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"Don Pepe" Remembered
José María Hipólito Figueres Ferrer was born 100 years ago yesterday.

José María Hipólito Figueres Ferrer, known to Costa Ricans as "Don Pepe" was born on 25 September 1906 and served as President of Costa Rica on three occasions: 1948–1949, 1953–1958, and 1970–1974.

Don Pepe died on 8 June 1990.

During his first term in office, he abolished the country's army, nationalized its banking sector, and granted women the right to vote.

Figueres was San Ramón. The locations are significant, according to his best biographer, because his parents came from a world of wide ambition that most Costa Ricans envied, and he was born in a nation that put a high value on his impeccable Spanish background. Figueres was the eldest of the four children of a Spanish Catalan doctor and his wife, a teacher, who had recently immigrated from Spain to San Ramon in west-central Costa Rica.

Figueres learned English as a schoolboy and developed an interest in mathematics and physics. Figueres was very independent from the beginning. His family problems resulted in his being sent to the Colegio Seminario, which drove Figueres to attempt suicide. He later continued his studies via correspondence with the International School in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Against his father's wishes, he traveled to Boston and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), studying hydroelectric engineering while he worked in a Tea Company as a translator. His preparatory courses, however, seemed repetitive, so he quit school. He claimed to have spent the entire time in the United States putting himself through a self-guided, rigorous reading curriculum reading in the Boston Public Library, which he later called his alma mater.

At Boston Public Library he learned more about social philosophy and hydroelectric science than even MIT might have been able to teach him. When he returned to Costa Rica in 1928, he continued his education, spending most of his time either working or studying the works of Martí, Cervantes, Kant, and Nietzsche.

Figueres' political career probably began in 1942. Two days after an enemy submarine sunk the San Pablo in the port of Limón, the United Committee of Anti-Totalitarian Associations organized a rally set to meet in the Parque Central, which was to be followed by a parade to the Presidential palace.

The theme was vitriolic: "The country is full of traitors... These traitors ought to be smashed by the people without pity or delay. ... Our watchword is this: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."

When no speakers showed up on the day of the rally, the parade began to move toward the Presidential palace. Then, someone broke a window, and for the next six hours a pandemonium of rioting and looting reigned over the city of San José. The government did little to stop the rioting until late in the evening, after which time 76 people had been injured and 123 buildings damaged, including a warehouse belonging to Figueres.

Figueres was upset about the damages, but he was more upset that the government had done nothing to stop it. He took to the airwaves and accused Calderón's government of incompetence. After going on about the shortcomings of the government for some time, the police burst into the radio station and arrested Figueres. Figueres was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer and of giving away military secrets to the enemy. Despite protests and petitions sent to the government to release Figueres, Calderón expelled Figueres from Costa Rica. He thus became famous as the first Costa Rican exile since Tinoco's regime.

Figueres arrived in Mexico on July 11, 1942 and he decided to seek revenge against Calderón. It was while he was in exile in Mexico that Figueres met and became friends with other exiles from other Central American and Caribbean countries: the same exiles who would later come together to form the Caribbean Legion.

Figueres spent two years in exile from July 11th,1942 to 1944 in Mexico. He returned to Costa Rica after Licenciado Teodoro Picado Michalski won the presidency in 1944.

When Figueres returned in 1944, he established the Democratic Party, which a year later transformed into the Social-Democratic Party. He blamed and criticized former President Calderon and his successor President Picado of corruption and embezzlement.

Figueres began training the Caribbean Legion, an irregular force of 700. Figueres launched a revolution along with other landowners and student agitators, hoping to overthrow the Costa Rican government. Hoping to use Costa Rica as a base, the Legion planned next to remove the three Central American dictators. Washington officials were not amused.

They closely watched the Legion’s activities, especially after Figures carried out a series of terrorist attacks inside Costa Rica during 1945 and 1946 that was supposed to climax in a general strike. But the people did not respond.

Former President Calderon supporters through fraud prevented and invalidated the March 1, 1948, presidential election in which Otilio Ulate Blanco had defeated Calderon in his second term bid.

In March-April 1948, the protests over the election results mushroomed into armed conflict, then into revolution. Figueres defeated Communist-led guerrillas and the Costa Rican Army, which had joined forces with President Picado

With more than 2,000 dead, the 44-day civil war resulting from this uprising was the bloodiest event in 20th-century Costa Rican history.

