|The Nutrition and Health Transition of Democratic Costa Rica (INFDC, 1995, 228 p.)|
|5. Socioeconomic factors for the understanding of health policy during the 1970s|
During the 1930s and 1940s in Costa Rica there were several phenomena that provided the basis for the subsequent development in the country. This section analyzes these series of events. During the 1930s and 1940s, organizations and social efforts played an important role in Costa Rica. As a result, the government recognized popular demands and took actions to avoid an escalation of hostilities that would jeopardize the existence of the regime.
Since the end of the last century organizations for social improvement had existed in Costa Rica. These became stronger during the 1930s as a result of the 1929 financial crisis that negatively affected the popular sectors. Faced with increasing popular demands, the government responded by mediating and regulating the relationship among different sectors to avoid worsening the existing social conflict. The result was a style of government that recognized popular demands and satisfied some of these demands to ensure its viability.
During this decade the Institute for the Protection of Coffee was established to regulate the relationship between small owners and exporting beneficiaries. Other organizations created in this period were Rural Credit Unions to provide credit for small and medium producers and the Labor and Employer Council, which sets minimum wages and salary commissions in different counties of the country. The Law of Associations was approved in 1939, "a decision that allowed the legalization and creation of many associations in the cities of Heredia, Alajuela and San Jos(Valverde et. al., 1989, p. 73). Other government actions included the creation of several regulations dealing with working conditions, open registration for labor organizations, and the implementation of public projects whose objective was to create jobs, since unemployment was one of the worst consequences of the crisis.
During the 1940s, Rafael Angel Calderuardia, who was President of Costa Rica from 1940 to 1944, proposed the search for cooperation among different social sectors and became known as the "social reformer" when he stated:
"...only through balanced cooperation of all social forces, within a regime of law that emphatically rejects improper abuses of power, will it be possible to achieve the conciliation of interests that is necessary for all members of the community to feel solidarity towards the supreme task of ever increasing the spiritual and material level of Costa Rica. (Rojas, 1980, p. 44)
This interest in social reform was presented as an alternative to communism, since at that time the Communist Party had acquired substantial strength in the country. However, a series of circumstances that led to the loss of support from different social sectors forced the government to establish an alliance with the Communist Party, which supported the measures that had already been taken in favor of the labor sector and influenced subsequent social measures. This alliance included the Catholic Church within the framework of alliances against Nazism during the Second World War. The first measures included the Costa Rican Social Security Institute (CCSS), which offered protection during illness, maternity, disability, aging, and death. They also included the Social Guarantees in the Constitution that addressed the right to strike, the eight-hour working day, minimum wages, and freedom to unionize and reach collective agreements. The second set of measures (i.e., those taken in agreement with the Communist Party) included the approval of the Labor Code that regulates the Social Guarantees.
Other important measures taken during this period were the Centers for rural assistance and public health, the opening of the University of Costa Rica and the Music Conservatory, and other social projects (Rojas, 1980, p. 78; Salazar, 1982, pp. 84-92). In the field of mediation of social conflicts, the relationship between tobacco and sugar cane producers and industry was regulated (Rojas, 1980, p. 50). As can be seen, these two decades were the antecedent of what would become an advanced social policy during the decades that followed.
First, the social actions taken during these two decades were an important precedent for the further development of later social policies. This is not to suggest that were no large social needs that were not being met, resulting in important social differences, but that it was important to pay attention to social demands that if unmet would lead to an escalation of social conflict.
Second, they created the basis for a government style that took into account some demands of the people it served, recognizing their organizations in order to maintain social harmony and avoid conflicts and discontent.
Third, the government showed interest in the regulation of social conflict, avoiding repressive means (although repression was sometimes used, as shown during the Banana Strike in 1934 and the expatriation of government opponents during the 1940s). This allowed the abolition of the Army by the end of the decade. It was the abolition of the Army in 1949 that released decisive resources for social actions.
In conclusion, during the 1930s and 1940s, Costa Rica underwent a process that led to the acknowledgment of autonomous popular organizations as well as their demands. Also, the government intervened to regulate social conflict, following a government style that took social measures to avoid the escalation of social conflicts.