... Caught between a World War(1939) and a civil war(1948) ...
by Infocostarica Staff

The years that followed the imperialist hold of the United States in Costa Rica, were economically harsh because of the international context that surrounded them. The Liberalist philosophy which characterized the last years of the nineteenth century and the first period of the current one, promoted a laissez-faire attitude of the government towards business. This ideal failed in part because of the social unrest that it created, but mostly because of the consequences on the economy during the U.S. Depression of 1929.

When the Depression hit the United States, the prices of the exports in dollars also fell, which created a crisis in the dependent country of Costa Rica. Difficult economic conditions encouraged even more social unrest in the Central American country, and strikes and demonstrations often ended in violent encounters with the police. All of the activities of the United Fruit Company in the Atlantic came to a halt after one of these strikes by banana workers.

The Costa Rican government discarded its previous laissez-faire strategy and began exerting increased control in several aspects. In 1933 it founded the Institute for the Defense of Coffee, which intended to regulate dealings between coffee farmers and coffee exporters. Other outcomes of governmental intervention were the banking reform and the establishment of minimum wage for most workers.

The upside of the Depression years in Costa Rica, was the outburst of cultural productions. Excellent sculptors like Juan Manual Sanchez and Paco Zuniga came out of this era, as well as writers like Carlos Luis Fallas. The artists of this time insisted on rescuing the Costa Rican past and the popular culture. Rural settings as well as peasants and their daily chores were favorite themes for painters, writers and musicias alike. Economic and social pressure in most countries usually promote an acute artistic reaction, and Costa Rica was not the exception.

Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia was the President of Costa Rica from 1940 to 1944. Among his various achievements is included the founding of the University of Costa Rica (1940), which is still a landmark in the progress of public, higher education. Calderon Guardia also established the country's social security system, called the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (1941), which is still functioning. He also passed extremely important bodies of law that guaranteed basic rights for workers and for all citizens alike.

In order to gain support against a strong opponent in a presidential election, Calderon Guardia joined forces with the Communist party leadered by Manuel Mora. What does seem pretty unusual is that this alliance was blessed and encouraged by the Church, who supported the president and the establishment of the teaching of religion in public schools. The international context of the Cold War produced tensions at home, and caused much distrust towards the Communist participation in the government.

In the 1948 presidential elections, Calderon Guardia lost to Otilio Ulate, so Picado, the president in office, under control of Calderon, refused to step down from power, and declared that the victory had resulted from fraud. This event gave rise to the country's civil war of 1948, where Costa Rican politician, farm owner and philosopher, gathered up an army in order to depose the Picado government.