How Costa Rica Avoided Cold War Violence | NowThis World

Costa Rica has sometimes been called “the Switzerland of Central America” because of its stable government and economy In fact, Costa Rica is the 13th happiest place in the world, just a few spots behind Sweden and other European countries famous for their generous welfare states

[LIPTON]: Costa Rica punches above its weight [HOST]: But how did Costa Rica escape the corruption, instability, and violent political struggles that have plagued many Latin American countries during and since the Cold War? And emerged as the region’s “happiest” country? [LIPTON]: Our statistics about Costa Rica are remarkably good, much better than her neighbors, and up there with the Scandinavian countries in terms of what makes people happy [HOST]: That’s Dr Judith Eve Lipton, a psychiatrist who has co-authored several books with her husband, David Barash, on war and its social impact Their latest book, “Strength Through Peace,” looks at how Costa Rica achieved its surprisingly strong happiness score

So let’s take a look back in time to find some answers In 1948, a civil war broke out in Costa Rica The civil war was fought between Costa Rica’s Communist Party and a National Liberation Army lead by José Figueres Figueres won the 44-day war and became Costa Rica’s provisional president And he began making a few key decisions that would help Costa Rica avoid the same fate as its neighbors and set up a stable democracy

First, the country’s government made the decision to demilitarize after the war Its defense minister had proposed abolishing the military to free up government funds that could be spent on education and healthcare Figueres then introduced the proposal to Costa Rica’s constitutional assembly It was approved and added to the country’s new constitution While Figueres’ actions in 1948 were pivotal, Lipton points out that demilitarization was possible because historically, Costa Rica didn’t have to worry too much about external conflicts

[LIPTON]: Costa Rica has a unique history compared to either Nicaragua or Panama or the country's north of Nicaragua In effect, it was left out of historical conflicts that go back about 400 years From sixteen hundred till the present foreign empires, colonialism, and so forth weren't very interested in Costa Rica [HOST]: But this wasn’t Figueres only decision following the civil war that kept Costa Rica safe and stable He banned Costa Rica’s Communist Party, sending the civil war’s losing side into exile

By banning communism, Costa Rica avoided uprisings at home and becoming a direct target of the United States for the rest of the Cold War In fact, the country benefited from US foreign aid in the 1960s and 70s In the coming decades, the country’s neighbors in Central America wouldn’t be so lucky

Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador all had political conflicts during the Cold War that drew in the United States and set the stage for the instability facing those countries today But even though Figueres banned the Communist Party, he struck a conciliatory deal with the civil war’s losing Communists called “the handshake at Ochomogo” The Communist forces agreed to peacefully surrender the war, and Figueres said his government would expand Costa Rica’s social programs The expansion of social services was written into the country’s new constitution, which also banned the army And in the decades following 1948, living standards rose and Costa Rica became one of Latin America’s leaders in healthcare and education, all while avoiding a slide into authoritarian communism or becoming a Cold War target of the United States

And today, Costa Rica is still benefiting from the decisions the government made during these early years of the Cold War In fact, this Latin American country, whose name means “Rich Coast,” is the happiest country in the region, according to a 2018 Gallup World Poll And the country has remained proud of its progressive tradition on issues like the environment, human rights, and democracy But things in Costa Rica might be changing In last year’s election, Costa Rica’s current president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, managed to triumph over his opponent, Fabricio Alvarado Munoz, an evangelical senator, whose platform of opposing gay marriage and sex education in schools, gained more support than one would expect for a conservative campaign in Costa Rica

Some observers see Munoz’s success as a bad omen for Costa Rica’s social and political stability down the line While the rest of Central America continues to grapple with violence and poverty sending citizens north, Costa Rica remains a model to the rest of the region… For now

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