Soldiers of the Costa Rican Civil War

Jose Figueres, also known as “Don Pepe” was one of the most important figures in the Costa Rican Civil War. In his early life Figueres lived in Boston and New York to attend college, but he later returned to Costa Rica in 1928 without ever completing his college degree(Minster, Christopher). After his return he bought a plantation, but he soon fixated on fixing the corrupt Costa Rican government (Minster, Christopher). In 1942, he used a radio show as a platform to condemn the Calderon Administration (Tartakoff ,2007). This act of this caused him to be exiled by the President at the time, Rafael Calderon. In 1944 Calderon tried and wanted to get reelected, but the constitution forbade him consecutive reelection so his political party had Teodoro Picado run for president. Theodoro Picado was a law Professor who was perceived to be weak, easily controlled by Rafael Calderon, the former president. The 1944 election was thought to be rigged by Theodoro Picado and his administration. When the people of Costa Rica found out about the potential rigging, it caused an uprising throughout the country. Figueres became a Costa Rican leader who helped reinstate democracy in 1948. Since the war Figueres has been president three times and he abolished the army in 1949 (Associated Press 1990). In effort to fix the government and stop an elected candidate from taking office, Figueres led an irregular force of about 700 men that defeated communist-led guerrillas and the Costa Rican army (New York Times 1990). These battles between the groups were battles of the Costa Rican Civil War. The 1944 election was thought to be a big cause of the Costa Rican war for most scholars, but there is one scholar who believed otherwise. John Bell, who is a professor at the University of Texas, believed that Jose Figueres and his followers had been plotting a revolution for about six years (Bell, 2007).

Jose “Don Pepe” Figueres

The Costa Rican Civil War was the bloodiest war throughout the 20th century which took place in 1948. Although it only lasted 44 days it claimed the lives of about 2000 people. The Civil War was caused by many events that ultimately led to the bloody battle between the civilians and the government. The 1948 Costa Rican war  was mainly caused by inequality, the mistrust in government, and the abuse of power from the government.

Inequality between the government and the Costa Rican civilians was a large issue during the Costa Rican Civil War and in the years leading up to it. One example is one that was in an article written by Juan Carlos Hidalgo. He said there was inequality between big businesses and local ones because the government placed high tariffs on small local businesses and low tariffs on big businesses (Hidalgo 2014). Because the government did this, the owners of the small businesses could not compete with the large ones. They could not compete with large business because since the government placed these high tariffs, the poor were not able to afford what locals sold since large businesses were able to sell things for a lower price. Some of the items that the government kept high tariffs on where farm goods like milk, rice, and chicken which are the types of foods that the poor would buy. Another example he wrote is that the government “offers tax and regulatory incentives to multinational companies, it suffocates local businesses with high taxes and crippling regulations”. This example would show how the government favors the bigger, richer companies over the local companies and how they don’t take the citizens into consideration.

In Costa Rica there was a lot of mistrust in government in the years leading up to 1944. The major reason for the mistrust is that the 1944 presidential election was said to have been rigged by Theodoro Picado and his administration. Congress allowed him to become president because they said they did not have enough evidence to otherwise stop him from becoming president. When he was president he was then linked to having affiliations with communism. Theodoro Picado, the Costa Rican president at the time of the civil war, tried to hide his ties to communism, but failed because he had already been associated with the communist party. Because of all of this the people fought against the government because they wanted a democracy and that’s what Jose Figueres helped them fight for.

Throughout the Costa Rican War there was a lot of abuse of power. The government used the military as a way to keep the peace, but they overused that power. During the war they used the military as daily police enforcement. Because of this abuse of power the Costa Rican people wanted to demilitarize Costa Rica. The military did eventually get abolished in 1949 by Jose Figueres when he took presidency. The president’s administration at the time also had affiliations with communism which the people of Costa Rica did not like.

The U.S. had no involvement in the Costa Rican Civil War according to some people, but others agree that the United States did know about the rebel revolt. According to Marcia Olander the author of the book “Costa Rica in 1948: Cold War or Local War?”, there is no indication of the United State knowing that there was going to be a revolt (Olander 1996). For example, in the article Foreign relations of the United States, the United States did not really help when Costa Rica asked for the United States to get involved. Costa Rica wanted to get the United States to get involved because they believed that if they had the presence of the United States on Costa Rican territory, the people who were threatening to bomb them would back off. The president of the United States at the time, Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to get involved because he feared the safety of the United States. He also didn’t want them to think that they United States was getting involved with either side, or that the United States was choosing sides. 

The, Associated Press. 1990. “Don Pepe” Jose Figueres, 83, Former Costa Rican President.” Sun Sentinel, Jun 09, 0-7B.

The American Republics. Foreign relations of the United States, 1947. Volume VIII. Washington D.C.

The New, York Times. 1990. “Jose Figueres, Ex-President of Costa Rica.” Orange County Register, Jun 09, 0-B13.

Hilgado, Juan Carlos. “Costa Rica’s Wrong Turn.” The New York Times. January  31, 2014, accessed September 05, 2014.

Minster, Christopher. “Biography of Jose “Pepe” Figueres”. Web. Accessed December 1, 2014.

Olander, Marcia. 1996. “Costa Rica in 1948: Cold War or Local War?”. Academy of American Franciscan History. Accessed December 1, 2014.


“Soldiers in the Costa Rican civil war of 1948”. January 2011. Web. November 30, 2014.

“Jose Figueres Ferrer Photograph”. Accessed December 2, 2014.