La casona de Santa Rosa used in the battle of William Walker in Santa Rosa National ParkLa casona de Santa Rosa used in the battle of William Walker in Santa Rosa National Park

Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world that doesn't have an army. In fact, the abolition of the Costa Rican military was drafted into the country's constitution in 1949! However, the country does have an interesting military history. Come with me to learn more about how Costa Rica abolished its military presence!

The Rich Coast

Spanish conquistadors first arrived here in the 16th century, and named the country "the Rich Coast" in the hopes of finding gold and other precious minerals. However, upon realizing there was little to be mined in Costa Rica, they instead focused the efforts of their colony on agriculture.

Although the country was a prosperous outpost for the Spanish, it was of little strategic worth as a military base, and as a result, the Spanish maintained only a modest contingent of armed forces in Costa Rica for almost two centuries.

Guanacaste Escape Adventure Tour
7 Days / 6 Nights
Starting at $779 per person

A cultural awakening

Despite the relative peace that Costa Rica enjoyed until the 19th century, things were soon to change. Economic decisions in Spain were deeply unpopular in Costa Rica and across Central America, and before long, the region was gripped by civil war in a battle for independence. While the Latin American nations were victorious in securing independence from Spain, the years following the declaration of 1821 were fraught with regional conflicts, particularly between Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama.

Independence from the United Provinces of Central America

From 1840 to around 1860, Costa Rica was engaged in a lengthy and bloody civil war where Costa Rica eventually declared independence from the United Provinces of Central America. On March 21, 1847 the Costa Rican forces based near the capital of San Jose emerged victorious, but this was not the end of Costa Rica's conflicts.

Statue of William Walker being defeatedStatue of William Walker being defeated

William Walker

Prominent American lawyer and adventurer William Walker tried several times to annex Nicaragua and Costa Rica to become part of the U.S. Costa Rican President Juan Rafael Mora rallied the Central American nations to come together and drive Walker's forces from the region, and on April 11, 1856, Walker's forces were dealt a decisive blow by Juan Santamaria when the Costa Rican hero burned Walker's fort to the ground.

President Juan Mora Porras leading army against William WalkerPresident Juan Mora Porras leading army against William Walker

The End of a Militia

Costa Rica went through a very big change almost 70 years ago, and things have never been the same since. In 1948 there was a revolution that lasted only 40 days, the National Liberation Army led by Jose Figueres, who was also known as Don Pepe, was fighting against the illegitimate government led by Teodoro Picado who was directing the Costa Rican Army. Picado ended up surrendering to Figueres on April 19, 1948 by signing The Pact of the Mexican Embassy officially ending the armed conflict. More than 2,000 people died in the bloodiest civil war in Costa Rican history since its declaration as an independent nation.

On the first of December in 1948, the then President of Costa Rica, José Figueres Ferrer, declared the end of the military spirit in his country. This decision was made after a violent civil war stemmed in politics. This military abolition was added to the Costa Rican Constitution in Article 12 in 1949.

National Monument to war against Filibusteros of NicaraguaNational Monument to war against Filibusteros of Nicaragua

The Benefits of a Military-Free Country

As I explore my beautiful country, enjoying the lush landscapes and the encountering scores of happy people, I can’t help but think about how much the end of our military has impacted our lives. Though there were certainly political reasons for the decision, there was also a conscious decision made to improve the lives of those that live in Costa Rica. With an active military, the country was spending money on guns and supplies that could be used for education and culture. And that is exactly what happened! During the ceremony where he announced the abolishment of the military, José Figueres Ferrer also dedicated the former military barracks to a future committed to culture, symbolized by the handing the keys to the minister of education. This building, located in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose, is now the country’s national museum, and one of my favorite places to visit!

Bullet Riddled National Museum in San JoseBullet Riddled National Museum in San Jose

The happy people that I encounter during my travels through Cota Rica are happy because they have an improved standard of living with stronger education and medicine budgets. Because Costa Rica does not fund a military, they are able to fund public universities and hospitals. The life expectancy for Costa Rica residents has increased and the country has literacy rate of 96%.

All that education and health gives residents, and visitors, more chances to enjoy their natural, beautiful surrounding, which – you guessed it – have been preserved using the budget previously invested in military. The preservation of Costa Rica’s amazing natural landscape, through national parks and biological reserves, is a benefit of the reallocation of country funds. I am very grateful to live in a country that is so invested in its people and its natural resources! I am also very happy to share my country’s beauty and happiness with anyone that comes to visit Costa Rica.

So, Who Protects Costa Rica?

Costa Rica maintains its military-free status and does not command any military units or house any war weapons. However, the country does maintain alliances with other countries, such as the United States, that will assist in the event of war within Costa Rica.

Costa Rica does employ some special forces that help enforce law, patrol borders and decrease drug-trafficking. Most of these forces operate under the Public Force, established by the Ministry of Public Security in 1996. This new unit combined all other entities that existed, and brought them under one command.

The Civilian Guard is in place to help ensure general public order and safety, so visitors of Costa Rica do not need to feel any heightened danger while visiting the country. Travelers should always be extra safe and alert while visiting a foreign county, but Costa Rica is a non-violent place with local officers that keep that peace by enforcing law and order.

Costa Rica military imageCosta Rica military image