Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Figueres Ferrer, José (1906–1990)

Key Costa Rican political figure for more than half a century and president during 1948–1949, 1953–1958, and 1970–1974. Born on 25 September 1906 in San Ramon, José "Don Pepe" Figueres Ferrer took up university studies in Costa Rica and, briefly, in the United States at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) but did not earn a degree. During the 1930s, he farmed a small mountain plantation. In 1942 Figueres was exiled to Mexico by the National Republican Party (PRN) after he criticized President Calderón Guardia in a radio address.

Figueres was allowed to return in 1944 and emerged as the leader of the National Liberation Party (PLN). In 1948 the PRN lost the presidency but attempted to remain in power. Figueres and other PLN leaders led an insurrection against the PRN government and quickly won a brief civil war. Figueres and a military junta assumed power at the end of the war. Despite having banned the Communist Party, Figueres led Costa Rica through a mild socialist reformation, abolishing the army in 1948 and introducing social welfare, education, and land reform programs. He also nationalized banks and insurance companies, which paved the way for state intervention in the economy. After eighteen months in office, Figueres handed over the presidency to Otilio Ulate, the rightful winner of the 1948 election. Figueres returned as president during 1953–1958 and 1970–1974 but remained politically influential until his death.

During the Cold War, Figueres received backing and support from both Cuba and Guatemala, and he continued to push for mild socialist reforms, much to the consternation of the United States. Nevertheless, he was able to advance his reform agenda while maintaining relatively cordial relations with Washington. Figueres died in San José on 8 June 1990.

David H. Richards


Further Reading
Longley, Kyle. The Sparrow and the Hawk: Costa Rica and the United States during the Rise of Jose Figueres. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997.
 

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