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A brief history of Costa Rica III: Development of the Latin culture
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A brief history of Costa Rica III
Development of Latin culture

By Clifford Fain Dukes, Jr.
Special to Retire NOW in Costa Rica

The Spanish conquered Latin America bent on extraction of as much of the local wealth as possible. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived, the whole of Latin America had a population of 25 million spread among eight highly organized cultures, most of them outside of Costa Rica. No more than 1 million conquistadores subjugated and enslaved the entire native population. See Carlos Mantaner’s "Twisted Roots," at It’s a fascinating read of the development of the current culture in Latin American.

The conquest of the Americas resulted in a huge loss of life for the Amerindians everywhere since they had little or no resistance to European dread diseases. North America tended to be settled by intact families that pushed the Amerindians out of the way or onto reservations, then these settlers established a Western-style culture.
Latin America, on the other hand, was settled largely by adventurers and single men who intermingled and married the native populations. The resulting culture from this grand mixta was quite different from that of North American, and it bore a very strong Amerindian and African influence.

Things that North Americans take for granted are not common in Latin cultures including but not limited to:

1) innocent until proven guilty — There is a pervasive assumption of guilty until proven innocent;

2) honoring contracts — Many Latins and their governments take the position that no piece of paper can make them do anything they don’t want to do;

3) respect for punctuality — Being 30 minutes to one hour late for any commitment is the norm;

4) completion of work to the highest quality possible — Major contracts especially for infrastructure tend to be shoddy and completed to the lowest acceptable standards resulting in very
A.M. Newspapers archives graphic
Saying invaders were brutal is an understatement.
early failure of many highways, bridges, and even high end homes. The most common failure is the use of concrete mixed on site that is placed hours after its useful life has expired.

In spite of Latino machismo (which derived from Islamic Sharia Law during the Moorish occupation of Spain) the family culture tends toward matriarchal, a trait derived from the Amerindians. Latins are very litigious, suing over any frivolous personal slight. 

While the eight, pre-Columbian indigenous cultures had highly organized cities, governments, water delivery, and road systems, they had not discovered the wheel. Virtually all of them enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle of promiscuity and alcohol abuse, and very few exhibited anything close to today’s family values.

The heaviest concentration of natives lived in México, Central America, The Antilles, Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. Interestingly, native women participated in their families and governments to a much greater degree than they would later under Spanish subjugation.

Spain imposed a caste system on its American colonies. The most privileged class was called peninsulares or immigrants from Spain. This class was the only one permitted to occupy ruling or government positions. Their offspring or criollos had to be content with work as artisans and/or merchants. Beneath the criollos came, in order, mestizos, indigenes, mulattos, sambas, and blacks, most of whom were used as domestics or slaves. Due to the lack of a pool of white female immigrants, many of the conquistadores married Amerindians forming a huge mestizo class.

Spanish domination of Latin America did nothing to encourage individual initiative, responsibility, or the desire for self-government. Also Latin America lags the rest of the developed world with respect to an industrial base due to 300 years of Spanish neglect and the iron fist of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as that of the conquistadores. The only industries developed under Spanish rule were sugar, ship building, and textiles.

Most of Costa Rica’s current day industries are either headquartered in other countries or are maquilladora types operating in free trade zones.

The combination of a conquered and enslaved population, forced dependence on Spain, and the prohibition of trade with countries other than Spain encouraged the development of schemes to foster contraband that became ingrained in the Latin American culture and exists to this day.

NEXT: A brief history of Costa Rica IV: Government HERE!

Text: Copyrighted 2010  Clifford Fain Dukes, Jr. Used with permission.

A brief history of Costa Rica:

I. The land and climate  HERE!
II: Exploration  HERE!
III: Development of the Latin culture
IV: Government  HERE!
V: Economic considerations HERE!
VI: Some problem areas HERE!

Planning resources for would-be expats HERE!

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