Thursday, February 6, 2020

Invading Costa Rica

Commander K. "Invades" Costa Rica
Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

Judging by the horrendous lines I encountered in the immigration lines at San Jose airport, it has become very popular for American tourists and many others to "Invade" Costa Rica.  And no wonder.  It is easy to see what draws tourists to Costa Rica.  This small country has immense natural beauty that includes two coastlines with white sand beaches, volcanic mountains, lush jungles and a pleasant tropical climate.  The locally grown coffee is delicious.  The bananas are cheap (around 20 cents a piece).  The locals, who call themselves Ticos (Ticas female), are very friendly and welcoming.

Banana Republic
National Museum of Costa Rica

Ticos are justifiably proud of their nation's history.  In 1948, following a brutal civil war (more later) they disbanded their national army and constitutionally outlawed its re-establishment.  Since that time the nation has been free of civil wars and and has not suffered the brutal Cold War violence that befell neighbors such as Nicaragua.  In that time the Costa Rican economy has soared and life expectancy has risen dramatically.  While Costa Rica still grows bananas and coffee, it is now a diverse service based economy led by tourism.  What Costa Rica saves on defense spending has been put to good use on education; literacy rates have soared to around 98% as of 2015.  An army of teachers were hired to replace the national army that was abolished.

San Jose Police
Giving Free Pony Rides!

Violence consumed much of Central America during the Cold War in neighboring nations such as Nicaragua and Honduras.  An informal alliance with the USA, however, prevented incursions from neighboring states allowing Costa Rica to be disarmed except for its police force.  On my walks through a big park in San Jose I spied the friendly local police giving pony rides to children!

Christopher Columbus Plaque
San Jose, Costa Rica

In 1502 the Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus cruised off the Caribbean shore of what is now Costa Rica.  Columbus believed that this land would be rich in gold, hence the name "Costa Rica" meaning "Rich Coast".   He was not entirely correct about the plentiful gold but the Spanish came anyway bringing with them diseases that decimated the indigenous populations.

In 2014 Stuart Laycock and I published America Invades which examines American military involvement in almost every country on earth (  Costa Rica, lacking an army, has not invaded her neighbors but fighting has taken place here and American military involvement with this nation dates back to the 19th century.  In recent years it is an "army" of American retirees that have launched a friendly "invasion" of Costa Rica drawn in by the climate, cheap real estate, good health care and a low cost of living.

This is what we had to say in the Cost Rica chapter of America Invades...

Costa Rica Map
National Museum of Costa Rica

"Ah, Costa Rica, sandwiched between Panama to its south and Nicaragua to the north. “Costa Rica” means “Rich Coast.”

Many American observers in the nineteenth century had high hopes for Costa Rica considering it to be “the New England of Central America.” Some believed that Costa Rica was free from the contagion of revolutionary sentiment that afflicted much of Central America.

War Against the Filibusters
Guerra Contra Los Filibusteros
National Museum of Costa Rica

Costa Rica played a leading role in the alliance of Central American nations against William Walker’s  filibuster movement in Nicaragua. It was Costa Rica’s General Joaquin Mora, the brother of President Mora, who led his allied troops against the Yankees in 1856. Many of the Costa Rican officers were the European-educated sons of coffee barons and excellent horsemen, and their raw conscripted troops wore white trousers and shirts with straw hats circled with red bands.

President Moro
San Jose, Costa Rica

General Walker’s force of mostly American filibusters invaded Costa Rica from Nicaragua. On March 20, 1856, the Battle of Santa Rosa was fought, which resulted in the deaths of nineteen Costa Ricans and fifty-nine of Walker’s men. The filibusters had been driven from the field by a peasant army.
William Walker Plaque
Nashville, Tennessee

After Walker’s subsequent defeat in Nicaragua, USN ships, such as the Decatur and St. Mary’s, helped to evacuate Walker filibusters from Costa Rica. Lieutenant David McCorkle was assigned the duty of marching three hundred filibusters from Nicaragua to Punta Arenas in Costa Rica.
The USS Decatur celebrated July 4, 1857, at Punta Arenas where they  red a salute, which was answered by a Chilean warship, and a marine from the Decatur who had drunk too much ended up being jailed for breaking down a door.

In 1921, as tensions rose between Panama and Costa Rica over a border dispute, we sent ships to both sides of the isthmus to calm things down.

Costa Rica joined the allies along with other Central American nations on December 8, 1941, and German business interests were seized by the government. Costa Rica wasn’t exactly a major focus of our military interest during the war, but at one stage, the USAAF (US Army Air Force) considered building an airbase on Cocos Island to protect the Panama Canal. In the end, it was never built. We did put early warning radar on the island, though.

José Figueres
National Museum of Costa Rica
In 1948, Costa Rica experienced a month-long civil war, which claimed about two thousand lives. We did not intervene directly in the conflict, but we did have a clear preference in the outcome. The existing Picado regime was supported by the Popular Vanguard Party—a Communist party. The Truman administration, concerned about the spread of Communism in North America, mobilized our forces in the neighboring Panama zone and sought to cut off supplies to the Picado regime.
José Figueres eventually became the victorious rebel leader who toppled Picado in Costa Rica. Figueres had initial CIA support for his activities. He served three times as president of Costa Rica between 1948 and 1974. In 1959, however, Figueres would send arms to Fidel Castro in Cuba. And some have alleged CIA operations against him.

Since 1949, Costa Rica’s constitution has banned a standing army. In the 1980s, the Contras had some presence in Costa Rica.

In 2010, a decision by Costa Rica to allow US military access to Costa Rica caused some local controversy, and in recent years, the US has been heavily involved with helping Costa Rica fight illegal narcotics smuggling.

We’ve also been involved in a number of emergency relief operations there. For instance, in 1968, the USAF’s southern command helped evacuate people put at risk by Mount Arenal’s eruption and  ew in emergency supplies to help those suffering. Again in 1970 and 1978, the US Air Force helped when  floods hit.

The New Mexico National Guard is partnered with Costa Rica."

Commander K says plan your own peaceful "invasion" of Costa Rica today!

For much more on American Invasions around the rest of the world see America Invades (

Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica

Tourist Notes: The National Museum of Costa Rica is an excellent place to learn more about the history of this beautiful country (  There is also a splendid Gold Museum in San Jose run by the central bank (  Don't forget to take in some of Costa Rica's greatest treasures which can be found in her many national parks!

Commander K and friends at
Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo

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

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