Our international airport in San Jose, Costa Rica is named after him, April 11 is a national holiday bearing his name, but who was Juan Santamaria anyway?
In the mid-1800s, William Walker, an American lawyer, journalist and adventurer, organized several private military expeditions into Latin America, with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control. After securing Nicaragua in 1855, Walker’s next planned move was to invade Costa Rica to the south.
With the backing of American businessmen (who were more interested in the trade route that ran through Central America, than in Costa Rica itself), Juan Rafael Mora, the president of Costa Rica at the time, made a proactive move and declared war on William Walker and his regime. Walker organized his troops to invade Costa Rica in a preemptive action, but was defeated at the Battle of Santa Rosa on March 20, 1856.
A few weeks later, Costa Rican troops decided to carry out a surprise attack on Walker and his men. They entered into Nicaraguan territory and battled Walker’s troops at the Second Battle of Rivas on April 11, 1856. It was in this second battle that Juan Santamaría, later to be recognized as Costa Rica’s national hero, played a key role.
Legend has it that Juan Santamaria, a poor drummer boy from the town of Alajuela, courageously approached the enemies’ fort and facing an array of gunfire, tossed his torch of fire onto the thatched roof, killing many of Walker’s men and causing the others to retreat. Juan Santamaria’s fearless act resulted in his death, but also led to him being named Costa Rica’s national hero.
April 11 is a national holiday in honor of the martyrdom of Juan Santamaria and the other brave men who gave their lives to defend the freedom of Costa Rica and kept Central America from complete collapse.
Next time you visit the the international Juan Santamaria airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, look to see if you spot the statue of Juan Santamaria holding his symbolic torch in his hand.