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No Son Will Die

This is not a story about the abolition of the army, rather, it is a review about some of the commentary around it. I am a curious person, and sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) I get

This is not a story about the abolition of the army, rather, it is a review about some of the commentary around it.

I am a curious person, and sometimes (maybe more than sometimes) I get curious about the type of thoughts people have. I wonder why people think one way or another and whether they can think differently at all.

Very recently, I was having dinner with a couple of dear friends from the UK. As we conversed about many things, we certainly had to talk about the late queen and the current king, and we were discussing how unfathomable it is for the majority of British citizens to think of a world without the British Monarchy. It is similarly unthinkable for a Hindu to eat a cow, or for an American Conservative to live without the right to bear arms, or a Parisian without a baguette.

Every individual person has a different reality than anyone else, and those realities are intensified by the culture we live in. Reality is relative to ones presence in time and space. People in Saudi Arabia are accustomed to go about their days without having to eat a french baguette; that is part of their reality. People in New Zealand manage to live in a country without the right to bear arms. Mexicans are not concerned about losing their monarch. While the average person in Uruguay is not a fan of cricket or curling.

Abolition of the Army

On December 1st, Costa Rica celebrates the abolition of the army, and just a few years ago became a national holiday.

Months after the Civil War ended in April 1948, the Temporary President of Costa Rica and the “Temporary Founding Council” decided to eliminate the armed forces the country had at the time.

On March 12th 1948, Figueres started an insurrection against the government of then president Theodoro Picado. The insurrection ended on April 24th, 1948. The unrest was initiated when President Picado referred to Congress the review of the election results and to decide who was to be president. The board of elections declared that Utilio Ulate Blanco had won the election, but opponent Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia did not want to accept the result and requested for Congress to review the results, which Picado approved.

Picado and Calderon where from the National Republican Party. Calderon served from 1940 to 1944. Theodoro Picado served between 1944 until 1948. The Costa Rican constitution did not allow presidents to service two consecutive terms. Caladeron’s plan was to be reelected in 1948, and decided to contest the election result against Ulate. Figuere’s party the National Liberation did not agree with Picado’s decision to allow Congress to review the election since it was already confirmed by the board of elections.

Years earlier, during the Calderon Presidency, Figueres was exiled and lived in Guatemala and Mexico after confrontations with the Calderon Government, he later returned to CR once Calderon’s mandate had ended.

After the Civil War, the Founding Council presided by Figueres enacted several reforms during their 18th month rule, one of them being the abolition of the army in December 1st, 1949.

While the abolition of the army and other reforms, such as investment in education and infrastructure proved to have a positive effects in the following decades in Costa Rican life, the story around Calderon and Figueres does not come without conflict and with also an enduring impact in regional affairs.

Witnessing the Batista Regime in Cuba, Somoza in Nicaragua, and long history of coup d’etats in the region and military regimes, makes the abolition of the army a strategic decision to avoid future conflict. Regardless whether Figueres would have been a good or bad president, he was making sure that he will not be overthrown and/or assassinated, not him and not any other president in the Costa Rican future. Figueres served for three non consecutive terms.

With the social and political challenges in the region, it was pragmatic to eradicate one of the factors that fuels conflict, the use of the military against their own people, and the temptation to use that power to exert control over the population. Removing the army would prevent Costa Rica from going down the same road that other countries had gone to at that point, and certainly for years to come.

An Interesting Perspective

So, since now the abolition of the army is a national holiday, we published a post in FB to celebrate the day just like any other holiday. Merry Christmas, Happy Mother’s Day, Happy Labor’s Day.  Why not?

The post contained a phrase from a Japanese business man called Ryochi Sasakawa who said “Blessed is the Costa Rican mother who knows that her son at birth will never be a soldier”. He obviously shared that comment in reference to the fact that Costa Rica does not have an army.

As noted earlier, I am curious about what and how people think. We are a product of our circumstances. To me, I grew up in a country with no army. I was born in 1977 and that point, the country has been without an army for 29 years. I remember growing up as a kid and learning about people from Spain, Chile, Cuba, Nicaragua and Panama living in Costa Rica due to their military dictatorships. I thought it was bizarre that those countries would have an army and a dictatorship, and that people had to flee their countries due to civil unrest. I remember watching the news about the Tianamen Square and the single chinese man standing in front of a tank It made me cry to think about the courage, and obvious consequence. I was only 12 years old at the time.

Fast-forward to recent times, a Karen comes along to share a comment on our post celebrating the abolition of the army with Ryochi’s quote, and she says: “Because the US moms’ sons will protect you???” Obviously, the lady is a making a reference to a thought that Costa Ricans expect the US Army to fight a war for Costa Rica.

I found it interesting that is the way she believes we think. Couldn’t we just think differently? I remember on an episode of “No Reservations” when Anthony Burdain is visiting Perú and had to make the mandatory stop in Macchu Picchu and asked a tour guide: “So, do you guys believe that this was built by aliens?”

