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Juan Santamaría Day To Be Celebrated Sunday April 11

On Sunday April 11 Costa Rica celebrates the 154th anniversary of the Batalla de Rivas (Battle at Rivas) and Juan Santamaría, the only Costa Rican to have a national holiday declared in his honour.

Alejandrina Mata, viceministra de Educación, announced on Tuesday that the celebration will take place on Sunday, when public and high school students, as well teachers, are required to assist and not today (April 9) or Monday April 12 as had been previously announced.

Students and teachers will have Monday off, as all schools will be closed to make up for the holiday on Sunday.

Battle of Rivas occurred on 11 April 1856 between Costa Rican militia under General Mora and the Nicaraguan forces of William Walker.

At the time, a major trade route between New York City and San Francisco ran through southern Nicaragua. Ships from New York would enter the San Juan River from the Atlantic and sail across Lake Nicaragua. People and goods would then be transported by stagecoach over a narrow strip of land near the city of Rivas, before reaching the Pacific and being shipped to San Francisco.

The commercial exploitation of this route had been attained from a previous Nicaraguan administration to Wall Street tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company. Garrison and Morgan had wrested control of the company from Vanderbilt and then supported Walker's expedition. Vanderbilt spread rumors that the company was issuing stock illegally in order to depress its value, allowing him to regain controlling interest.

In July 1856, Walker set himself up as president of Nicaragua, after conducting a farcical election.

Juan Santamaría statue, Alajuela, Costa Rica

As ruler of Nicaragua, Walker then revoked the Transit Company's charter, claiming that it had violated the agreement, and granted use of the route back to Garrison and Morgan.

Outraged, Vanderbilt successfully pressured the U.S. government to withdraw its recognition of Walker's regime. Walker had also scared his neighbors and American and European investors with talk of further military conquests in Central America.

Vanderbilt finance and train a military coalition of these states, led by Costa Rica, and worked to prevent men and supplies from reaching Walker. He also provided defectors from Walker's army with payments and free passage back to the U.S.

Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora watched with great interest as Walker consolidated his forces and power in Nicaragua.
Fearing that Walker would become unbeatable and at the urging and backing of Vanderbilt's business empire Mora declared war, not on Nicaragua, but on Walker and his filibusters, on March 1, 1856.

Having been talking about the filibusters for a while, Mora's (or Don Juanito as he was called) made this declaration in a famous speech that begins with the words, "Countrymen,take your weapons, the time that I've been warning you has arrived"

Enraged Walker ordered the invasion of Costa Rica and a filibuster force crossed the border into Guanacaste, while the Costa Rican army moved down from the Central Valley in the same direction. With the army traveled the President but command was in the hands of his brothers Jose Joaquin Mora and his brother in law General Cañas.

Upon hearing that a small contingent of men were encamped near the city of Guanacaste's Hacienda Santa Rosa Mora led three thousand of his men to attack.

Walker's men were under the command of Colonel Louis Schlessinger, an inexperienced officer. On March 20, with no sentries posted, Mora’s Costa Ricans surprised and attacked the small group; Schlessinger himself ran away, leaving his troops vulnerable, disorganized, and without leadership.

Juan Santamaría, a drummer boy from the town of Alajuela, had volunteered for his country's impromptu militia; his moment of glory came when the commanding officer asked for a volunteer to set fire to El Mesón de Guerra — the filibusters' stronghold.
Santamaría, torch in hand, fulfilled his patriotic duty. He approached the hostel and tossed his torch onto the thatched roof. This caused the enemy to flee, even though Santamaria was cut down by sniper fire in the process.

That is where Santamaría gained his martyrdom.

Walker and his surviving soldiers fled to Granada during the night. Several factions inside the Costa Rican Army sought to pursue and kill Walker, thus ending the war. President Mora cancelled the plan, seeing his troops were already battle-worn. Mora wanted to use his resources to bury the dead and take care of the wounded and sick.

Although Costa Rica was victorious in the Battle of Rivas, the country could not enjoy the victory. Bodies from the fighting were dumped in the wells of the city causing a huge outbreak of cholera.

Thinking that the cholera was brought by the hot weather of the Nicaraguan lowlands, the troops wanted to go back home. The Costa Rican troops brought the disease home to Costa Rica with them where it ravaged the entire country, killing one tenth of the population.

Mora was blamed for the cholera outbreak, the severe losses inflicted to the army and for the economic damage to the country because of the war debts. A coup was planned for his return to the capital but this was aborted.

The war against Walker will go on, joined now by the armies of other Central American countries under the overall command of General Mora. The Costa Ricans now focused on cutting the men and weapons flow to the filibusters cutting the transit route.

However once the war was over, Mora was taken out of power in 1859 and executed in 1860 when he tried to come back to power along General Cañas.

The Battle of Rivas put great confidence to the Costa Rican Army in the fight against Walker, who before this battle believed himself undefeatable and unstoppable.

Source: Wikipedia


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