Posts tagged: history

Costa Rica: 62 years army-free & still going strong

In 1948, José Figueres abolished the standing army of Costa Rica. This famous picture depicts Figueres in the symbolic action of destroying a portion of the military barracks; photo courtesy of the Arias foundation.

Sixty two years ago today (on December 1, 1948). Costa Rica became the first country in the modern world to constitutionally abolish its standing army.

Ironically, this milestone in pacifist politics began with a disputed election and the armed revolt that followed.

The conflict lasted five weeks and resulted in the death of 2,000 people—the bloodiest clash in Costa Rican modern history.

José Figueres Ferrer led the uprising, and could have easily exploited his power, ruling like the military dictators common in the rest of Latin America. Instead, Figueres gave women the right to vote, granted black immigrants full citizenship, nationalized the banks, created the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to oversee democratic elections, and abolished the country’s army.

When José Figueres abolished the military in 1948, this building was the military's headquarters. It was converted to a school and then the National Museum of Costa Rica. You can still see the bullet holes in the walls.

President Rodrigo Carazo Odio (in office from 1978 to 1982), would later speak to what (ideally) happens when a country has no army. “In the absence of [military] weapons with which to impose an idea, the only weapon left is reason.”

Read more about the history of Costa Rica’s abolition of its army