Costa Rica has no army since 1948. Do you want to know why?

To better understand what the upcoming celebration of the abolition of the Army of Costa Rica means, it’s important to know a bit about the event’s historical importance. The fact that Costa Rica has no army touches many areas in many ways.

This year, December 1 falls on a Wednesday, so in order to give everyone in Costa Rica a chance to celebrate the abolition of the army, the holiday has been moved to Monday, December 5th.

Costa Rica Flag - Costa Rica has no army
Costa Rica Flag – Costa Rica has no army

Who is Jose  “Pepe” Figueres?

José Figueres Ferrer - Costa Rica has no army
José Figueres Ferrer – Costa Rica has no army

On December 1948, with a symbolic act at the headquarters of the standing army, the provisional government leader Jose Figueres hit a wall with symbolic
Provisional government head José “Pepe” Figueres gave the headquarters of the Costa Rican army to the Ministry of Education on December 1, 1948, with a symbolic sledgehammer blow to one of the turrets and the handing over of the keys to Minister of Education Uladislao Gámez.

Don Pepe is remembered for ending a bloody civil war in March 1948 by disbanding the armed forces, but Costa Rica was never a major military power.

The history of our small army

In the years after the Spanish took over, private armies were used to get rid of the native people and protect trade routes from pirates.

In the years before and after the country got its independence from Spain in 1821, cities often formed their own militias, which sometimes led to civil wars.

There was fighting in the Central Valley the year after independence over whether Costa Rica should join the Mexican empire of Agustin Iturbide or form a confederation with the other newly independent nations of Central America.

Braulio Carrillo

In the 1840s, President Braulio Carrillo unified the country’s armed forces. He did this to create a national police force and army that worked together.
Despite its small, dispersed population and lack of roads through the mountains and jungles, Costa Rica avoided invasion and land grabs during its early years as a republic all the way up until the 1860s, when a new era began. International traders were interested in Central America because it was a waterway that connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

The North Americans and British were eager to assert their dominance in the region.

Costa Rica fought its first and only foreign war in 1856, against U.S. filibuster William Walker and his army in Nicaragua.

However, the country has had to put down more than a hundred revolts, rebellions, and attempted coups since then.

After a year of strikes and unrest, a controversial election, ballots being burned, and assassinations, a civil war broke out in March of 1948.

A war that lasted a month and a half:

Six weeks of civil war saw the national army face off against a “liberation” army led by Figueres, a popular figure and proponent of democracy in the region. After the fighting stopped, Don Pepe was put in charge of a transitional government that had to make long-overdue changes, especially in the armed forces.

Which of the two armies would be chosen as the national army, and would it support the new government? Would it join the Caribbean League, a regional force formed to overthrow dictatorships, and go to war in other countries?

When money was always tight in institutions like schools and hospitals, who was going to foot the bill for necessary upgrades? Nations that took part in or supported the Cold War were surprised by the decision to get rid of their militaries.

However, in Costa Rica’s case, it was logical. The exiles in Nicaragua, supported by dictator Anastasio Somoza, launched an attack on Costa Rica in 1955. Citizens in the national guard fought off the attackers. The permanent army was done away with in the 1948 Constitution.

An army may be formed in the interest of national defense, but only under civilian control and with no involvement in national affairs.

Because of this, Costa Rica has no army

Costa Rica has no army

What do we do with the money?

The extra money that Costa Rica has is spent in:

  • To improve educational and social security opportunities.
  • Aiming to Establish Law and Order and Prevent Further Political Violence.
  • For the Benefit of Costa Rican Organizations.
  • The Goal of Attracting Overseas Investment.
  • Motivated by a Desire to Advertise Local Employment Opportunities.
  • To improve the quality of service.
  • Conserving Natural Areas

To prepare for the possibility of an invasion from another country, every nation maintains a well-trained and well-equipped armed force. In addition to protecting people at home and around the world, the military also helps people in need.

Only twenty-one countries don’t have their own military forces. Some of these twenty-one countries don’t have a standing army at all, but others do have public forces that perform some military duties. One of these countries is Costa Rica.

Previously allocated funds for the military have been reallocated to Costa Rica’s public institutions in the fields of education, security, and the arts.

In keeping with its dedication to the arts and culture, Costa Rica has replaced its military barracks with the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. Even though Costa Rica doesn’t have a regular army, in 1996 it gave the Fuerza Publica the power to act as police, border guards, and ground security, and to protect tourists.

What we do with the funds:

Improve access to quality education and welfare programs

Due to its demilitarized status for the past 72 years, Costa Rica has avoided spending massive sums on military hardware. Priorities such as education, health care, the environment, and infrastructure were proposed as deserving of the increased funding. This has contributed to Costa Rica’s status as one of the world’s most developed nations. In addition, Costa Rica has the highest literacy rate in all of Latin America.

To encourage law and order

Former Costa Rican president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Oscar Arias Sanchez once said, “Military solutions to conflicts should be the last, last resort.”

The advice given by former President Sanchez is still followed today. Since 1948, all wars have been settled amicably through talks.
Three, to Put an End to Political Violence

Not only did getting rid of the regular army stop political violence in Costa Rica in the 20th century, but it also made it impossible for any president’s successor to take and keep power without using violence.

Share Prosperity Among Costa Rican Organizations

The government of Costa Rica spent a lot of money on things like weapons, tanks, and military training before they got rid of their standing army.

After the military was disbanded, resources were redirected to social programs like health care, public schools, and affordable housing, restoring the people of Costa Rica’s faith in their government.

By almost any standard, Costa Rica has some of the best healthcare in Latin America. There are two systems, both of which expats can access: the government-run universal healthcare system, Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social, known as Caja, and the private system. Both health systems are constantly being upgraded—new hospitals, new equipment, and improvements in staff training.

Evans, K. (2022, March 30). Healthcare in Costa Rica – International Living Countries. International Living.

‌Attract foreign investment

Promoting a peaceful country without a military force has somehow given Costa Rica stability and tranquility that allows attracting foreign investments, knowing its culture and tropical climate.

Numerous international hotel and travel corporations, including Four Seasons, Marriott, Andaz, and Westin, are among Costa Rica’s most important investors. Because of its association with these well-known figures, Costa Rica attracts a large number of tourists each year, who contribute to the country’s growing economy.

To encourage local employment

Foreign investment has changed the culture of Costa Rica in a way that has led to the creation of thousands of jobs, from taxi drivers to waiters to corporate executives.

The fact that Costa Rica is such a stable country with good health and educational systems creates better-paid jobs than in many other similar countries.

Costa Rica has no army

To boost service excellence

Because the government moved money from the military to other areas, like education, Costa Ricans can be educated to a university degree completely for free.

As well there is a reinforcement in English and computers sciences education.

To Defend Natural Areas

Rainforests and other unique ecosystems thrive in Costa Rica. Costa Rica simultaneously protects its conservation lands to protect the country’s biodiversity in light of the influx of foreign investments and the creation of new jobs.

Increased tourism means more money for the local economy. These preserved areas are a must-see for anyone making a travel itinerary, as they are postcard-perfect in every way.

Costa Rica has no armyAs a conclusion

It is impossible for Costa Ricans to even think of reinstating the army again. We are proud pacificists. As we realize peace is the most daring of all possibilities.

We certainly hope to be a leader of a movement that will multiply peace consciousness all over the world.

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