Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small country in the isthmus of Central America connecting North and South America.  It has a population of 4.5 million and is twice as large as Israel.  It has an unusual history in that it was one of the last areas of America that was conquered and populated by the Spanish.  Christopher Columbus arrived at Limon on the east coast on his fourth voyage.  The native Indians were very fierce and were all but wiped out, and because it has a mountainous jungle climate it was largely ignored by the colonialists in favor of more easily settled areas both to the north (Nicaragua) and south (Panama).  It was considered part of Nicaragua until it achieved independence in 1821. Although its name means "rich coast," supposedly because the Indians wore gold jewellery, no gold was found there and indeed it is a rather poor country, but with a rich ecology of plants and animals.  It's main industry is tourism.
I am writing about Costa Rica because the Costa Rican Ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Rodrigo Xavier Carreras Jiminez gave a lecture at Netanya Academic College on "The History of the Anusim in Costa Rica," under the sponsorship of the College's Inst. for the Study of Secret Jews (Anusim) and Casa Shalom.  What has Costa Rica to do with the secret Jews (also known as "Marranos")?  Interestingly, Costa Rica was founded  in the 17th century by a group of ca. 200 settlers from Leon, the oldest city in Nicaragua, who are widely known to have been Anusim.  It made sense for the Anusim to settle in Costa Rica for one reason, it was remote and hence far from the control of both the Spanish Colonial Government and the Church and its Inquisition.  Costa Rica developed as a very independent and scattered community, with little adherence to the Catholic faith, it was a refuge for those fleeing persecution.  In fact twice the Bishops in Leon in different time periods excommunicated the whole community of Costa Rica because they were not attending Church and not going to Mass.  The Inquisition never penetrated to Costa Rica, and in fact the first colonial flag of Costa Rica was a six-pointed star (Magen David) filled in red, but it was subsequently replaced by a more traditional striped flag.
Costa Rica is unique in the world in that it has no army!  In 1940-44 there was an uprising against the government, and after the victory of the rebellion, in which the Ambassador's father Rev. Benjamin Nunez played a key role, the Army was disbanded and the rebel forces dispersed, and the country ended up with no army.  A new constitution was adopted in 1949 and there has been peace ever since.  In 1950 a study was done by Prof. Blanco at the Costa Rican University of surnames in Costa Rica, from which he concluded that ca. 80% of Costa Ricans are of "Marrano" origin, although most of them don't realize this.  However, surnames can be misleading because there were many slaves and native workers who adopted the names of their "owners."  Near the capital San Jose there is a small old colonial town called Escazu which is known locally as "the witches," and this is thought to be due to the fact that women there put on a veil on Friday nights and light candles and say "baruch" which is like the Spanish word "bruja" meaning witch.  There is a similar connotation in parts of northern Brazil where there are many Anusim.
Costa Rica has had a strong history of support for Israel.  Former Costa Rican President Granados was Chair of a UN Commission that investigated and supported the need for Israeli independence.  The Ambassador's father was the Costa Rican UN representative during the UN vote for resolution 181 in 1947 recognizing the independence of Israel, and he was instrumental in persuading other Central American countries to do likewise.  Costa Rica and Israel share many values in common and have a long-standing friendship.


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