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Costa Rica Modern History

After a brief civil war in 1948, the military was abolished and a democratic welfare state emerged. José Figueres Ferrer founded the Social Democratic Party PLN and came to dominate politics for decades. In the 1980s, a debt crisis and demands from lenders forced austerity that aroused some social anxiety. Around the turn of the millennium, the conservative party Pusc for the first time held presidential power for two terms, but a corruption scandal then led to the party losing big. The PLN then went on to dominate the political scene.

Economic and social unrest in the 1930s paved the way for reforms that would lay the foundations for a welfare state. In the early 1940s, President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia introduced a social insurance system. He had the support of Communists and trade unions, but also of the Catholic Church.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Costa Rica. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

Before the 1948 elections, the country was worried and when the opposition won, Calderón and his party succeeded in annuling the result. Then a riot began under the leadership of the coffee maker José "Don Pepe" Figueres. The civil war lasted just over a month but required the lives of 2,000 people. Under Figuere's leadership, a junta was formed that ruled the country during a transitional period of one and a half years.

As a result, the country was given a new constitution in 1949, which meant that the army was abolished. The voting rights were extended to include women and blacks, banks were nationalized and wealth taxation was introduced. State aid was granted to small farmers, which formed an important basis in the agricultural economy, and state companies were given responsibility for important social functions. Politics was then characterized by regular exchanges of power through elections.

Contemporary History of Costa RicaThe welfare state is built up

Figueres founded the National Liberation Party (PLN) and was elected president in two rounds, 1953–1958 and 1970–1974. He invested in increased state involvement in the economy and a welfare state was built up, unique to the region. The conservative governments that ruled the country between the PLN's terms of office canceled some of the reforms, but welfare policy was never seriously threatened.

In the early 1980s, a rapid decline in the economy occurred. Prices for the most important export products, bananas and coffee, fell sharply. This forced cuts in public finances. In the late 1980s, a large foreign debt forced Costa Rica to seek help from international lenders. These called for further financial tightening, which led to ever stronger protests from workers and public servants.

PLN's Óscar Arias Sánchez was elected President in 1986 and committed to peace in Central America, where several bloody conflicts raged. He was the driving force behind the peace plan written in 1987 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) and he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts that year.

The cuts continued and contributed to popular protests and social tensions even during the following terms of office. In the 1990 presidential election, Conservative Pusc won with candidate Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, son of President Calderón Guardia. In 1994, the PLN regained power through the victory of José María Figueres Olsen, son of the former president and country father "Don Pepe" Figueres. Then came the Conservative Christian Social Unity Party (Pusc) when Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría won in 1998.

From the late 1990s, it was clear that voters had begun to lose confidence in the political establishment. This was reflected in declining turnout, and partly by the emergence of new actors in the political arena.

The country's self-image is challenged

In the 2002 presidential election, Pusc's candidate, Abel Pacheco de la Espriella, won. It was the first time that PLN lost two consecutive elections, but also the first time that two electoral rounds were required.

In the fall of 2004, Costa Rica was shaken by scandals that challenged the self-image of the country as a democratic example. The two former Pusco Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez were arrested, charged with bribery. Both were detained and then detained for a year before being released pending trial. PLN was also included in the corruption scandal when President Figueres was accused of receiving bribes after his term in office. However, he was never prosecuted.

President Pacheco's position was weakened by the charges against the two party comrades. The situation was exacerbated by several ministerial drop-outs and public dissatisfaction with continued demands for savings. Prior to the 2006 elections, it was clear that Pusc was almost calculated.

Instead, the PLN's main opponent was the Citizens Action (PAC) formed before the previous election, by former PLN minister Ottón Solís.

Although opinion polls showed a walk-on victory for the PLN candidate, former President Óscar Arias, the race between him and Solís was almost dead. The difference was so small that the electoral tribunal ordered a recalculation of the votes by hand. In the end, it was clear that Arias had barely won. PLN became the largest in Congress but did not get its own majority.

Arias quickly initiated large investments in, among other things, welfare programs and road construction. But his most important priority was to rest in the port-free trade agreement DR-Cafta, which includes Central America, the United States and the Dominican Republic (see Economic overview). It was something of a political venture because many Costa Ricans opposed the demand to lift state monopoly. In September 2007, a referendum was held on the agreement - the first in the country's history. The vote resulted in a tight victory for the Jas side.

Trials against Presidents

However, in order for the free trade agreement to come into force, a number of legislative amendments were still required, including to abolish the state's monopoly on telecommunications. The changes were strongly opposed by the PAC and the work of the congress was slow. Arias was forced to appeal to other DR-Cafta members to extend the time limit. Only in 2009 could the agreement come into force for Costa Rica.

In 2008, proceedings were initiated against the two Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez. In October 2009, Calderón was sentenced to five years in prison for, among other things, receiving money in connection with the state's purchase of medical equipment from a Finnish company. He appealed against the verdict and remained free, but resigned as a candidate for Pusc ahead of the 2010 presidential election. Calderón had his sentence reduced in 2011, to three years, and thus failed to actually sit in jail. The judgment against Rodríguez first came in 2011; He was also sentenced to five years in prison but an appellate court found the following year flawed in the trial and released him completely. However, a new criminal investigation was introduced in 2013.

