costa Rica Invaded!

Commander K.
National Museum of Costa Rica
San Jose Costa Rica

The central thesis of our 2017 book, America Invaded (, was that multiple waves of invasions have hit American soil since the first arrival of the Europeans right to the present day.  English historian Stuart Laycock and I tried to document how this fighting -- from multiple conflicts with indigenous people to the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- has shaped the USA in ways large and small, molding it into the nation it is today.

What is true about the USA is equally true for every other country in the world as well.

Figueres smashing the Army Barracks
December 1, 1948
 San Jose, Costa Rica
Let's take Costa Rica for example.  This is a nation that prides itself upon its pacifism.  Its constitution bans the formation of a national army which was abolished in 1948 following a brutal civil war.  José Figueres Ferrer, the President of Costa Rica famously took a hammer to the military barracks in San Jose to smash the military establishment in his country.  So Costa Rica has no army with which to invade any of its neighbors.  But its territorial integrity has been largely protected since 1948 thanks to international law and an informal alliance with the USA.  But this does NOT mean that Costa Rica has never been invaded.  Far from it.  In fact waves of invasions have crashed onto the shores of Costa Rica molding and shaping it into the nation it is today.

Pre-Columbian Warrior
Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
The natural biodiversity of Costa Rica was "Invaded" very roughly 15,000 years ago by humans migrating from Asia across the Bering sea.  The jaguars and tapirs of Central America were, no doubt, disturbed and hunted by the new arrivals.  The archaeological record is clear that plenty of fighting must have taken place among the clans or tribes in what is today Costa Rica.  This area was not part of a larger and more well know Pre-Columbian empires such as the Aztecs, Incas or Mayans.  Smaller tribes or clans such as the Matambú, Bribri and Calecar dominated in the area we now know as Costa Rica.  Pre-Columbian warriors wore a dazzling array of golden armor into battle examples of which may be found today at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San Jose.

The Spanish invasion of Costa Rica would be led by an Italian or, more accurately, a Genoese captain.  Our 2015 book Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World (www.italyinvades.comincluded a short chapter that documents the surprising Italian "Invasions" of and influence on Costa Rica...
Columbus' 3 ships Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria
National Museum of Costa Rica
"On September 18, 1502, Genoese Christopher Columbus turned up, to be followed by other Italians as the Spanish imposed colonial control on the area.

Francisco Morazán

One person of Italian descent who played a huge role in the wars and politics of Central America in the early nineteenth century was Francisco Morazán, whose grandfather had been Corsican. Morazán was, from 1830–1839, president of the Federal Republic of Central America. Having fled into exile after defeat in battle in 1840, in 1842 he invaded Costa Rica in an attempt to take over the government there. In April of that year, he landed with about five hundred men and five ships at Caldera in Costa Rica. After negotiating with the military forces opposing him, he entered San José and took power. But Morazán did not have long ahead of him in power in Costa Rica. In September, a rebellion broke out. After bitter fighting, Morazán was eventually captured and put in front of a firing squad. Allegedly, he gave the order to shoot.

Italians were among the nationalities that immigrated to Costa Rica in the nineteenth century. Giovanni Leggero, who had taken part in the Defense of the Roman Republic in 1848, moved to Costa Rica and ended up losing an arm in fighting against William Walker’s forces.

Still, as the Second World War erupted, tensions rose between Italy and Costa Rica. In April 1941, for instance, Italian and German sailors in a Costa Rican harbor learned that the Costa Rican government was about to seize their ships, and the ships were set on fire instead.

And after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Costa Rica declared war on Germany and Italy on December 8—two days before the Unites States.

