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Guanacaste, the northwestern most province of Costa Rica, bordering Nicaragua. Today it includes both the Nicoya Peninsula and the area from the volcanic mountain chain (Cordillera de Guanacaste) down to the Tempisque River basin. In colonial times Guanacaste referred only to the Tempisque plains or the settlement of Liberia, today the provincial capital but barely a collection of huts as late as the early nineteenth century.

Prior to independence both Nicoya and Costa Rica had been politically dependent upon Nicaragua, with the Costa Rican jurisdiction extending to just south of Liberia on the plain and the Partido de Nicoya controlling both the peninsula and the northern plains. During the Cortes of Cádiz era (1812–1814) all of Nicoya was added to Costa Rica for electoral purposes to reach the minimum figure of 60,000 inhabitants needed to elect one deputy. In a Cabildo Abierto of 25 July 1824, Nicoya allegedly chose to remain with Costa Rica rather than Nicaragua, a choice the Central American Federation provisionally approved on 9 December 1825. Nicaragua and Costa Rica argued repeatedly over this issue in a number of agreements signed during the nineteenth century, especially the Cañas-Jerez Treaty of 15 April 1858. This was upheld, from the Costa Rican point of view, by the arbitration of U.S. president Grover Cleveland in 1888. The entire province was briefly renamed Moracia (1854–1860), in honor of President Juan Rafael Mora's defeat of William Walker in Nicaragua.

Guanacaste was traditionally ruled by absentee landlords from Nicaragua and highland Costa Rica. Until the early twentieth century most settlement was in the Indian towns of Nicoya and Santa Cruz on the Nicoya Peninsula, with open-range cattle ranches on the plains. In the early twentieth century a substantial gold mining region opened up in the mountains at the southern end of the province, and by mid-century major improvements in cattle breeding and pasture were rapidly modernizing the plains areas. Some of the most violent and bitter agrarian conflicts in Costa Rican history came out of these processes.

Since the 1960s Guanacaste has developed a mechanized farming economy in rice, corn, and beans. It has also benefited from a large-scale tourist industry based on the province's beaches and national parks. However, much of the laboring population has been forced to migrate in search of better opportunities in the Central Valley region and farm work along the Atlantic and southern Pacific coasts.

See alsoCosta Ricaxml .


On Guanacaste, see Lowell Gudmundson, Hacendados, precaristas y políticos: La ganadería y el latifundismo guanacasteco, 1800–1950 (1980).

Marc Edelman, The Logic of the Latifundio (1993). On boundaries, see Luis Fernando Sibaja Chacón, Nuestro limite con nicaragua (1974). For firsthand descriptions, see Carlos Meléndez Chaverri, ed., Viajeros por Guanacaste (1974).

Additional Bibliography

Cabrera, Roberto. Santa Cruz, Guanacaste: Una aproximación a la historia y la cultura popular. San José, Costa Rica: Ediciones Guayacán, 1989.

Monge-Nájera, Julián. Historia natural de Guanacaste. San José, Costa Rica: Editorial Universidad Estatal a Distancia, 2004.

                                     Lowell Gudmundson