San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Juan Santamaría Day

What is Juan Santamaría Day?

Costa Rica, lacking an army since 1948, doesn’t have many war heroes. The most notable exception is Juan Santamaría, a poor drummer boy from Alajuela. Santamaría helped thwart a notorious U.S. figure’s march through Central America during the mid-19th century.

Held every April, Juan Santamaría Day commemorates the Costa Rican victory in the Battle of Rivas in 1856 against the U.S. citizen William Walker and his mercenary army.

After overthrowing the government of Nicaragua, Walker set his sights on other Central American countries in hopes of developing a slave-trade empire. The Costa Rican government sent troops to Nicaragua to fight the growing threat.

It seemed unlikely that Costa Rica would win the battle until young Juan Santamaría set fire to a hostel where a number of Walker’s soldiers were staying. The fire led to a heavy loss in troops for Walker’s army, but also killed Santamaría. This act of heroism confirmed Costa Rica’s sovereignty and is celebrated every year with a parade and ceremony in Alajuela.



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Curt Ullman

William Walker returned to Granada a self-proclaimed hero after the 2nd Battle of Rivas where he lost a few men, and rigged an election to become President of the Republic of Nicaragua for a full year. As president he nationalized Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company which provided all of Walker’s gringos, 1000’s of eager yanks to take over Nicaragua. Vanderbilt shut it all down, and gave Costa Rica 1 million in gold, and rifled muskets, along with an experienced British mercenary who led the Costa Ricans down the Sarapaqui to take Castillo ,then reclaimed the river steamers, took San Carlos, and that was then end of Walker, who, finally surrounded in Rivas and surrendered to the US in May, 1857. By the way, the 2nd Battle of Rivas was a disaster for Costa Rica, from cholera after the battle when they threw bodies down wells, the army took the disease back to San Jose, where it killed 10,000, 10% of the population.

Anyway, Costa Rica should have a Cornelius Vanderbilt day. He did a hell of a lot more to destroy Walker than Juan, who did, as far as I can see, nothing.

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Just goes to show, ‘ Don’t mess with a R.R. Tycoon’s profit margin

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