While I enjoyed Anthony Burdain’s show (who would not love travel and food, my two favorite things, specially with my wife), I find westerners to be quite ignorant and biased when it comes to their assumptions about other cultures, whether they are current or past cultures. Why would Macchu Picchu be built by aliens? Why would Ticos expect the Americans to come and defend them? Why would the British not think about doing away with the monarchy? Why couldn’t Conservatives in America live without guns? Why cannot we be and think differently?

I replied to Karen with this:

“Unlike the US, Costa Rica does not have enemies.

In over 70 years Costa Rica has not had a single war. On the contrary, the US has suffered 102,619 casualties in five wars and over 20 armed conflicts.

Furthermore, the US has not been required to sacrifice a single American life protecting Costa Ricans.

Perhaps the US can learn a thing or two from CR about foreign policy and avoiding a culture of war mongering.”

Let’s analyze this.

US Casualties in the past 70 years.

This is the list of wars and military conflicts the US has been involved in since Costa Rica abolished its army, basically since the end of WWII.

The US has had five official wars since WWII, to wit:







Persian Gulf








In addition, it has participated in all these military conflicts:

War or Conflict



U.S.S.R. Cold War



China Cold War



1958 Lebanon crisis



Bay of Pigs Invasion



Cuban Missile Crisis



Dominican Republic



USS Liberty incident






El Salvador Civil War



Beirut deployment



Persian Gulf escorts



Invasion of Grenada



1986 Bombing of Libya



Invasion of Panama



Operation Provide Comfort












Bosnian War



Kosovo War



Intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria



Raid on Yemen



 Over all these wars and military conflicts, not a single one has been in Costa Rica. As noted, Costa Rica does not have enemies.

Costa Rica does not have huge natural resources such as copper, oil, gold, silver, cobalt, gas, etc. There is no reason for anybody to be interested in invading CR. It has been a curse and a blessing. The lack of natural resources has limited the ability of the country to push forward. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela with large reserves of oil, and Chile with Copper, South Africa with gold and diamonds, Costa Rica does not have the fortune of significant resources which has prevented it from becoming a target of foreign powers. While the lack of resources has hindered the ability for the country to develop wealth, it has also limited the possibility of becoming a target for a country with a large military force.

From another perspective, Costa Rica does not go around antagonizing other countries like the UK in India, or the US in South Vietnam or Saudi Arabia, and thus preventing the possibility of developing unnecessary enemies.

With this, Costa Rica does not have enemies, neither by nature or design and thus there is no risk of any country having a political or military agenda against Costa Rica. If there is no risk of a military intervention in Costa Rica, what is the point of having an army? Why have something you do not need?

In its history, Costa Rica has had only two foreign military campaigns, the battle of Rivas in Nicaragua against William Walker in 1856, and the Coto war against Panama in 1921. (While Costa Rica declared war against Germany during World War II, and the Germans sent a UBoat to the Caribbean in Costa Rica, it is questionable whether there was real military invasion, so let’s be real). However, these two conflicts were prior to the abolition of the army in 1948. Since then, Costa Rica has only had one conflict with a foreign military force, that being Nicaragua about Isla Calero in 2010, which was settled in favor of Costa Rica by the International Court of Justice in in 2015. While the Nicaraguan Military invaded Costa Rica in the Caribbean Cost, Costa Rica won the dispute in the international court. Not a single shot was fired, and not a single American Mother had to mourn the loss of their son.

The Shit Sandwich

A lesson about foreign policy.

Costa Rica was between two significant conflicts in the region, the Nicaraguan Civil War and the dictatorship in Panama.

By the time of the Civil War in Costa Rica, the region had experienced a significant number of dictatorships. To name a few:

Porfirio Díaz, Mexico (1876-1911)

Manuel Estrada Cabrera, Guatemala (1898-1920)

Getúlio Dornelles Vargas, Brazil (1930-1945) and (1951-1954)

Rafael Trujillo, Dominican Republic (1930-1961)

The Somoza dynasty, Nicaragua (1936-1979)

Federico Tinoco, Costa Rica (1917)

Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega, Panama (1968-1989)

Of great significance was the military dictatorship by the Somoza Family in Nicaragua, which started taking of power by the Anastasio Somoza in 1937 (aided by the US Marine Corps that were stationed in Nicaragua at the time) and ended in 1979 with the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional)  insurrection and the resignation of Anastasio Somoza Jr. The rule of the FSNL (leftist) resulted in US intervention in Nicaragua by supporting the Contras. The conflict lasted until 1990.

The Civil War in Nicaragua had significant impact in Costa Rican life and politics.

Tens of thousands of refugees from Nicaragua fled to Costa Rica, but in addition, both the FSNL and the Contracts would use the CR territory as refuge. While there was not a direct threat to Costa Rican national security, the war in Nicaragua enhanced the anxiety of the CR community hoping for the the conflict not to spread to Costa Rica.

