Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Costa Rica and the Cold War, 1948-1990

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

Costa Rica and the Cold War, 1948-1990

Article excerpt


From Canada and Cuba in the north to Chile in the south, the Cold War affected countries of the Americas. Brazil, one of the world's largest nations, felt its impact as did even tiny nations such as Grenada. (2) Based largely upon Costa Rican sources, this article covers events from 1948, the year when Costa Rica's Second Republic was bom, until 1990, the year when Nicaragua's Sandinista government lost a presidential election and its East Germany ally disappeared. It argues that both the United States and the Soviet Union included Costa Rica in their Cold War strategies, that relations with neighbouring Nicaragua were an ongoing Costa Rican concern throughout the Cold War, and that to some considerable extent Costa Rican governments managed to defy the White House and to pursue policies which they considered to be in their own national interest.

Many writers have touched upon aspects of Costa Rica's Cold War, but not in its entirety nor from a twenty-first century perspective. Moreover, hardly any English-language writers have made use of documents from Costa Rica's Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto, the Costa Rican Foreign Office, for the period covered by this article. (3) This article uses those documents, the only collection that deals exclusively with Costa Rican foreign relations. One of the few English-language writers to make extensive use of Costa Rican sources was Charles D. Ameringer, who wrote a biography of three-time Costa Rican President Jose Figueres (1948-49, 1953-58, 1970-74). As President, Figueres granted Ameringer access to the appropriate Costa Rican archives for the years until 1970, but beyond that Amerianger had to depend upon official public documents and secondary sources. Ameringer tells the story through the eyes of Figueres, whether or not he was holding office at the time, and not through the perspective of the Foreign Office, as does this article. (4) Kyle Longley, who also used Costa Rican sources, provides an extensive account of perceived Communist influences in Costa Rica's First Republic, but his coverage of the Second Republic ends in 1957. (5)


The Soviet Union was the most active nation in using Costa Rica's respectability within Latin America to its advantage during the Cold War. This is most clearly evident in the employment of Teodoro Castro; on the surface, he was an ambassador for Costa Rica, but in actuality he was a Soviet agent. Costa Rica's Second Republic dates from 1948, and as much as anyone, Jose Figueres was father of that Republic. A disputed presidential election early in the year had provoked a brief civil war, following which there were major constitutional changes. On 1 December that same year, President Figueres demobilized the Costa Rican army, in part so that it could not stage a coup d'etat, in part so that the public treasury would have funds for other purposes. The public treasury was bare.

On 4 June 1948, the post-Civil War military junta headed by Jose Figueres decided not to have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. The government of Figueres' successor, Otilio Ulate (7 November 1949 until 8 May 1953), exchanged diplomats with most Latin American and Western European countries, as well as with Chiang Kai-shek's Taiwan-based Republic of China (ROC), and negotiated a trade agreement with Canada. (6) That relationship with the ROC continued into the twenty-first century, more than a decade after the Cold War had ended. Despite the absence of formal diplomatic relations with Communist countries and unknown to US authorities and even to itself at the time, the Costa Rican government would have an unanticipated connection with the Soviet Union. The tyrannical disposition of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin led to the expulsion of Yugoslavia's Communist leader and head of state. Marshal Josip Broz Tito, from the Soviet bloc, also in 1948. (7) There would be repercussions for Costa Rica. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.