Bailey83221 (bailey83221) wrote,


"How Costa Rica Lost Its Military"

This article was only available Google Cache, and will soon be deleted, so I decided to save it on the internet

A Levels-of-Analysis View of the Dissolution of the Costa Rican Military Institution (December 1, 1948) "

Since time immemorial, our world has been plagued by strife, war, and conflict. It is difficult to imagine today a world wholly absent of war. For this reason, attaining military strength has been one of the primary policy goals of nearly every state, kingdom, and empire in the history of the world. There are very few nation-states that would willingly give up the military strength they have, and most of those who have may not have done so without having been forced by stronger powers. It would be difficult to say that any country at all would be willing to give up their military strength for some greater purpose if it were not the case that Costa Rica has done so.

A small nation-state in the conflict-ridden Central American subregion, Costa Rica, under the eighteen-month leadership of President José María Figueres Ferrer and his Junta, abolished its military after a bloody civil war that ended in 1948 and marked the beginning of what has since become the most democratic and stable of all the Central American states. Despite all the attention that has been put toward the strengthening and maintenance of military institutions in most Latin American countries, Costa Rica has survived for the past half-century without one. The reasons for which such an unprecedented event might have been possible on the morning of December 1, 1948 are many, but most authors have tended to expound upon only one or two reasons, giving weight to them on the basis of their personal biases. This paper will attempt to provide a comprehensive view of many of the different reasons often given (and some not given as often as they should) to explain why the Costa Rican Junta led by President Figueres abolished the military in 1948. The analysis of these reasons will take the levels-of-analysis approach, and it will attempt to show how the systemic, domestic, and idiosyncratic levels were all crucial to the decision to abolish the military.

The systemic level will examine three factors: the United States' influence in strengthening the Costa Rican military under President Teodoro Picado in order to give it the ability to protect both itself and the transoceanic waterway during World War II, Costa Rica's unstable relations with Nicaragua and unstable Central American international relations in general, and the great amount of trust placed by Costa Rica in the mutual defense agreements signed during the first half of the 20th-century. At the domestic level, two salient factors will be examined: Costa Rica's political history of antimilitarism, its affection for democratic institutions, and the crumbling of those institutions leading to its bloody civil war. Finally, at the idiosyncratic level, the figure of José Figueres Ferrer, who led the National Liberation Army into the streets of San José, has been credited with the ultimate decision to dissolve the military. While the idea to dissolve the military institution did not begin with Figueres, it seems unlikely that the Costa Rican military would have been dissolved without him.

The World Players: The Systemic Level

Costa Rica is a small, Central American nation-state that shares its political boundaries with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It has beaches on both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and it falls within the sphere of influence of the U.S. As one might expect, all of these factors affect Costa Rica in a fundamental way. Costa Rica's relations with its neighbors, and its interest in working with international institutions have offered it unique ways of dealing with external problems that allowed it to make the daring move of dissolving its military. How these systemic relations affected Costa Rica is the subject of this section.

The Hegemon from the North: The United States

Since the end of 19th-century, the U.S. has taken a strong leadership role in the Caribbean and Central American region. Once the U.S. began construction of its transoceanic waterway through the Panamanian isthmus, Central America became a region of strategic importance to U.S. interests. As a result, the U.S. has held a steady presence throughout Central America, and all of the countries of Central America have been strongly affected by the reality of U.S. hegemonic power over the region (Molina & Palmer, 1997; Peeler, 2003). Costa Rican relations with the U.S. have historically been cordial. Even in the first part of the 20th-century, when Costa Rican criticism of U.S. intervention was at its most intense, Costa Rica has tended to avoid hostile relations with the hegemon (Ameringer, 1982; Hoivik & Aas, 1981; Peeler, 2003).

Relations between Costa Rica and the U.S. grew especially strong after the beginning of World War II. In 1940 Costa Rica depended heavily on Europe as a market for its exports. Germany in particular was an important market for coffee, Costa Rica's most important export. On the other hand, U.S. concerns over the strategic security of the Panama Canal led it to apply political pressures over the whole of Central America to adopt an anti-Nazi stance. As Germany grew more hostile toward Costa Rican ambivalence, Costa Rica began to fear foreign intervention and sought help from the U.S. (Aravena, 1990; Schifter, 1983). In 1941 Costa Rica declared war against the Axis powers (Molina & Palmer, 1997).

