Behind the National Museum of Costa Rica
Behind the National Museum of Costa Rica

Today, Costa Rica is one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries in Latin America. We don't even have a military any more! However, this lasting peace was the result of a dark period in Costa Rica's history - the civil war of 1948. Come with me to learn more about this historic conflict.

44 days of war

The civil war of 1948 broke out on March 12, 1948, and lasted until April 24, with accusations of voter fraud at the heart of the conflict. In February of that year, presidential elections were held to appoint a new leader. Opposition candidate Otilio Ulate won by a landslide, and the Costa Rican Legislature alleged that Ulate had won by means of fraud. This resulted in an uprising of the National Liberation Army, which was led by commander José Figueres. More than 2,000 lives were lost during the civil war, which culminated in the defeat of President Teodoro Picado.

Under Figueres' rule, which lasted around 18 months, the Costa Rican army was abolished and a constitutional assembly was convened in December of 1948. Less than one year later, the assembly drafted and ratified the country's constitution. After the constitution was agreed upon, Figueres relinquished power to Ulate, and the country has enjoyed peace and political stability ever since.

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Memories of the past

One of the key turning points in the brief but bloody conflict was the city of Cartago. Although the city was heavily fortified, Figueres and his army soon overtook the city, securing this strategic position on April 12.

Despite the positive results of the war, Ticos prefer not to dwell on the memories of this dark period in their history. As such, memorials and commemorative plaques are rare, even in cities that were central to the conflict such as Cartago and San Jose. However, visitors to the National Museum in San Jose may notice strange marks in the masonry of the building. That's because the museum formerly served as military barracks, and was a key defensive position during the civil war.

Other outposts in San Jose still stand today, including several bullet-riddled fortresses and defensive towers. These relics serve as a powerful reminder of Costa Rica's past, and the price that was paid to ensure the lasting peace that the country has become famous for.