A Glance into Costa Rican History

Lydia Needham is a student at University of Nebraska and is an ISA Featured Blogger. She studies abroad with ISA in San Jose, Costa Rica

I recently went on a small tour of San José, Costa Rica. Like every city, there are many places, buildings, and architectural designs that scream out the history they have seen and represent. Among these, two statues stood out. The first is a statue of José Figueres Ferrer. The second is of Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia. Both are found in two different parks in San José, and you can see their pictures below:

Plaza de la Democracia y de la Abolición del Ejército


Parque de las Garantias Sociales

The design behind these two statues is fascinating as they were created in such a way as to be looking at each other over a distance of almost half a mile.

Why are they important? What is the symbolism behind this unbreakable staring contest? In order to understand, we need to take a quick trip through Costa Rican history.

Costa Rica is one of just over 20 countries with no military force. It has been 71 years since the abolition of the Costa Rican army. While this is an interesting cultural insight into this country, it is important to realize that the act of abolishing the army was not an easy one, and it actually took a civil war to obtain it.

So, back to the figures represented by these two statues. Calderon was a dictator. His actions caused a lot of controversy and scandal and corruption was rampant in the government of that time. Figueres was a land owner. He ran his own banana plantation and was known to be a very fair and generous employer. He had no political experience, but he spoke out against the government corruption on a radio broadcast. For his actions, he was exiled, along with his family. With a change of presidency, Figueres was eventually allowed him to return, at which point he began to build and train his own army on his plantation. In 1948, the civil war began. Over 2,000 deaths (and many more injuries) later, Figueres and his army achieved victory and Calderon was exiled. There was no time to waste, however, and Figueres set about changing the country. Almost everything was reviewed, rewritten, revised . . . now was the time to ask where the country was going and how they could direct it towards success.

So there you have it, a quick glance back in time through which we can see that, even with being labeled as one of the happiest countries in the world, Costa Rica is not left without it’s fair share of problems and it’s own bloody history. Opinions about each of these two historical figures vary from person to person. However, the tension between them is permanent, set in stone if you will, and as they stare each other down from across the city of San José , we get to learn how this conflict shaped this beautiful country into what we get to enjoy today.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

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