San Vito de Java
Costa Rica
The war did not end close contact between Italy and Costa Rica. For instance, Vito Giulio Cesar and Ugo Sansonetti, sons of an Italian admiral, established a community of Italians known as San Vito de Java in the south of the country."  (Source:

Spanish boot on the Indigenous people of Costa Rica
National Museum of Costa Rica

Christopher Columbus may have led Europeans into Costa Rica but it was the Spanish who followed.  With a vengeance.  Diseases brought by the Conquistadors decimated the Indigenous people in what is now Costa Rica.  They also brought the Roman Catholic faith to the region.

Costa Rica was invaded by the Catholic Church

In 1821 Costa Rica, along with Mexico, declared its independence from Spain.  Costa Rica was a land of coffee and banana plantations.  Juan Mora Fernández became the first Costa Rican head of state in 1825.
Banana Republic?
Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
San Jose, Costa Rica
The US government has never really invaded Costa Rica but some Americans, led by William Walker of Tennessee, did.

There is a surprising connection to the recent Super Bowl and this astonishing American Invasion of Costa Rica.  Super Bowl LIV featured the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs.  The 49ers' name is derived from the fact that gold was discovered in California's Sacramento Valley in 1849 sparking a massive gold rush.  At this time there was no transcontinental railway linking the east and west coast of the Untied States and there was no Panama Canal.  Transit overland across the continent was long and hazardous.  The fastest and safest way to journey from New York to San Francisco was to purchase a ticket on a paddle wheel steamer to Central America, cross the isthmus of  Panama or Nicaragua overland and take another steamer up the west coast to San Francisco.

William Walker was a doctor, lawyer, journalist and adventurer from Nashville Tennessee.  Walker made his way to San Francisco but he did not begin panning for gold.  Instead he organized an expedition of America Filibusters (armed adventurers) and proceeded to invaded Nicaragua.  Walker was an entrepreneur who recognized the enormous value of the transit route from the Caribbean to the Pacific.  Anyone who controlled Nicaragua could charge a toll for passage between the oceans and amass a fortune off of the would be gold miners.

"On October 11, 1856, he and his supporters arrived in the paddlewheel steamer La Virgen at Granada, Nicaragua’s capital. The next day, his forces captured the town and soon after established their own republic of Nicaragua. In June of 1856, Walker was elected president of Nicaragua, receiving over 68 percent of the vote in a four-way race. His government was recognized by President Franklin Pierce and received support from US ambassador John Wheeler. His supporters referred to him as the “grey-eyed man of destiny.”" (Source:

But Walker made one fatal mistake.  He established his transit monopoly across Nicaragua to facilitate travel from east to west but he refused to do business with Cornelius Vanderbilt. The New York railway tycoon was immensely rich and financed the destruction of Walker.  Vanderbilt subsidized the armies from Costa Rica and other countries neighboring Nicaragua to destroy Walker's little empire.

National Monument of Costa Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica

On March 20, 1856 Walker was defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa inside Costa Rica.  The National Monument of Costa Rica in San Jose's National Park depicts the defeat of Walker and his Filibusters by General Juan Rafael Mora (a subsequent President of Costa Rica).  Mora would subsequently become President of Costa Rica.

In 1948 a Civil War erupted in Costa Rica claiming thousands of lives.  Ultimately, this led to the abolition of the National Army by José Figueres Ferrer.

National Stadium of Costa Rica
The most recent "Invasion" of Costa Rica seems to by the Chinese flexing their soft (economic) power.  The Chinese provided around $100 million of the construction of the National Stadium of Costa Rica in 2011 -- by many accounts the best in Central America.  The inaugural match played in this stadium in march 2011 featured a team from Costa Rican and the Chinese national team and ended in a politically correct 2 to 2 tie.  Today the stadium is festooned with banners promoting Huawei -- the Chinese cell phone company.  Around the same time San Jose's Student Avenue was renamed and converted into a six block Chinatown.

Chinatown San Jose

Soft Power invasions, much like those hard invasions of past, will continue to shape and mold modern Costa Rica.  Xi must be obeyed in Central America and around the world (!

You can find signed copies of our books at 
these web sites...

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