The province of Limon, Costa Rica encompasses the entire Atlantic coastal strip within a single department which has experienced poverty under the dominance of foreign companies over the last 100 years. Costa Rica is heavily dependent on banana revenues, making its Atlantic coast region central to the national  economy. Furthermore, the Limon coast is linked to the rest of Costa Rica by an effective railroad system.
    The Costa Rica Railroad, completed in 1890, was built, owned and controlled by Minor C. Keith, the North American banana magnate. The original reason for building the railroad was not bananas but coffee.  Since the coastal region was sparsely settled by Amerindians, Keith and the Costa Rican government imported a foreign labor force to build the railroad. The first wave included 400 Chinese, 600 Jamaicans and 500 workers from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. Another 1,500 workers came in the sd wave, including 762 Italians, with the remainder consisting of Barbadians, Hindus and Chinese. However, only the Afro-Caribbean peoples survived and remained, turning Limon into a black, English-speaking cultural enclave.
    The rapid expansion of banana production after 1910 meant that almost all the Afro-Caribbean workers worked for the United Fruit Company in one way or another: on the plantation, on the railroad, or loading cargo at the port. As an imported foreign element, they were not recognized as citizens by the Costa Rican government, and most of the country was off limits to them because of an unwritten color bar.
    During the 1930's, significant changes took places in Limon. United Fruit began pulling out and shifting its operations to the Pacific coast around Golfito because of  a banana disease. By 1935, only 25% of the bananas produced in Limon came from United Fruit's plantations, although most independent growers still sold their produce to the company. However, many banana workers were left without employment and destitute. They could not even travel to Golfito to work because of racial laws and attitudes.
    Linkages were developing between the Afro-Caribbean workers and the national labor movement, then led by the Costa Rica Communist Party. In 1934, the PCCR organized a successful strike among the banana workers through the Confederation of Workers of Costa Rica. The strike was supported even by many black workers who were not members of the labor confederation, giving the entire Afro-Caribbean population a sense of power and lending to further labor organizations.
    The 1940 election brought to power the head of the Social Christian Party, Rafael Calderon Guardia, reflecting its strong trade union support. Eventually, Calderon turned to the BOC(Communist Party's Workers and Peasant Bloc) to shore up his failing popular base. To this odd couple was added the Catholic Church, which saw support for the government as a way to regain some of its lost privileges.
    With the start of the Cold War in 1947, the triple alliance broke apart. Clashes in San Jose erupted between the Calderon/communist forces and an organized mass resistance representing popular and middle-class sectors. In 1948, it escalated into a civil war that lasted for 40 days. It was won by Jose Figueres, whose Liberation Movement took control of Cartago in the highlands and then Limon on the coast, thus controlling the railroad. Figueres won the respect and affection of the Afro-Caribbean population through his genuine concern about their poverty and the discrimination they suffered. His government allowed the blacks to apply for citizenship and to travel and settle anywhere in Costa Rica. In 1954, the government signed new contracts with the United Fruit Company calling for the construction of schools and hospitals, the eradication of malaria and the implementation of social security laws. Despite this pressure for better terms from the company, Figueres' government did not alter the underlying monopolistic control by United Fruit. In 1955 the company owned 500,000 acres of land in Limon and Golfito of which 75% lay fallow, the company holding it in "reserve".
    During a twenty year dead period of company inactivity (1940-60), the workers sustained primarily by their own production of bananas and cocoa. Further, the oil crisis of 1973 dealt a severe blow to the economy and deepened poverty in the coastal region. As a result, many costenos, particularly blacks, were forced to move to San Jose or migrate to Panama or the U.S. in search of work.
    In Limon today, the Afro-caribbean population is dying out, moving away or intermarrying as mestizo Costa Ricans increasingly move in. While English language and customs are still very common in Limon, the future if this Caribbean link is uncertain.

See CIA Demographics

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