Italy in 1951, devastated by World War II and plunged into a serious economic crisis, Admiral Luigi Sansonetti founded the Italian Society for Agricultural Colonization (SICA) in Rome, with the aim of colonizing 10,000 hectares that the Government of Costa Rica had arranged for that purpose. Thus began one of the stories that best illustrates the link between migration and development in Central America.
With the support of the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migrations (currently the IOM), some 150 Italian families members of SICA arrived in Costa Rica in 1952. Approximately 500 Italians crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become settlers in lands hitherto virgin and even remote of the most remote regions of the still young Central American country.
In his book “I burned my ships in these mountains”, Vito Sansonetti recalls how rudimentary roads and bridges were built to bring the sawmill, the power plant and supplies to the nascent colony. “The driver of the first truck doubted the strength of one of the bridges,” wrote Sansonetti. “Then GiulioCesare (who directed the construction) went under the bridge, peremptorily ordering ‘Now come on!’ And the truck passed.”
In the midst of enormous difficulties, the colony grew thanks to the cultivation of coffee and the tireless work of migrant families. In a few years they built schools, a medical clinic, coffee-processing facilities, and an airstrip. The region came to be established as a canton under the name of CotoBrus, which today has approximately 40,000 inhabitants. The vast majority of them are Ticos who found a space to prosper in this region.
Benefits of Italian immigration
The benefits of Italian immigration in Costa Rica are not limited to the economic level, but rather reflect a genuine rapprochement between Italian and Costa Rican culture. “Today we can see how in the south of Costa Rica, especially in San Vito de Java, Italian is compulsory in some schools. There is also the Alighieri center that my father founded, and who said that this should serve for the meeting of the three cultures: the Italian, the Tica and the indigenous”, says Luigi Sansonetti, grandson of the founding admiral of SICA. His father, Vito, created the Centro Ítalo Costarricense Dante Alighieri, which teaches Italian and also awards the Vito Sansonetti prize, which each year offers a student the opportunity to travel to that European country.
Luigi Sansonetti in an interview for the IOM
Every December 18, International Migrants Day was celebrated. It is necessary to tell stories like that of these Italian families in Costa Rica. Today, when migration and forced displacement have reached historic peaks, and when for the first time in history, the United Nations has an exclusive agency for migration, it is time to count them.