The Nicaraguan Civil war came with numerous nuances that we will not be able to cover here, but in a nutshell, the US intervention in Nicaragua started with the end of the Spanish American War 1898 and the inception of the Good Neighbor Policy which led the US to intervene not only in Nicaragua, but other countries such as Honduras, Guatemala, Panama, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. Do you know the term Banana Republic? Look it up! These US intervention in Nicaragua resulted later with the taking of power by the Somozas, which resulted later in the Civil War, and the Contra FSNL war and a huge crisis that Nicaragua has not recovered from yet.

On the other border with Panama, things were not better. Panama, because of the obvious Canal, has also been subject to US intervention which resulted in multiple dictatorial regimes. Perhaps, Panama had a different fate than Nicaraguans due to, having the Canal and a strong US military presence. While it did not represent a direct threat to CR National security, there was the shadow of the regime on the doorstep of Costa Rica. Let me tell you, a few heads of Panamanian opposition leaders were found in CR territory.

The point here is that while Costa Rica did not have any enemies, the political environment in the neighboring countries required handling the situation with diplomatic finesse. Was Costa Required to build a military to defense itself? No, the solution was to abolish the other countries armies.

CR President Oscar Arias 1986-1990 became an instrumental part to broker the Esquipilas II Agreement signed by the presidents of Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, which paved the way for ending the civil wars in Central America and particularly, the ending of the civil war between the FSNL and the Contras.

Costa Rica was able to avoid the Nicaraguan conflict to spread over to its territory without having an army, and without the sacrifice of a single American child.

What can we learn from this?

We are biased.

One the one hand we live our lives and develop a style of thought resulting from the environment in which we were raised.

As British cannot think of live without a monarch, or the French without a baguette, or Argentina without soccer. Similarly, some people in the US cannot think of resolving foreign policy problems creatively.

Think Creatively

While the US and major European powers have sent their armies to developing countries China has sent their bankers. The Big Stick Diplomacy has resulted in enduring conflict and continued cycles of poverty in the affected regions.

We got to think differently about problems.

Whether it is battling the long lasting effects of colonialism and the Cold War in developing countries, or whether it is dealing with global warming, we must think differently about the solutions we want to bring to those problems.

While there is no perfect country in the world, Costa Rica with its limited resources and abilities, has decided to try to live without and army, and it has paid off.

There are many other problems that Costa Rica has to deal with, such as crime, poverty and pollution.

We can just hope to continue being creative as we once were.



Attorney and Entrepreneur with more than 15 years experience in: immigration law in the US and Latin American countries including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica and Panama. In addition, Rafael has extensive experience in Business Law, Estate Planning, and Real Estate. Lastly, Rafael has developed experience in people management, talent development and business development.

Review overview
  • John Hammacker December 18, 2022

    I’d like to start by saying that I have much respect for Costa Rica, their abolition of the army, reasoning behind it, and the way it is celebrated. I have a unique perspective in that I am married to a Tica. That being said, I find your article steeped in irony and naivety. You claim that you are open-minded and understand different people have different views, and you go on to propose that others should think differently. Yet the first chance you get to consider a point of view different than yours, you immediately call the other person a “Karen”, effectively discounting everything she says. I will point out that I disagree with her approach, but if you practice what you preach, you should consider the deeper things behind her point of view. The naivety behind your statement that “Costa Rica has no enemies” is shocking and dangerous. If you truly believe in this philosophy, why not expand it more and abolish all Costa Rican police? Simply announce by official decree that all potential criminals are no longer enemies of the state or muni so there is no longer a need for police, and see how that works out for you. What the US and other western countries provide is called deterrence. I ask that you please consider this as a gift and a blessing, rather than demonize and mock it. I will agree that the US has stepped into certain conflicts when they shouldn’t have, but we are not out actively looking for “enemies”, as you put it. We are in a non-enviable position where if we do nothing, then the entire world asks “how can you just sit back and let this happen”, whereas if we do step in, then we’re accused of meddling. I’d like to point you to another great quote from a great man “All that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”. Over the course of history, we’ve sent millions of our best young, good men to make sure that evil does not prevail, and the moms of those brave men would simply just like to hear a little bit of gratefulness once in a while, nothing more. Your naivety continues as you say “China sends bankers”. Are you really so naive to think that China has the best interest of these poor countries it is flooding with money and stadiums? You really think those countries aren’t going to have to pay the piper as the saying goes? I’d invite you to do some research on Africa to see examples of what happens when “the bankers come”. Then, you top it all off with a 100% misrepresentation of something Anthony Bourdain said in a show in a feeble attempt to paint those from the US as not being culture-aware. Using Anthony Bourdain of all people to attempt to reinforce that overused stereotype was a really dumb idea. Some actual quotes from the show…Quote from Anthony “The Incas built all this structure without mortar; an incredible feat of engineering for that time, or any time”. When bringing up the aliens theory, he is being sarcastic and even mocking those who believe it. When his local guide said that she “finds that theory offensive, he agrees and says the same, followed mock a clear mocking the theory by saying “here’s where the ship would land” and “pointy headed” alien would come out. Really a very poor attempt by you and insulting to the man who can no longer defend himself.