After the civil war Figueres became President at the head of a provisional junta known as the "Junta Fundadora" (Founding Council) that held power for 18 months. During that time he took several actions:

* enabled women and illiterates to vote,
* put into effect basic welfare legislation,
* nationalized banks,
* outlawed the Communist Party,
* directed the writing of a new constitution,
* guaranteed public education for all,
* gave citizenship to black immigrants' children,
* established civil service to eliminate the spoils system in government, and

"In a short time, we decreed 834 reforms that completely changed the physiognomy of the country and brought a deeper and more human revolution than that of Cuba," Figueres said in a 1981 interview.

Once Figueres gained control, the legislation he passed regarding social reform for his Second Republic of Costa Rica was not that much different from Calderón's proposals. In fact, it is believed by some historians (such as David LaWare) that Figueres' social reforms were more or less the same as Calderón's Labor Code of 1943, only Figueres had gained the power with which to enact the laws upon the whole country with the complete support of virtually all the country.

Furthermore, both of these leaders' programs were in many cases exactly like the ones Franklin D. Roosevelt passed during the Great Depression that helped lift the US out of its own economic slump and social decline it had faced in the 1930s. Figueres admired what president Franklin D. Roosevelt did, however he noted that "the price he had to pay to get his programs through was to leave the business community free overseas to set up dictatorships and do whatever they liked... What we need now is an international New Deal, to change the relations between North and South."

Figueres stepped down after 18 months, handing his power over to Otilio Ulate, and ever since Costa Ricans have settled their arguments constitutionally.

"Your hands are not clean to fight communism when you don't fight dictatorships," Figueres told American interviewers in 1951. "It seems that the United States is not interested in honest government down here, as long as a government is not communist and pays lip service to democracy."

In 1953 Figueres created the Partido Liberación Nacional (PLN), the most successful party in Costa Rican political history, and was returned to power in the 1953. He has been considered to be the most important political figure in Costa Rica's history.

During his various terms in office he nationalized the banking system and contributed to the construction of the Panamerican Highway that goes across Central America. He promoted the private industry sector and stimulated the national industry sector. He succeeded in energizing the country's middle class creating a strong buffer between the upper and lower classes.

What most alarmed U.S. officials was Figueres's material and moral support for the Caribbean Legion, even though Figueres had obviously lost interest in the Legion after he gained power. But Figueres still criticized U.S. support for the dictators, going so far as to boycott the 1954 inter-American meeting because it was held in Caracas, where President Marcos Perez Jimenez of Venezuela held sway.

Figueres happily cooperated with North American military plans. After the United States established the School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone to train Latin American officers in Anti-Communist techniques, more Costa Rican "police" graduated from the School between 1950 and 1965 than did officers of any other hemispheric nation except Nicaragua.

Figueres was well liked and received in many Latin-American countries for his center-left ideals. He has been called one of the greatest contributors to the Social Democratic ideology.

After the presidency, as an acknowledged elder statesman, Figueres became a roving ambassador for subsequent administrations.

In private life, Figueres married Henrietta Boggs of Alabama in 1942. They had two children, Muni and Jose Marti, before the marriage ended in divorce in 1952. He later married Karen Olsen of New York. They had four children, Jose Maria, Karen Christiana, Mariano and Kirsten. His wife was a member of the Legislative Assembly, the country's congress.

His son, José María Figueres Olsen, also served as president from 1994 to 1998 and is now living in Switzerland refuding to return to Costa Rica answer a Legislative Committe questions on his role in the ICE-Alcatel bribery scandal of which he admits having received us$900.000 from Alcatel for consulting fees two years after leaving the presidency.


José María Figueres Ferrer, affectionately known as "Don Pepe" by many Costa Ricans is regarded as father of the Second Republic of Costa Rica.

After the civil war, Figueres was took several actions that continues to shape Costa Rica today:
* enabled women and illiterates to vote,
* put into effect basic welfare legislation,
* nationalized banks,
* outlawed the Communist Party,
* directed the writing of a new constitution,
* guaranteed public education for all,
* gave citizenship to black immigrants' children,
* established civil service to eliminate the spoils system in government,


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