The alliance between Costa Rica and the U.S. led to the establishment of the first Military Mission to San José. Under the Lend and Lease Act, the Military Mission provided the Costa Rican armed forces with modern equipment and training. Costa Rica granted U.S. aircraft and ships permission to use its military bases. In exchange, Costa Rica began to take advantage of the large U.S. market as a potential buyer for its coffee exports and as a replacement to the German market that was now closed to it. Owing to U.S. support, the military institution between 1944 and 1948 became the strongest it had ever been (Bird, 1984; Molina & Palmer, 1997; Schifter, 1983).

More than ever before, Costa Rica became aware during this period that the U.S. had an interest in protecting Costa Rican national security. U.S. concerns over keeping the Central American region free from Axis influence during the second World War gave it an impetus to maintain a strong military presence throughout the continent. During this period, the U.S. provided millions of dollars in military assistance to countries throughout the region. While Costa Rica received less aid than most of its neighbors, its small military size and its heavy dependence on U.S. forces made Costa Rica wholly dependent on U.S. aid for its defense both externally and internally (Schifter, 1983). This dependence allowed Costa Rica to accept its reality as a small nation unable to defend itself from the hostilities of foreign powers, such as Germany during World War II. As Costa Ricans have often asserted, "Even if we had an army it would be so small it could not defend us—so why have one?" (Bird, 1984, 103).

Nicaragua and the Central American Debacle

For a long time in its early history, Costa Rica was a strategically unimportant part of the Central American isthmus. The lack of accessible roads between Costa Rica and the surrounding areas offered Costa Rica an unusual level of autonomy and isolated it from Central American affairs. When the United Provinces of Central America seceded from the Spanish empire, Costa Rica was the last to learn of it. Intrastate disputes quickly arose within the new Union; the Union dissolved in 1838, and Costa Rica became an independent state. Its former isolation from Central American affairs allowed Costa Rica to develop a feeling of superiority due to its relative political stability, which has engendered among Costa Ricans a desire to remain isolated and to avoid any pretensions to leadership within the region (Ameringer, 1982; Bird, 1971; Hoivik & Aas, 1981; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

This policy of isolation, however, has not kept Costa Rica from becoming involved in Central American affairs to some extent. Costa Rican relations with Nicaragua, its neighbor to the north, have been particularly tenuous. Nicaragua had been politically unstable—to say the least—throughout the first part of the 20th-century. Its internal struggles culminated in a U.S. Marine-led invasion of the country in 1927. Despite U.S. supervision of the electoral process in Nicaragua, its political situation remained untenable, and in 1936 the Nicaraguan government fell into the hands of the rightist military dictator Anastasio Somoza García. For the next four years, Costa Rica retained neutral and amicable relations with Somoza's Nicaragua. When Calderón came to power in 1940, Costa Rica and Nicaragua became especially close as they worked together with the U.S. to thwart Axis pretensions in the Central American region (Aravena, 1990).

Somoza's friendship with Calderón and his successor, Teodoro Picado, was only one reason why the result of the civil war in 1948, which replaced the government of Picado with that of José Figueres Ferrer, turned Costa Rica and Nicaragua into enemies. In order to defeat the Costa Rican military, under the command of President Picado's brother, Figueres recruited the help of a group called the Caribbean Legion. The Caribbean Legion was a group of exiles that had as a goal the overthrow of the military dictatorships that had arisen in the Caribbean zone during World War II. Their targets included the dictatorships of Rafael Trujillo Molina in the Dominican Republic and of Somoza in Nicaragua. In 1947 Figueres traveled to Guatemala and formed the Pact of the Caribbean, in which he promised to help the Caribbean Legion overthrow Somoza, Trujillo, and the other dictators if they, in turn, helped him overthrow Calderón. The Legion kept their side of the bargain, and, after Calderón's fall from power, Costa Rica became the Legion's center of operations against Somoza. Calderón, for his part, sought asylum in Nicaragua, and from there Somoza supported Calderón's attempts to retake power in Costa Rica (Ameringer, 1982; Aravena, 1990; Bird, 1984; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

