... The Civil War of 1948 ...
by Infocostarica Staff
Jose Figueres, better known as "Don Pepe" was an agricultural entrepreneur, an economist, a politician and a philosopher. This singular and charismatic man led the country into a civil war that would only last five weeks but would take the lives of 2000 people, mostly civilians. Other men like Rodrigo Facio Brenes-lawyer- and Carlos Monge Alfaro-historian- had founded a group of intellectuals that accused the government of corruption, and who insisted that Costa Rica had to adopt a socialist system. These intellectuals joined forces with Figueres and his party called "Partido Accion Democrata", founded in 1944 and together formed the "Partido Social Democrata" in 1945.
Don Pepe had spoken against the government in a radio show in 1942, and was apprehended before ending the transmission and sent to exile to Mexico. Here, he started plotting the military take over of the Costa Rican government. Figueres and his followers accused the Calderon government of fraud and corruption, thus justifying military action as the only possibility to achieve power . Figueres signed an agreement with other Latin American countries, in which his army was to receive support in exchange for allowing Costa Rica to become a platform for destroying dictatorships in the area. After this agreement, signed in 1947, Figueres started training local and foreign militia in one of his farms.
When President Picado, at the urging of Calderon Guardia, declared the election of Otilio Ulate a fraud, and refused to step down from his office, Figueres saw the perfect opportunity to launch the attack that he had been planning for so long. The Civil War was camouflaged as a reaction against the violation of a democratic process, but it was much more than that.
After a five week period of fighting, the Diplomatic Corps served as negotiators in the signing of a peace treaty, in which the president's followers surrendered in exchange for the pardoning of their lives and the respect of their properties. Figueres didn't honor his side of the agreement, since he persecuted his enemies, closed down the Communist Party, and took over several properties that belonged to Calderon and his followers. He also insisted in remaining in power of the country for 18 months, through a military junta. He didn't betray this promise, because exactly 18 months after rising up to power, he passed on the office to the candidate elected by the people, President Otilio Ulate.
The military junta established extremely important institutions and reforms that clearly indicated a Socialist tendency. This temporary government ironically abolished the army that had allowed it to rise to power. It also gave women the right to vote and gave full citizenship and rights to the black population of Costa Rica. The junta also created several governmental institutions, including the "Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones", a department in charge of overseeing elections and avoiding potential fraud.
After Otilio Ulate took over as president of the country, Figueres started working on the party called Liberacion Nacional, which still exists, but with very different characteristics. The peaceful and reformist outcome of Costa Rica's Civil War contrasts highly with the fate of its neighbors. Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all suffered extremely long and painful dictatorships. Costa Rica, on the other hand, was fortunate to suffer a civil war that would last only five weeks, and that would eventually return power to the people's choice as president. Costa Rica would later reward Jose Figueres by electing him to two terms of office (1953-1957 and 1970-1974).