In 1852, Costa Rica had just declared its independence from Spain and would soon need to defend itself from American imperialists. During a relative political lull, Juan Manuel Mora Porras, Costa Rica’s president, prepared for diplomatic visits from the United States and Great Britain. He realized that the country was ill-prepared to receive foreign visitors, because it had no national anthem. The president quickly commissioned an anthem to be performed for the visitors.

At the time, Manuel María Gutiérrez was the director of San José’s military band, and he dashed off the music to the anthem in time for the official visits. Although Gutiérrez was a consummate musician, he was not a lyricist; he wrote only the rousing music to the national anthem. Its words would not be written for another fifty years.

In 1903, the Costa Rican government, headed by President Ascención Esquivel, sponsored a lyric-writing contest for the national anthem. The poet, José María Zeledón, won the contest’s 500-colón prize with a passionate poem about peace, national bravery and the good hearts of the country’s laborers. Interestingly, Zeledón used the pseudonym of “Campesino”—a reference to Costa Rica’s honorable labor force and to one of the country’s true ideals—when he signed his name as the anthem’s lyricist.

Costa Ricans heard the complete national anthem—and Zeledón’s lyrics—for the first time on independence day, September 15, 1903.

Listen to the Costa Rican national anthem.

Read more about the history of the Costa Rican national anthem.

Read more about the American imperialists and Juan Santamaría, the Costa Rican hero who defeated them.

Read more about the Costa Rican idea of the campesino.

Writing and editing by Beaumont Hardy Editing.

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