The souring of relations between Costa Rican and Nicaragua should be a particularly important consideration to a country considering disbanding its military force. The presence of a hostile military dictator to the north, of course, is only exacerbated by the presence a revolutionary brigade of exiles within Costa Rican territory whose stated goal is to overthrow the governments of Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and, later, Venezuela. Considering the extensive hostility Costa Rica was about to encounter, the defeated Costa Rican military's allegiance to the former government of Calderón, and the dependency of Figueres on foreign rebels to win the civil war in the first place, the stability of the new republic that Figueres hoped to found could not come from an internal military force. Figueres had to not only stabilize his government, but also to ensure that Nicaragua would not succeed in toppling him and reinstating Calderón in his place. Costa Rica could not depend on itself for its own defense against such menacing odds.

Trusting in the Efficacy International Peace-Keeping

The influence of the systemic level on the decision to dissolve the Costa Rican military comes down to the trust that Costa Rica would place on the international system itself. The U.S. had an interest in maintaining security in the Central American region, and it had been entirely capable of funding the national defense of Costa Rica in the past, so it could be expected to intervene if its interests were endangered. Nicaragua certainly endangered Costa Rican interests, as did the presence of Calderón and his supporters in Nicaraguan territory. The Caribbean Legion, which had been vital to the success of the civil war, could not be used in any armed conflict against Calderón for fear of Somoza's becoming directly embroiled in the conflict. The Costa Rican military could not be trusted because it had just been defeated by Figueres while fighting in support of the very people it would now be asked to fight against. Costa Rica had to find a way to secure U.S. support and to protect its national security without using any of the elements that had been involved in the civil war.

The idea of collective security had been introduced before the start of World War II. At the Inter-American Conference for Peace in 1936 the U.S. proposed that some sort of hemispheric defense plan be developed. As World War II continued to develop, new accords were reached among the countries of the Western Hemisphere. In 1940 collective security was expressed in the Declaration of Reciprocal Assistance and Cooperation for the Defense of the Americas, which stated that any attack on an American state by a non-American state would be considered an attack on all the states of the American continent and that cooperative defense measures would be taken after consultation. After a meeting of the American states following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the idea of collective security set a precedent when all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, except Chile and Argentina, who followed suit only later, declared war against the Axis powers. The idea of collective security was finally codified in 1947 with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and in 1948 with within the charter of the newly organized Organization of American States (OAS). The Rio Treaty, as it became known, was ratified in 1948 by 21 countries in the Western Hemisphere, including Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and the U.S. (Atkins, 1999).

The Rio Treaty, which was to be enforced by the OAS, was designed to protect the countries of the American continent against aggression from both within and without the region. It was in this respect that the Rio Treaty became so crucial to Costa Rica. The promise of collective security meant that Costa Rica would no longer have to concern itself with maintaining its own security. Costa Rica had, for all intents and purposes, the written promise of the U.S. and 19 other Latin American countries that its national security would be secured against Nicaraguan hostility. Costa Rica would be safe; all it had to do was call upon the OAS and invoke the Rio Treaty.

It was not long before Costa Rica would put its faith in the neoteric OAS to the test. A small band of calderonistas, with Somoza's support, marched into Costa Rica in late December, shortly after the dissolution of the army. Figueres immediately called upon the OAS to help and invoked the Rio Treaty. Within hours, the OAS became involved and stopped the conflict from escalating. Costa Rica's lack of aggressive intent on its neighbors and its decision only weeks before to dissolve its military granted it a level of respectability among the countries of the American continent that gave the OAS motive for a quick response (Ameringer, 1982; Aravena, 1990). While the OAS intervention in Costa Rican-Nicaraguan relations in December 1948 led to the forced dissolution of the Caribbean Legion and its departure from Costa Rican territory, the Rio Treaty had demonstrated its effectiveness (Bird, 1984). Costa Rica would indeed be safe from outside aggression; all it had to do was call for help.

