ROOTS OF THE 1948 CIVIL WAR
Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia was the legally-elected president between 1940-44. A profoundly religious Catholic, Calderon's political ideology was Social Christian. One of his first actions was to reinstate religious education in public schools. Another was to found the University of Costa Rica . He initiated many social reforms which still exist today, including social security, workers' rights to organize, land reform, guaranteed minimum wage and collective bargaining. These reforms earned Calderon the adoration of the poor and the opposition of the upper classes.
Calderon ran a puppet candidate, Teodoro Picado, in the 1944 election. Picado won, but the election was widely criticized as fraudulent. Young, middle-class intellectuals, as well as traditionally anti-communist Costa Ricans distrustful of church state involvement resented Calderon's grasping for power and criticized the odd alliance he had made with Catholic Archbishop Nonsennor Victor Sanabria and Manuel Mora of the Communist Party.
Farmers, businessmen, campesinos , liberal labor unions, and young. intellectuals organized against Calderon. Calderon's allies were the government, the Church, the communist labor unions and the army.
In the 1948 election, Calderon ran against Otilio Ulate , who represented the unified opposition. Ulate won the election by a small margin, but the government demanded a recount. Disagreement was complicated by a fire that destroyed half the ballots the day after the election. Government forces refused to yield the power to Ulate . Teodoro Picado remained in power.
Pepe Figueres , a coffee grower and outspoken opponent of Calder& who had been exiled in Mexico , had returned to Costa Rica before the elections. on March 12, 1948 , he and his men captured the airport at San Isidro de El General. Foreign arms were airlifted in quickly, due to Figueres' advance planning. Armed groups, trained by Guatemalan military advisors, were formed throughout the country. President Picado declared a state of siege, using borrowed Nicaraguan soldiers and mobilized banana workers from the communist unions. They were unaccustomed to the cool climate of San Jose , and wore blankets over their shoulders, Mexican style, to keep warm. For this reason, Calderon supporters were called mariachis. After 40 (lays of civil war, during which more than 2000 people died, a negotiated treaty was signed. Picado stepped down and Figueres took over as provisional president.
Figueres governed for 18 months, long enough to draft a new constitution. Prohibition of presidential re-election, banning of' communist labor unions and parties, abolition of the army, the right to vote for women and blacks, and the establishment of' a neutral body that would oversee elections, were some of the new constitutional laws. Banks and insurance companies were nationalized, and 10 percent of all bank funds were seized I-or reconstruction. All of Calderon's social reforms were maintained. In 1949, Figueres turned the country over to Ulate , the rightful president.
Costa Rica elected Figueres president twice, in 1954 and 1970. " Don Pepe " died June 8, 1990 and was mourned by people of all political persuasions as the defender of Costa Rican democracy and development.
The 1948 revolutionaries formed the National Liberation Party (PLN). Almost without fail, Costa Ricans have alternated their presidents--one from the PLN, the next from the opposition. There have been only two exceptions to this pattern in the eleven peaceful national elections that have been held since 1948. Voters have a deep distrust of power being concentrated in one party's hands for too long.
The opposition is an odd coalition of wealthy business owners who see the PLN's social democratic direction as harmful to their interests, and poor people who generally side with the party that is out of power. The Partido Unidad Social Cristiana was consolidated during the 1980's under the leadership of Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier, son of Calderon Guardia. He lost the 1982 and 1986 elections to PLN candidates, but finally won in 1990, and was inaugurated as president 50 years to the day after his father assumed power.
Costa Rica fortified its progressive social policies during the three decades following 1948, and enjoyed a gradual upward economic trend. The policy of the sixties and seventies was to try to become more self-sufficient agriculturally and industrially, which led to a heavier dependence on imported pesticides, fertilizers, raw materials, machinery, and oil. Costa Rica and many other third world countries accepted large first-world loans for infrastructure projects like bridges, hydroelectric projects, and roads. When the price of oil rose in the early seventies, the economy could no longer do without it. Then coffee, banana and sugar prices went down on the world market, the loans came due, and Costa Rica found itself entering the eighties with its economy in shambles.
The instability of neighboring countries like Nicaragua and El Salvador impeded cooperation in the Central American Common Market and made Costa Ricans feel insecure. In 1978-9, under President Rodrigo Carazo , northern Costa Rica served as a virtual base for Sandinista operations. Costa Ricans had no sympathy for the Somoza dynasty and were hopeful that the Nicaraguans could make a go of democracy. But after Somoza was deposed, the Sandinista arms build-up and Marxist-Leninist doctrine disillusioned many Costa Ricans, which led them to lend tacit support to the contras while they were operating out of Costa Rica , despite the government's official neutrality policy under PLN President Luis Alberto Monge .
Costa Rica elected a president in February 1986 from the younger generation of the PLN. Oscar Arias is an economist, lawyer and author of several books on the Costa Rican economy and power structure. His main campaign promise was to work for peace in Central America . The first part of his task was to enforce Costa Rica's declared neutrality policy, and to stand up to the United States and the politicians within his own party who were supporting contra activity within Costa Rica, such as the secret airstrip that figured in the Iran-Contra scandal.
As the world knows by now, Arias' untiring efforts to fulfill his promise won him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize. While the peace process has met with skepticism and even ennui in the first world press, for many Central Americans it signifies a coming of age a chance to unite and shape their future in a new way. Even though the process has been slower than scheduled, much more communication has taken place between warring factions than ever before. The first democratic elections In Nicaragua's history, held February 25, 1990 , in which the Sandinistas were defeated, are largely a result of the peace plan.
The economic and social problems at the root of Central America 's conflicts are deep, and require not just talk, but concerted action. Hopefully, as East-West tensions ease, Central Americans who demand social and economic justice in their countries will no longer be labeled as communists, and will be able to enter into the political process without risking their fives,
Costa Rica 's economic crisis of the early eighties has been overcome in some ways. With increasing interest in the environment, Tourism has become the country's third largest source of income. Non-traditional exports such as ornamental plants and flowers, strawberries and oranges are bringing in as much money now as the traditional exports of bananas, coffee, sugarcane, and meal. Unfortunately, the new agro-industries demand high start-up costs and are not labor-intensive, making them unavailable for small farmers. In addition, it costs less for Costa Rica to import basic grains like corn beans and rice from the United Slates than it does to grow them here, because of the high costs of' imported fertilizers and pesticides. So government policy has led away from support for the small, independent, subsistence farmer, which has forced campesinos off the land, threatening the very basis of Costa Rica 's stability and democracy.
The new Unidad government of Rafael Angel Calderon Fournier has promised to address these problems, while at the Name time resolving the country's enormous deficit. If he does No, Calderon will undoubtedly run up against the same economic powers which challenged his father's liberal policies during the 1940's. As of this writing, his administration has concentrated on "balancing the budget" by sending through a number of stiff increases in prices of food, gas and utilities causing widespread distress, especially on the part of the many voters who elected him as a champion of the poor.
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