His name is Juan Santamaría. Today his name may be recognizable for those traveling into or out of San Jose’s largest airport. The airport in San Jose, airport code SJO, is officially named after Juan Santamaria. He is known by Costa Rican’s as a national hero.
Early Life & Death
He was born on August 29, 1831, in Alajuela, Costa Rica. At the time Alajuela was the capital of Costa Rica, following Costa Rica’s independence in 1821. He died on April 11, 1856 in Rivas, Nicaragua during the second battle of Rivas.
William Walker Conquers Nicaragua
The story of Juan Santamaria starts with William Walker. Costa Rica was in the middle of a war against William Walker. Walker was a power-hungry physician-lawyer-mercenary from the United States of America who was attempting to overthrow all of Central America to establish English speaking colonies under his control. Walker was successful in overthrowing the Nicaraguan government in early 1856 and declared himself President of Nicaragua on July 12th of that year. After overthrowing Nicaragua, he continued heading south to Costa Rica, where he declared war against Costa Rica on March 1, 1856.
Walker Starts War with Costa Rica
The President of Costa Rica (Juan Rafael Mora Porras) publicly asked for any man who was able to fight and to defend Costa Rica to band together and head to Nicaragua. History states that Juan Santamaría was a poor laborer and the illegitimate son of a single mother. In other words, he had very little prospects or hope for much success. Seeing this as an opportunity to have an adventure and possibly improve his situation, he proudly joined the army as a “drummer boy”. Even though he was twenty-five years old at the time, the term “drummer boy” is still used to describe him in multiple online locations.
Juan Santamaria Dies
The Costa Rican troops headed north from Alajuela and won a small battle in Santa Rosa, Guanacaste. Walker lost 26 soldiers in the battle. From Santa Rosa, the troops marched fifty miles to Rivas, Nicaragua arriving on April 8, 1856. The goal of the Costa Rica army was to drive Walker out of a hotel or inn, that provided an advantageous fighting position. The battle that broke out is known as the Second Battle of Rivas. The Costa Rican’s were unable to gain an advantage and resorted to trying to burn down the building that Walker was based in. Juan Santamaria, the ‘drummer boy’, agreed to lead the charge to burn down the building where Walker was hiding. Santamaria grabbed a torch and set fire to the building which resulted in the Costa Rican army winning the battle, but unfortunately Juan Santamaria was killed during the battle.
His actions were immediately remembered, and his spirit for freedom and decisive actions, is still celebrated today.
Costa Rica Remembers Juan Santamaria Every Year
For his delivery despite being so young (25 years) in his honor, the Alajuela International Airport bears his name and there is also the Juan Santamaría Historical Cultural Museum, there is also a bronze statue in a park in Alajuela and another in the Assembly Legislative of Costa Rica.
In schools and some public institutions every April 11 is celebrated as the day of Juan Santamaria (Battle of Rivas) with costumes and typical dances of Costa Rica.