Intrastate Circumstance: The Domestic Level

Costa Rica's domestic society evolved in a unique setting. It lacked mineral wealth, and its small indigenous population, wiped out by the assortment of diseases the Spanish brought with them to the New World, was insufficient to support large estates. Colonists who moved to Costa Rica had to work the land themselves, which limited the size of most farms to what the settlers and their families could work themselves. The poverty and isolation of Costa Rica's colonial period developed among its inhabitants a simplicity of lifestyle and a sense of individualism and equality that made it exceptional among the former colonies of Latin America, and this distinctiveness was essential to the novel way in which it dealt with the problem of militarism (Ameringer, 1982; Bell, 1971; Molina & Palmer, 1997). How these domestic factors influenced Costa Rica in its decision to rid itself of a military institution is the subject of this section.

Antimilitarism and Costa Rica's Political History

Costa Rican culture was heavily influenced by its difficult terrain. The Central Valley, where most of the colonists had settled, is surrounded by mountain ranges. The valley floor is 3,000 feet above sea level; the land was fertile, and the weather was pleasant and crop-friendly. Beyond the mountains, rainfall is heavy and the jungle is dense, especially along the eastern coastline. In the northwest, approaching the Nicaraguan border, the weather is particularly dry. Costa Rica's small and secluded population meant that it could not support a frontier, which from the beginning meant that it did not have the need to form a military element. Its independence, also, took place without Costa Rican involvement and without bloodshed, forming in Costa Rica a political culture wholly ignorant of the experience of war (Ameringer, 1982; Hoivik & Aas, 1981; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

Costa Rica's political culture was further affected by the actions of Braulio Carrillo, who governed the province of Costa Rica in 1835 and became president of the newly independent country until 1842. Carrillo moved the capital of Costa Rica from the colonially-minded Cartago to the more liberally-minded San José, recognizing it as Costa Rica's economic center. Carrillo focused heavily on improving education, believing that no republic could be successful without an educated body politic. Costa Rica acquired its first printing press in 1830, and newspapers became a means for the expression and circulation of new ideas, furthering the process of Costa Rican political development (Ameringer, 1982).

Coffee came to Costa Rica after 1830, and Carrillo encouraged its cultivation. In 1843 Costa Rican coffee caught the attention of an English sea captain, and Costa Rica soon went from being the poorest colony to the wealthiest country in Central America. Coffee took over agriculture, Costa Rica fell into monoculturalism, and by 1883 the majority of peasants had lost their land. Fortunately for the peasants, the individualistic and egalitarian society that had evolved in Costa Rica survived coffee; the Costa Rican presidents of the era were among the most liberal-minded of their time, advocating religious, political, and economic freedom, and supporting public education to educate the masses. The spread of economic liberalism throughout Costa Rica led to a rapid acceptance of capitalism among the coffee barons, who quickly began to use their political power to pursue their own private agendas (Ameringer, 1982; Bell, 1971).

As wealth became less and less evenly spread, the coffee barons began to recruit armies to fight amongst each other. The violence between the coffee barons came to a head when one of the agents of the coffee barons, Colonel Tomás Guardia Gutiérrez, seized power in 1870 and became Costa Rica's first military dictator until his death in 1882. This experience forced the coffee barons to act with more self-restraint in the exercise of their political authority as the coffee economy continued to expand, creating both greater pluralism and leading to the rise of a middle-class that was both aggressively democratic and supportive of the laissez-faire economic order. This aggression lead to the involvement of the new middle-class in politics and massive reforms that established free, compulsory secular education, expelled the Jesuit order, permitted work on holy days, declared marriage a civil contract, and legalized divorce. These dramatic reforms led, in 1889, to the first contested presidential election in Costa Rican history, during which rival candidates vied for the popular vote and represented two distinct political parties. As a result, in 1889 the former democratic system was replaced with one in which opposing political parties acted openly but without directly electing their candidates. Despite this, however, political authority was still under the control of the coffee barons and the professional middle-class (Ameringer, 1982; Creedman, 1971; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

