San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Country Celebrates Abolition

TWO hundred years ago, Haitianslaves rose up against their owners andtook the reins of their country. The newlyfreed black state became a lighthouse forslaves throughout the Caribbean andbecame the fulcrum for the eventual abolitionof the slave trade from Africa.The United Nations has acknowledgedthe anniversary by dedicating thisyear to reflection on the abolition of slaveryand on contemporary forms ofenslavement.As the world contemplates one of themost painful chapters of its history, CostaRica is taking a look back as well and willhost a conference next week in the heartof the country’s black population, theCaribbean port city Limón.CALLED “Breaking the Silence: 200Years of Haitian Independence,” the Aug.26-28 conference will include a string ofguest speakers from universities such asYork, Massachusetts, West Indies, NewOrleans, Texas Christian, Copenhagen,California Berkeley and Costa Rica,among others.Rina Cáceres, director of theUniversity of Costa Rica’s HistoricResearch Center, said slavery was abolished180 years ago in Costa Rica as apart of an isthmus-wide action.Three years after gaining independencefrom Spain, Costa Rica, as a memberof the Central American Federation,outlawed slavery in April 1824 and set upan indemnity committee. The reparations,however, were not paid to the slaves asmight seem rational from today’s perspective,rather, they were paid to the formerowners in compensation for their lossof property, Cáceres said.In some cases there were hitches inthe plan. Some Costa Rican slave ownersfought to keep their slaves into the 1830s,and in Guatemala, some agricultural businessowners took their slaves and fled toCuba.IN the 1500s and 1600s, Costa Ricadid not have a powerful economy likeMexico, Colombia, Peru or evenNicaragua, Cáceres said. It also had oneof the lowest numbers of slaves in theregion.“There’s no way to know for sure howmany slaves there were. There arerecords, but every time a slave was soldhis (or her) name was changed,” Cáceressaid. “We can estimate that 10% of thepopulation was enslaved in the 16th and17th centuries.”From 1600-1800 the population ofCosta Rica swelled from about 15,000 toabout 52,500, according to the Revista deCosta Rica, 1921.Like everywhere in the Americas, theSpaniards first enslaved the natives, andwhen they were decimated by disease andharsh working conditions, the Spanishimported slaves from Africa. A trade ofnative slaves existed from Guatemala toCuba, where there was a mining and agricultureboom, and from Guatemala, CostaRica’s Pacific coast and Nicaragua toPeru, where there was a booming miningeconomy.WHEN the African slaves werebrought in, contrary to popular opinionthey did not go straight to Limón, Cáceressaid. Rather, they were taken to Cartago,the Central Valley town east of San Joséand former capital of the country.Slaves worked in Cartago in agriculture,construction and as house servants inthe late 1600s and early 1700s. Later,when cocoa plantations began to export toCaribbean markets and infiltrate illegalBritish trade networks to European markets,black slaves worked in the fields onthe Caribbean slope. But not many.Today’s black population inCaribbean Costa Rica has nothing to dowith Costa Rican slavery, according toCáceres. Their ancestors came fromHonduras, Jamaica, Cuba and otherplaces at the end of the 1800s, after abolition,to build the railroad and work in thebanana plantations.The former save populations inCartago and the Caribbean mixed with therest of the population long before that, shesaid, which is one of the reasons therehave been no efforts to compensate thedescendants of slaves here.Cáceres added that the idea of reparationsfor the victims of slavery is moreNorth American, because slavery wasabolished there so much later.NEXT week’s conference will takeplace at the UCR’s regional campus inLimón. The inauguration begins at 6 p.m.Aug. 26. For information, call 207-4839.The Costa Rican Tourist Institute (ICT)is also celebrating the commemorationwith calypso, reggae, gospel, soul, jazz andsalsa music as well as Afro-Caribbeanfood, a fashion show and stories.The Jazz Café will host the inaugurationof the festivities tomorrow at 9 p.m.See the ICT schedule of events below.

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