The Costa Ricans were generally satisfied with Arya's social efforts and the position of PLN was strengthened. In the 2010 election, the party's candidate, former Vice President Laura Chinchilla, took home the victory already in the first round. Chinchilla won in all seven provinces. In Parliament, the PLN became the largest party but did not get its own majority.

Female President

Chinchilla became Costa Rica's first female president and she formed a government where almost half of the ministers were women. Through a redistribution of ministerial posts, she placed more emphasis on the social field than her predecessor. However, Chinchilla emerged as more conservative in value than its predecessor, and voiced opposition to free abortion, gay partnerships, and a separation of church and state.

Chinchilla came to power with a strong mandate but quickly lost voter confidence. Several ministers and other high-ranking people were forced to resign because of allegations of corruption or other scandals. Despite the president's assertion that she was addressing the problems, an overwhelming percentage of voters felt that members of the government were corrupt. In addition, the previous political scandals had clearly eroded citizens' confidence in the political establishment.

Several major road and construction projects were also halted during Chinchilla's reign, and her attempts to reform the tax system were largely unsuccessful (see Economic overview). The failure was largely due to the opposition parties coming together and stopping the proposals in Parliament.

Towards the end of her term, Chinchilla's popularity figures were at the bottom; only about five percent of citizens thought she did a good job. This is despite decent economic growth and some improvement in the security situation in the country. The organized crime brought about by drug smuggling in the region had led to a rapid increase in crime and violence in the country, as well as increased drug use.

Economic and social unrest in the 1930s paved the way for reforms that would lay the foundations for a welfare state. In the early 1940s, President Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia introduced a social insurance system. He had the support of Communists and trade unions, but also of the Catholic Church.

Before the 1948 elections, the country was worried and when the opposition won, Calderón and his party succeeded in annuling the result. Then a riot began under the leadership of the coffee maker José "Don Pepe" Figueres. The civil war lasted just over a month but required the lives of 2,000 people. Under Figuere's leadership, a junta was formed that ruled the country during a transitional period of one and a half years.

As a result, the country was given a new constitution in 1949, which meant that the army was abolished. The voting rights were extended to include women and blacks, banks were nationalized and wealth taxation was introduced. State aid was granted to small farmers, which formed an important basis in the agricultural economy, and state companies were given responsibility for important social functions. Politics was then characterized by regular exchanges of power through elections.

The welfare state is built up

Figueres founded the National Liberation Party (PLN) and was elected president in two rounds, 1953–1958 and 1970–1974. He invested in increased state involvement in the economy and a welfare state was built up, unique to the region. The conservative governments that ruled the country between the PLN's terms of office canceled some of the reforms, but welfare policy was never seriously threatened.

In the early 1980s, a rapid decline in the economy occurred. Prices for the most important export products, bananas and coffee, fell sharply. This forced cuts in public finances. In the late 1980s, a large foreign debt forced Costa Rica to seek help from international lenders. These called for further financial tightening, which led to ever stronger protests from workers and public servants.

PLN's Óscar Arias Sánchez was elected President in 1986 and committed to peace in Central America, where several bloody conflicts raged. He was the driving force behind the peace plan written in 1987 (see Foreign Policy and Defense) and he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts that year.

The cuts continued and contributed to popular protests and social tensions even during the following terms of office. In the 1990 presidential election, Conservative Pusc won with candidate Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier, son of President Calderón Guardia. In 1994, the PLN regained power through the victory of José María Figueres Olsen, son of the former president and country father "Don Pepe" Figueres. Then came the Conservative Christian Social Unity Party (Pusc) when Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Echeverría won in 1998.

From the late 1990s, it was clear that voters had begun to lose confidence in the political establishment. This was reflected in declining turnout, and partly by the emergence of new actors in the political arena.

The country's self-image is challenged

In the 2002 presidential election, Pusc's candidate, Abel Pacheco de la Espriella, won. It was the first time that PLN lost two consecutive elections, but also the first time that two electoral rounds were required.

In the fall of 2004, Costa Rica was shaken by scandals that challenged the self-image of the country as a democratic example. The two former Pusco Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez were arrested, charged with bribery. Both were detained and then detained for a year before being released pending trial. PLN was also included in the corruption scandal when President Figueres was accused of receiving bribes after his term in office. However, he was never prosecuted.

President Pacheco's position was weakened by the charges against the two party comrades. The situation was exacerbated by several ministerial drop-outs and public dissatisfaction with continued demands for savings. Prior to the 2006 elections, it was clear that Pusc was almost calculated.

Instead, the PLN's main opponent was the Citizens Action (PAC) formed before the previous election, by former PLN minister Ottón Solís.