From early on in Costa Rican history, the colony, isolated by unfriendly terrain from any potential enemies, lacked the need for a military force of any sort. The lack of Costa Rican involvement in its independence from Spain and, later, Mexico, and the lack of bloodshed that characterized its independence from the United Provinces of Central America, made Costa Rica a country wholly inexperienced in warfare and militarism. Though Costa Rica's history has not been without conflict, its 12-year experience with a military dictatorship made Costa Rica especially appreciative of the unmilitarized civilian government that it had come to enjoy. Concomitantly, its tradition of individualism, egalitarianism, and liberalism made Costa Rica averse to settling internal disputes via the use of mass violence. As a result, the potentially explosive conflict between the Liberal Progressive and Democratic Constitutional parties in 1889 were settled by a tentative agreement and not by civil war. Costa Rica's second experience with a military dictatorship, in 1917, was a case-in-point showing how enamored the Costa Ricans had become of their civil democratic institutions. Colonel Federico Tinoco ruled Costa Rica oppressively for two years before mass demonstrations, political instability, and nonrecognition forced him to resign from power and abandon the country in 1919 (Ameringer, 1982; Molina & Palmer, 1997; Peeler, 2003).

Red Overflow: Communism, Blood, and Civil War

While Costa Rica disdained the use of violence in general, in practice, violence, or the threat thereof, was sometimes used to put a particular party in power or to ensure the selection of a candidate that all parties could accept. In 1940 León Cortés Castro picked Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia as his candidate of choice. Once Calderón became president of Costa Rica, Costa Rica would change dramatically. Calderón, a Catholic who had been influenced by the new doctrines of the Church espousing social responsibility, reorganized his party, the National Republican Party (PRN), and introduced a number of social reforms, including social security legislation and basic worker's rights. Calderón's reforms alienated Cortés and the conservatives, who formed the Democratic Party (DP) to oppose Calderón. To deal with his sudden loss of popular support, Calderón joined forces with the Popular Vanguard Party (PVP), whose communist affiliations had become respectable due to the wartime alliance between the U.S. and the Soviet Union (Bell, 1971; Creedman, 1971; Hoivik & Aas, 1981; Lehoucq, 1991).

A new opposition party, which supported Calderón's reforms but approved neither of his alliance with the communists nor of him in general, organized as the Social Democratic Party (PSD). Despite the opposition the PRN faced from the DP and the PSD, the official PRN candidate, Teodoro Picado, won the election in 1944. Though an anti-communist, the PRN's waning popularity forced him to continue to work with the PVP, for which he was severely criticized, especially since relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had, by this time, begun to fall apart. The PSD and the DP accused Picado of turning the government over to the communists, and the PRN became notorious as people began to identify it with corruption and inefficiency. For the 1948 elections, the Opposition, an alliance between the PSD, the DP, and the National Union Party (PUN), selected the PUN candidate Otilio Ulate Blanco as their candidate of choice. The campaign was turbulent and marked by the outpouring of violence, strikes, and several deaths. In the end, Ulate won the popular election, but after the government charged the opposition with electoral fraud, the elections were annulled (Bell, 1971; Lehoucq, 1991; Hoivik & Aas, 1981).

During the fiasco that resulted in the civil war, the Picado administration resorted several times to the use of the military in order to keep the peace. On top of this, pro-Calderón elements within the military institution would often become involved in street violence as participants rather than as peacekeepers, all of which helped to sully the image of the military in the minds of the people. As the violence grew, supporters of the Opposition began to carry guns to protect demonstrators from the police, and the police began to threaten the use of firearms rather than just beating demonstrators with nightsticks. Disgust with the government's violent reprisals against the Opposition led to the Huelga de brazos caidos, a strike that stalled commerce in Costa Rica for seven days. Pro-Calderón and communist demonstrators began to sack those businesses that participated in the strike, and Picado was forced to respond to the strike with force by intimidating merchants and professionals and threatening workers with dismissal and military service. By the end of the strike, police and military forces patrolled the streets, and San José appeared as if it had been under siege (Bell, 1971; Bird, 1984).

