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Mora Porrás, Juan Rafael (1814–1860)

Mora Porrás, Juan Rafael (1814–1860)

Juan Rafael Mora Porrás (b. 8 February 1814; d. 30 September 1860), president of Costa Rica (1849–1859). Mora is best remembered for his leading role in defeating the filibuster William Walker in the National Campaign of 1856. Along with his brother, José Joaquín (1818–1860), Mora was the primary military commander of the expeditionary force which engaged Walker in southern Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica. Some 9,000 troops were raised in Costa Rica and, along with local, British, Peruvian, and Guatemalan financial assistance, they were instrumental in the eventual collapse of Walker's puppet state in Nicaragua.

The impact of the military campaign on Costa Rica was enormous, in terms of both political mythology and material life. In purely demographic terms perhaps 10 percent of the nation's nearly 100,000 inhabitants died in the cholera epidemic which broke out with the return of the troops. As a tribute to Mora's leadership the border province of Guanacaste was briefly renamed Moracia (1854–1860). Subsequent generations have referred to him by the diminutive of "Don Juanito" and have considered him perhaps the true founder of Costa Rican sovereignty.

Mora was one of the few early political leaders in Costa Rica without a university education. By the time his father died in 1836, Mora was already embarked on a business rather than an academic career. By the late 1830s Mora had become a significant property owner and one of the leading wholesale traders. He was also one of the first to undertake large-scale coffee plantings, west of San José on former municipal lands.

He was elected deputy from San José province (1846–1847) and assumed the presidency in 1849. He engineered his reelection in 1853 over semipublic military conspiracies against him. A similar reelection was staged in April 1859, but on 14 August 1859 he was deposed by a barracks revolt and exiled to El Salvador. Hereturned, leading an exile invasion force, on 17 September 1860, but after they landed at Puntarenas and secured a small coastal strip, the campaign fizzled.Hewas taken prisoner and ordered shot by the government headed by his former brother-in-law, José María Montealegre, in Puntarenas.

Opposition to Mora was led by rival coffee planter-merchants fearful of a state bank intended to provide smaller growers with crop loans, as well as to heighten Mora's control of finance and export activities. Mora and his associate in this endeavor, the Spaniard-Argentine Crisanto de Medina, were the targets of intense criticism by commercial competitors after the decree of 1 July 1858 established the Banco de Medina.

The Mora regime had also angered the church hierarchy by not responding to the creation of an archdiocese for Costa Rica in 1850 with a willingness to negotiate the application of the tithe to coffee production, disregarded locally since the beginnings of the industry in the 1830s. Church-state tensions reached new heights with the December 1858 expulsion of Archbishop Anselmo Llorente y Lafuente for too vigorously defending family members involved in political disputes with the president.

A final element of discontent with the Mora regime was based on his ill-advised campaign to auction certain of the remaining common lands, often close associates. This decree, of 6 August 1859, threatened lands surrounding San José and Alajuela long occupied by farmers paying nominal annual rents. Public protests broke out and were used as justification by the military forces who deposed Mora the following week. In this, as in other areas, Mora followed classically liberal policies in Costa Rica's internal economic affairs, despite his identification in Central America with the conservative forces opposed to Morazán and later to Walker.

Juan Rafael Moras Porrás was the son of San José residents Camilo Mora Alvarado and Ana María Porrás. He married Inés Aguilar de Coeto, who survived him by several decades and successfully administered the couple's many properties. She was subsequently one of the major suppliers of sugarcane to the state liquor monopoly established by her husband while he was president. Their children were Camilo and Juana Mora Aguilar.

See alsoCosta Rica .


Lowell Gudmundson, Costa Rica Before Coffee (1986).

Carlos Meléndez Chaverri, Dr. José María Montealegre (1968).

Rafael Obregón Loría, Conflictos militares y políticos de Costa Rica (1951).

Rafael Obregón Loría, Costa Rica y la guerra del 56: La campaña del transito, 2d ed. (1976).

Armando Rodríguez Porras, Juan Rafael Mora y la guerra contra los filibusteros (1955).

Additional Bibliography

Botey, Ana María. Costa Rica, estado, economía, sociedad y cultura desde las sociedades autoóctonas hasta 1914. San José, Costa Rica: Editorial de la Universidad de Costa Rica, 2002.

Chacón M., Euclides. Indice cronológico de la Campaña Nacional, 1856–1857. Alajuela, Costa Rica: Museo Histórico Cultural Juan Santamaría, 2002.

                                 Lowell Gudmundson

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