75 years of the abolition of the army in Costa Rica, a milestone amidst challenges

Douglas Marín

San José, Dec 1 (EFE).- Costa Rica celebrates on Friday the 75th anniversary of the abolition of its Army, a landmark that put the country in the world spotlight as a reference of peace and democracy amid significant social and security challenges.

On Dec. 1, 1948, after winning Costa Rica’s last Civil War, General José Figueres Ferrer decided to abolish the army in a historic symbolic act, by smashing the wall of the last military barracks in the country, Cuartel Bellavista, now the National Museum.

The Political Constitution of 1949, which remains in force today, ratified “Don Pepe” Figueres’ decision and eliminated the Army as a permanent institution of the country, removing Costa Rica from scenarios of war or coup.

Since then, Costa Rican political forces of different ideologies have reached agreements that have allowed the country to increase its investment in the social sector, education and health.

As a result, Costa Rica has achieved the best indicators in all of Latin America.

Jorge Vargas, director of the National Council of University Presidents, told EFE that the legacy of the abolition of the army continues to this day in terms of the organization and dispersal of police forces, the commitment to international law and the Costa Rican feeling that democracy is the best form of government.

The constitution also created a series of checks and balances to prevent presidential abuse of power, and created the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, with the status of a republican power, to guarantee the purity of the vote.

A legacy in the midst of great social and security challenges

Vargas said that part of the legacy is that in Costa Rica “no one is thinking of bringing back the Army,” even at a time like the present, when the country has the worst homicide record in its history and drug trafficking activity seems to be on the rise.

Up to Nov. 30, 836 homicides were recorded in Costa Rica, 42% more than the 588 homicides recorded at the same time in 2022, according to data from the Judicial Investigation Department (OIJ).

Drug gangs are responsible for more than 60% of homicides, according to the OIJ.

The “social contract” reached after the 1948 war and the abolition of the army has deteriorated ever since, opening up a series of challenges that require a lot of dialogue and political consensus, Vargas said.

He recalled that after the civil war of 1948, Costa Rica chose a path that allowed it to combine economic growth with a “welfare state,” social policies, education, social housing, and universal health care.

This was done in the context of the construction of a democratic society, which was not exempt from repression and exile in the 1950s.

The academic explained that Costa Rica faces problems with inclusive growth as it has “managed to improve fiscal figures at the expense of cuts in social policies, from universal health and education to specific policies for the poor.”

Today, Costa Rica’s household poverty rate is 21.8%, and its extreme poverty rate is 6.3%, while its Gini index is 0.502; closer to 1 means more unequal.

In terms of unemployment, the current figure is 8.1%, but with a labor force participation rate of only 54.3%, and informal employment at 38.3%.

“A society that used to be one of the most equitable on the continent in terms of income is now one of the most unequal,” Vargas highlighted. EFE


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