One particularly nasty event took place on the day the government annulled the 1948 elections. Without Picado's approval or support, the police surrounded the home of Dr. Carlos Luis Valverde, where Ulate was and Figueres had been only moments before. Shots rang out, and Valverde fell dead on his doorstep. Ulate escaped but was later captured and imprisoned, all of which helped to paint an especially distasteful image of the military. The army, which was then led by Picado's brother, offered the greatest resistance to Figueres' National Liberation Army, though Figueres had also to contend against the PVP and Nicaraguan soldiers who had been sent by Somoza to help the government retain power. When the civil war ended on April 19, 1948, 2,000 people were dead, making this the most bloody civil conflict in Costa Rican history (Ameringer, 1982; Bell, 1971; Hoivik & Aas, 1981; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

Costa Rica's experience with military dictatorships had given it reason enough to want, above anything else, to maintain its civilian government free from military intervention. The fear of militarism grew with the rise of communism and the increasing willingness of the Calderón and Picado administrations to use the armed forces to quell civil unrest. The situation was one of escalating difficulty: the more violent the civil unrest, the more militaristic the governmental response became; the more militaristic the governmental response, the more violent the civil unrest became. As each side became ever more violent, the people's distaste for the government and the military that defended it exacerbated until it culminated in the collective feeling that the military served less the interests of the people and more the interests of dictators, oppressors, and tyrants. This sense was vital in making the Costa Rican people domestically not only willing, but thankful to see the military abolished for good.

Personal Ideals and Agendas: The Idiosyncratic Level

Of all the figures involved in the dissolution of the military, the most influential was undoubtedly that of José María Figueres Ferrer. His rebellious and idealistic character allowed him to carry out actions that most Costa Ricans, as Figueres' critics have asserted, would not have. His personality was crucial to bringing about many of the events that eventually led to his decision to dissolve the Costa Rican military, a decision for which there was almost widespread support in December 1948 (Ameringer, 1982; Bird, 1984). How Figueres' idiosyncratic behavior led him into a position wherefrom he could bring about this groundbreaking reform will be the subject of this section.

The Amazing Don Pepe

Figueres was conceived in Barcelona, Spain and born in San Ramón, Costa Rica on September 25, 1906. He referred to himself as Catalán, which his enemies enjoyed pointing out. Ulate himself noted that Figueres did not exhibit the tico idiosyncrasy, which potentially meant that Figueres was less apt to resolve issues in the way that most Costa Ricans would. Figueres was very independent from the beginning. His family problems resulted in his being sent to the Colegio Seminario, which drove Figueres to attempt suicide. Figueres dropped out in 1924 and traveled to Boston, where he planned to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His preparatory courses, however, seemed repetitive, so he quit school and put himself through a self-guided, rigorous reading curriculum at the Boston Public Library. There, he learned more about social philosophy and hydroelectric science than even MIT might have been able to teach him. When he returned to Costa Rica in 1928, he continued his education, spending most of his time either working or studying the works of Martí, Cervantes, Kant, and Nietzsche (Ameringer, 1978; Ameringer, 1982; Bell, 1971).

Figueres' political career probably began in 1942 (Bell, 1971). Two days after an enemy submarine sunk the San Pablo in the port of Limón, the United Committee of Anti-Totalitarian Associations organized a rally set to meet in the Parque Central, which was to be followed by a parade to the Presidential palace. The theme was vitriolic: "The country is full of traitors. ... These traitors ought to be smashed by the people without pity or delay. ... Our watchword is this: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Ameringer, 1978, 17). When no speakers showed up on the day of the rally, the parade began to move toward the Presidential palace. Then, someone broke a window, and for the next six hours a pandemonium of rioting and looting reigned over the city of San José. The government did little to stop the rioting until late in the evening, after which time 76 people had been injured and 123 buildings damaged, including a warehouse belonging to Figueres (ibid.).

Figueres was upset about the damages, but he was more upset that the government had done nothing to stop it. He took to the airwaves and accused Calderón's government of incompetence. After going on about the shortcomings of the government for some time, the police burst into the radio station and arrested Figueres. Figueres was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and of giving away military secrets to the enemy. Despite protests and petitions sent to the government to release Figueres, Calderón expelled Figueres from Costa Rica. Figueres arrived in Mexico on July 11, and he decided to seek revenge against Calderón. It was while he was in exile in Mexico that Figueres met and became friends with other exiles from other Central American and Caribbean countries: the same exiles who would later come together to form the Caribbean Legion (Ameringer, 1978; Ameringer, 1982).

