Costa Rica: 70 years without an army

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The Central American country turns 70 years without armed forces. What have been the effects of the demilitarization?

Costa Rica: 70 years without an army

On December 1, 1948, Costa Rica resigned to maintain a permanent military force and has remained so to this day. During its history, few times it has had to resort to force to resolve internal and international conflicts. But does living without an army means to Costa Rica?

Leer en español: Costa Rica: 70 años sin ejército


The issue under discussion dates back to the Civil War of 48, a conflict that was originated with the suspension of the presidential elections of that year. The war confronted the National Liberation Army (ELN in spanish), led by José Figueres Ferrer, and the ruling party, which combined forces as disparate as the Popular Vanguard party -of Communist inclination- and support from the government of Anastasio Somoza García.

The ELN triumphed after 44 days and once the war was over, Figueres Ferrer decreed the immediate dissolution of the permanent army. Through Decree No. 749, the Founding Board of the Second Republic declared "officially dissolved the National Army, because it considered sufficient for the security of our country, the existence of a good police force".

Only once has Costa Rica had to resort to the formation of an army. It was in 1955, when the country was invaded by expatriates supported by dictatorships in Nicaragua, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. However, in 1965, 21 police officers were sent to support the US occupation of the Dominican Republic after the murder of Trujillo and the coup against Juan Bosch.

Also read Combo fiscal: the controversial reform of Costa Rica

What are the effects of Costa Rica not having an army?

In the first instance, the main benefit for the country is to be able to invest the money destined for large-scale defense in other sectors of society. However, both Costa Rica and Panama, both without an army, spend more on security and defense than all other countries in Central America.

In specific figures, the country in question invested 450 million dollars in 2018 according to the Ministry of Public Security of Costa Rica. Compared to the previous year, it is an increase of 60 million. Compared to neighboring nations, only Panama exceeds these numbers, since it spends around 1300 million dollars in security, according to the Ministry of Finance of that country.

In Guatemala (an expenditure of 250 million dollars according to the local newspaper El Periódico), Honduras (the same figure according to the local media El Tiempo), El Salvador (141 million dollars according to the Ministry of Finance of that country) and Nicaragua (84 million dollars according to the Infodefensa portal), it is noted that military spending is much lower.

So, the two countries without an army in the region have an expenditure greater than their militarized neighbors combined. Can we talk about an effective saving? It is difficult to say, although it can be trusted that, by not spending money on the Army and the Police, the resources of the State could be redirected to other sectors of society.

The ex-president of Costa Rica, Luis Guillermo Solís, assured in 2017 that "by not spending in the Army, we can invest up to 8% of the GDP in Education and even more in Health", according to the Nuevo Diario de Nicaragua.

Costa Rica has a greater investment in education ($ 4 billion) but not in health ($ 544 million) compared to El Salvador ($ 940 million and $ 622 million), Honduras ($ 1000 million and $ 590 million) and Guatemala (1400 million dollars and 776 million dollars), respectively. In other words, Costa Rica can invest in other sectors, which does not mean that it invests more than its neighbors in social aspects.

On the other hand, the BBC cites a scientific article entitled "Goodbye to arms: the effects on the long-term development of the abolition of the Costa Rican army." In this it is stated that, thanks to the permanent suspension of the army, Costa Rica grew an average of 2.28% annually, compared to a 1.42% projected in the same period in the scenario of having maintained the military forces.

It seems that there are a number of benefits for Costa Rica for not having a permanent army, but could it face an invasion? For some time there have been tensions with Nicaragua over border disputes. The most recent was in 2011; an invasion by the Nicaraguan army into Costa Rican territory that only came to be resolved four years later and through a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

Both in this case and the one described in 1955, they show that Costa Rica has the capacity to repel small-scale attacks both militarily and diplomatically. This is fundamental as it does not imply the need to establish an army. In addition, knowing that the Costa Rican police have the functions of ensuring the safety of the citizenry, they must have sectors of it that are trained in military tactics.

Costa Rica has managed to grow as a country during these 70 years and seems to be heading in the right direction. However, not every country could emulate this example, since the conditions of each one are different from each other and in some contexts the armies are necessary for the maintenance of the institutional stability of the countries.


LatinAmerican Post | Iván Parada Hernández

Translated from "Costa Rica: 70 años sin ejército"

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