Although opinion polls showed a walk-on victory for the PLN candidate, former President Óscar Arias, the race between him and Solís was almost dead. The difference was so small that the electoral tribunal ordered a recalculation of the votes by hand. In the end, it was clear that Arias had barely won. PLN became the largest in Congress but did not get its own majority.

Arias quickly initiated large investments in, among other things, welfare programs and road construction. But his most important priority was to rest in the port-free trade agreement DR-Cafta, which includes Central America, the United States and the Dominican Republic (see Economic overview). It was something of a political venture because many Costa Ricans opposed the demand to lift state monopoly. In September 2007, a referendum was held on the agreement - the first in the country's history. The vote resulted in a tight victory for the Jas side.

Trials against Presidents

However, in order for the free trade agreement to come into force, a number of legislative amendments were still required, including to abolish the state's monopoly on telecommunications. The changes were strongly opposed by the PAC and the work of the congress was slow. Arias was forced to appeal to other DR-Cafta members to extend the time limit. Only in 2009 could the agreement come into force for Costa Rica.

In 2008, proceedings were initiated against the two Presidents Calderón and Rodríguez. In October 2009, Calderón was sentenced to five years in prison for, among other things, receiving money in connection with the state's purchase of medical equipment from a Finnish company. He appealed against the verdict and remained free, but resigned as a candidate for Pusc ahead of the 2010 presidential election. Calderón had his sentence reduced in 2011, to three years, and thus failed to actually sit in jail. The judgment against Rodríguez first came in 2011; He was also sentenced to five years in prison but an appellate court found the following year flawed in the trial and released him completely. However, a new criminal investigation was introduced in 2013.

The Costa Ricans were generally satisfied with Arya's social efforts and the position of PLN was strengthened. In the 2010 election, the party's candidate, former Vice President Laura Chinchilla, took home the victory already in the first round. Chinchilla won in all seven provinces. In Parliament, the PLN became the largest party but did not get its own majority.

Female President

Chinchilla became Costa Rica's first female president and she formed a government where almost half of the ministers were women. Through a redistribution of ministerial posts, she placed more emphasis on the social field than her predecessor. However, Chinchilla emerged as more conservative in value than its predecessor, and voiced opposition to free abortion, gay partnerships, and a separation of church and state.

Chinchilla came to power with a strong mandate but quickly lost voter confidence. Several ministers and other high-ranking people were forced to resign because of allegations of corruption or other scandals. Despite the president's assertion that she was addressing the problems, an overwhelming percentage of voters felt that members of the government were corrupt. In addition, the previous political scandals had clearly eroded citizens' confidence in the political establishment.

Several major road and construction projects were also halted during Chinchilla's reign, and her attempts to reform the tax system were largely unsuccessful (see Economic overview). The failure was largely due to the opposition parties coming together and stopping the proposals in Parliament.

Walk victory for PAC

Despite voters' dampened enthusiasm for Laura Chinchilla, most of the time pointed to a historic third win in a row for PLN 2014. The reason was the opposition's split rather than some greater confidence in PLN candidate Johnny Araya Monge. But in the first round of elections, PAC candidate Luis Guillermo Solís unexpectedly came in first place, albeit slightly ahead of Araya. When all opinion polls pointed to an overwhelming victory for Solís in the second round, Araya surprisingly chose to give up, one month before the election. He could not formally withdraw his candidature, but announced that no resources would be spent on further electoral work and that the PLN was now preparing to lead the opposition.

The decision meant that Solís was ready for the presidential post. Solís had a past in the PLN and worked in the Foreign Ministry under Óscar Arias, including with the Esquipulas agreement that led to peace in Central America in the 1980s (see Foreign Policy and Defense).

As the PAC received only 13 seats in Parliament, Solís depended on successful cow trading with other parties to pass legislation. It proved difficult.

One year after the change of power, Solí's popularity among voters had diminished. The PLN had recovered after the blow and accused the government of being "rudderless" and of failing to fulfill its promises. Solís sought to improve the situation by replacing the prime minister, whose task is to act as a messenger between the president and parliament. The post was held by Lutheran Bishop Melvin Jiménez, a close friend of Solís who was disputed from the beginning. The Catholic colored establishment suspected that Jiménez wanted to work to transform Costa Rica, which is, by the constitution, Catholic, into a secular country. He was also seen as an outsider within the PAC. Rumors of abuse of power worsened the situation, not least as the PAC was formed with the intention of making politics more "ethical". Jiménez's replacement, Sergio Iván Alfaro, on the other hand, was a PAC veteran and his election allowed Solís to rely more fully on at least the 13 PAC members.

Reduced maneuvering space

Shortly thereafter, the PLN, together with the arch rival Pusc, led the formation of an opposition alliance in parliament with four more parties. The PAC, which until then had held the presidential post, now lost it and the opposition also took control of most important committees.

Solís submitted a proposal for a tax reform in 2015, which was also attempted by previous governments to deal with the growing budget deficit. Despite several amendments to the proposal, he failed to get Parliament to adopt the proposal.

 
 

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