The Story of Figueres

Jose Figueres Ferrer is a very famous president of Costa Rica and passed many acts and laws that still exist today. One of the most important things that he did was abolish Costa Rica’s army. The reason he did this was that he wanted to spend the money on health care and education and wanted Costa Rica to become a more peaceful country. Figueres was a very popular president and won the presidency three times, but he was also exiled to Mexico twice as well for doing many bad things but still regained his popularity each time.

Jose Figueres Ferrer was born on September 25th, 1906 in Alajuela. He was the eldest of four and the son of a Catalan doctor. His mom was a teacher and had recently moved from Catalonia in Spain to Costa Rica. Figueres first language was Catalan as it was the language that he spoke to his parents. After finishing his education, Figueres spent four years in the United States working hard and studying. When he moved back to Costa Rica, he bought a farm in Tarrazú and named it “La Lucha Sin Fin” meaning “the endless struggle” in Spanish


After a few years, Figueres became a famous coffee grower and rope manufacturer. Figueres later started calling himself a farmer socialist because he started to provide medical care and established a community vegetable farm.

Soon later, Figueres was exiled to Mexico for two years during a radio broadcast for denouncing and insulting president Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia who became president from 1940 to 1944. After returning to Costa Rica Figueres led a revolution against Otilio Ulate claiming that he had achieved the presidency against Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia (or simply Calderón) by fraud. Soon later, Figueres led a rebel army against government president Teodoro Picado and the government was quickly defeated. Costa Rica has never really had much political violence since.

After the revolution, Calderón was exiled from Costa Rica. But many people say that he did not get the credit that he deserved and that he did a very good job while in office. Calderón was exiled from Costa Rica and in the same year that he was exiled he and some of his followers invaded Costa Rica from Nicaragua. But this overthrow attempt was defeated with the aid of the organization of American states. After the attack, a treaty was signed saying that Figueres could become the head of a provisional government junta for only a year and a half. This was the time in which he abolished the army and gave the women of Costa Rica and Afro-Costa Ricans the right to vote. During this time was when he became increasingly popular and gained the support of many of the people in Costa Rica. After serving for a year and a half in office, he left.

In 1953 Figueres was back in action and ready to become president again. He established the Partido Liberacion Naciónal which went on to become one of the most successful parties in Costa Rican history. Once in office, Figueres did many more revolutionary things. Including nationalizing banking and contributing to the Pan-American Highway that goes all over Central America. Figueres also happily went along with many of North America’s plans and when the School of the Americas in the Panama canal zone was established. Figueres sent many of Costa Rica’s police officers there to study anti-Communist techniques.

In 1954 Nicaragua invaded Costa Rica. The attack was started by some of the country’s anti-Somoza exiles linked to the Caribbean Legion. Soon later, Anastasio Somoza Garcia launched a counter-attack allowing Calderón to invade Costa Rica. Figueres also abolished the army which meant that Costa Rica had no military for defense against the Somoza. Figueres eventually had to call for help to the Organization of American States to try to protect Costa Rica from the Somoza’s attacks. Somoza had allowed the CIA to park some of their planes at one of Nicaragua’s airports and now Somoza was going to use those planes to try and defeat Figueres and launch an attack on Costa Rica.

On January 15, a P-47 Thunderbolt bombed towns in Costa Rica. Figueres pleaded again to the Organization of American States who immediately authorized the United States to sell 4 P-51 Mustang fighters for a dollar apiece, the United States hadn’t had a good public image in Central America and the U.S was hoping to repair the hole they made earlier by selling these planes to Costa Rica. Somoza withdrew from Costa Rica after talking about severing the link with the exiles.

Figueres served his third and final presidency from 1970-1974. During this time, the Costa Rican economy was about to crash and he helped save the economy from failure by selling 30,000 tons of coffee to the Soviet Union. Other acts to save the Costa Rican economy included millions of dollars in donations from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Another event that occurred during his third presidency included standing in front of a runway when Somoza tried to hijack a plane from San Jose. He stood in front of the plane with a submachine gun until the hijackers surrendered.

Figueres ended his last presidency in 1974. He was well-liked then and famous for his many events during his presidencies. His popularity fell though when he said that he opposed the U.S funded contras and instead supported the Sandista Revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. His campaign for a fourth term was crushed.

Although he may not have become the president four times, he is still seen as a hero to many. Figueres died of heart failure in 1990, but he still hields a very interesting life. He served as president three times and is often seen as the father of Costa Rica. He was the man who abolished the army, rejected the Somozas from his land, and created the famous Costa Rican health care system that still stands today.

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