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Local History - Liberia Costa Rica

The battles of 1856

Costa Rica has been lucky enough to have had one of the most peaceful histories of any country in Central and South America. Testament to this fact is that today Costa Rica does not maintain an army, preferring instead to spend its money on education and social warefare.

Attack by the filibuster William Walker

However, in 1856 Costa Rica did face a threat from the north in the form of the North American filibuster William Walker. Walker viewed Central America as an area to conquer and enslave in order to build a canal between the Pacific and Atlantic. But he did not reckon with the Costa Rican defence which he found himself up against. He and his few hundred followers arrived in Nicaragua and found there political chaos ripe for manipulation. From here he planed his attack on Costa Rica.

Costa Rican Call to Arms

Then as now Costa Rica had no army. The president of the time, Juan Rafael Mora, hearing rumours of Walker's intentions, put out a call to arms on March 1, 1856. It was a call that was readily answered by Ticos (Costa Ricans) 3000 of whom gathered in Liberia, Guanacaste with what weapons they had, before heading off to challenge the invading force.

The Battle at Hacienda Santa Rosa, 50 kms south of the Nicaraguan border

Walker did not make it far over the border before he was met by this volunteer army. On March 20 at the Hacienda Santa Rosa, Liberia Costa RicaHacienda Santa Rosa, 38 kms north of Liberia, Costa Rica the two armies clashed and the Ticos forced Walker to turn tail and flee ignominiously back to Nicaragua.

Second Battle in Rivas, Nicaragua

But President Mora, well aware that a second attempt would no doubt be made, ordered the army to chase down Walker's troops, following them into Rivas, Nicaragua.

Juan Santamaria - a national hero

Juan Santamaria a youth from Alajuela, who had previously led an unremarkable life and had joined the army as a drummer boy, volunteered to set light to the wooden fort in which Walker's troops were hiding. Dying for the cause he became a Costa Rican national hero for so bringing an end to the Walker invasion of Costa Rica. Today he is commemorated as the namesake of the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose and with a national holiday on April 11 'Dia de Juan Santamaria'


Walker himself survived to tell the tale but was finally put to an end in Honduras in 1860 by execution squad. Ironically President Mora also fell from favour among Costa Ricans for various reasons and was similarly executed in the same year.

Sadly, although Costa Rica had taken such a brave and successful stand against Walker, their foray into Nicaragua infected the troops with cholera. On their victorious return to Costa Rica they brought with them this fatal disease which resulted in the death of 10,000 people. At the time, the population was only in the region of 100,000, so Costa Rica lost one tenth of its population! It just shows that it is a lot easier to fight each other than to fight microscopic bacteria!