Before the elections of 1948, Figueres had already been planning for war. Unlike Ulate, Cortés, and the other members of the Opposition, Figueres felt that Calderón would never allow a fair election to take place. The annulment of the election results in 1948 and the attack on Dr. Valverde's home on the same day appeared to provide for Figueres the proof that he needed to show that the government had no intention of ceding to the will of the people. His hatred for Calderón, combined with his idealism, fueled his desire for war. On March 11, Figueres made the call that brought in the arms and military leaders Figueres needed for a successful campaign. On March 12, his National Liberation Army exchanged fire with government forces, and the war began (Ameringer, 1982; Bell, 1971; Molina & Palmer, 1997).

Figueres' decision to abolish the military was based on vindictive, idealistic, and pragmatic reasons. Figueres hated the military because it represented the Calderón-Picado regime that he had struggled so hard to destroy. Figueres, of course, might have simply replaced the army with his own military force. Here again, it is important to remember that Figueres held a strong adherence to the idealism that led him to first come into opposition with Calderón. Figueres did not believe in the army's power to quash dissent. According to his own words, he did not even support the idea of armed revolution, unless the government has denied the people their electoral rights, which, to him, was the issue that drove him to war in the first place. Electoral rights having been restored, the army had no further use. The pragmatic reasons for dissolving the military involved Figueres' inability to retain the peace without resorting to the same tactics as Picado. To avoid such a recourse and, thus, to convince his opponents that he had no interest in using violence to remain in power indefinitely, Figueres offered the dissolution of the armed forces as a show of good faith (Ameringer, 1978; Bird, 1984).

The levels-of-analysis approach shows clearly how the systemic, domestic, and idiosyncratic levels each played their essential roles in bringing about the dissolution of the Costa Rican military. All of the factors detailed above needed to play out together in order to allow a country that had just stepped out of the proverbial oven and into the fire to safely dissolve its only means of defense, as ineffective as its own defense might have been. Moreover, the dissolution of the military in Costa Rica changed a great deal about how the world thinks about national security. For Costa Ricans today, national security revolves around the strength of the democratic institutions of which they are so proud, not the strength of a military institution that would inevitably threaten those same democratic institutions. For Costa Rica, a military force is a barrier to freedom, not its defender. The world might be a better place if the rest of us agreed.


Ameringer, C.D. (1978). Don Pepe: A Political Biography of José Figueres of Costa Rica. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico.

Ameringer, C.D. (1982). Democracy in Costa Rica. New York: Praeger.

Aravena, F.R. (Ed.). (1990). Costa Rica y el sistema internacional. San José: Fundación Friedrich Ebert en Costa Rica.

Atkins, G.P. (1999). Latin America and the Caribbean in the International System (4th ed.). Boulder, Colorado: Westview.

Bell, J.P. (1971). Crisis in Costa Rica: The 1948 Revolution. Austin: University of Texas.

Bird, L. (1984). Costa Rica: The Unarmed Democracy. London: Sheppard.

Creedman, T.S. (1971). The Political Development of Costa Rica, 1936-1944: Politics of an Emerging Welfare State in a Patriarchal Society (Doctoral dissertation, University of Maryland, 1971). Dissertation Abstracts International, 32 (04), 2022. (UMI No. 7125964)

Hoivik, T., & Aas, S. (1981). Demilitarization in Costa Rica: A Farewell to Arms? Journal of Peace Research, 18 (4), 333-351.

Lehoucq, F.E. (1991). Class Conflict, Political Crisis and the Breakdown of Democratic Practices in Costa Rica: Reassessing the Origins of the 1948 Civil War. Journal of Latin American Studies, 23 (1), 37-60.

Molina, I., & Palmer, S. (1997). Historia de Costa Rica. San José: Editorial del la Universidad de Costa Rica.

Peeler, J. (2003). Costa Rica: Neither Client nor Defiant. In F.O. Mora, & J.A.K. Hey (Eds.), Latin American and Caribbean Foreign Policy (pp. 31-45). Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield.

Schifter, J. (1983). Origins of the Cold War in Central America: A Study of Diplomatic Relations between Costa Rica and the United States (1940-1949) (Doctoral dissertation, Columbia University, 1983). Dissertation Abstracts International, 44 (10), 3140. (UMI No. 8327290)

Segreda, L.D. (1989). Una Resolución Fuerte y Valerosa: La abolición del Ejercito en Costa Rica. San José: Comisión Nacional de Conmemoraciones Históricas.

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