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close this bookThe Nutrition and Health Transition of Democratic Costa Rica (INFDC, 1995, 228 p.)
close this folder5. Socioeconomic factors for the understanding of health policy during the 1970s
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentRecognition of social demands and the regulation of the conflict during the 1930s and 1940s
View the documentThe social government in the new development strategy of Costa Rica during the 1950s and 1960s
View the documentThe consolidated social government
View the documentFinal reflections
View the documentAcknowledgement
View the documentReferences


MarEugenia Trejos


From 1950 to 1980 a social policy was implemented in Costa Rica that achieved current outcomes that compared favorably with the social indicators of most developed nations. These outcomes developed particularly rapidly during the 1970s. The reasons for this phenomenon, although extensively studied, still require further clarification. This chapter analyzes some factors that help to explain these results. The intent is to provide new insights for understanding this process.

Costa Rica began to apply a development strategy in the 1950s with a social policy taking into account the specific issues of importance to a developing country. This strategy has had success, not only because of a historical accident, but also because it combined with the improvement of factors related to the current history of the country. This process was accelerated during the 1970s with governments oriented toward the generation of public profits that required the building of consensus among the different sectors in society.

In order to analyze the process and link it with world trends as well as with the historical trends of the country this chapter is divided into three parts. The first part analyzes the emergence of the social government in Costa Rica. This section also analyzes the characteristics of the social and economic development of Costa Rica that help to understand the emergence of this type of government during the 1950s. The second part analyzes the fundamental characteristics of the social government in relationship to other spheres of society that integrated the same socioeconomic strategy in Costa Rica. The third part analyzes the outcome during the 1970s of the accelerated emergence of a government with strong social goals.

Recognition of social demands and the regulation of the conflict during the 1930s and 1940s

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.

The social government in the new development strategy of Costa Rica during the 1950s and 1960s

The growth of transnational businesses within the predominantly international strategies served as a framework for the development of the social government in Costa Rica. This government returned to the social intervention tradition of the 1930s and 1940s, but within the framework of national-level implementation following the development strategy previously mentioned. In doing so it favored the growth of transnational investments.

In 1948 a civil war took place in Costa Rica, which resulted in access to power of new social sectors and the establishment of a new development strategy. During the decades that followed, attention to social issues acquired a new dimension that led to the establishment of the social government. For this to happen, it was necessary to combine the antecedents related to the internal or specific situation and history of Costa Rica with the development strategy that was predominant at the international level. The former made it possible to effectively apply the latter, with outcomes that resemble more those found in developed than in developing countries.

As we have seen, these antecedents are the specific social measures that were taken during the 1930s and 1940s and that were further expanded and developed during the decades that followed. These antecedents included a government style that took into account several demands of the people it served, recognizing their organizations in order to maintain social harmony and avoid conflicts and discontent. Also, the government tried to minimize social conflict, giving priority to consensus building over repressive means. The development strategy required increased production, and this required substantial government participation that led to the establishment of the social government.

The social tradition, initiated in previous decades, was reemphasized in Costa Rica during the 1950s, but social actions were now linked to an economic policy oriented towards the growth of markets. This approach combined an interest in the creation of purchasing power of the population with improvement in health and education of the labor force and negotiation and regulation of social conflicts. Nevertheless, there was a tendency to discourage the development of autonomous popular organizations.

Production and Expanding Markets

From an economic point of view, measures were taken to favor increased production and productivity, the development of physical infrastructure and the training of workers and technicians, and the development of the internal market. This in turn resulted in an increase in employment and a concentration of production and wealth.

Increase in Production and Productivity

Costa Rica did not have the capacity to carry out the massive production characteristic of industrialized nations. However, the government stimulated the application of technology to agricultural and industrial production and paid a great deal of attention to increasing productivity. It was Josigueres (President of Costa Rica 1948-1949, 1953-1958, 1970-1974, and head of the National Liberation Party created in the 1950s by the sectors that won the 1948 civil war) who emphasized modern approaches to production and insisted on salary incentives that would motivate hard work and provide job satisfaction. These policies achieved the collaboration of different social classes (Sol 1992, p. 248). He stated:

"Study, technique, and science represent the only viable solution for the social problem. Low-cost production and efficient industries must use technical methods... The social reform must start in the coffee plantations with more production per area; in the corn fields with more tractors, better seeds, more fertilizer, and less manual labor; in industry with more electricity, better machinery, and more planning. The reform must consist of liberating man from rough work, to end the motor-man and replace him with the thinking man. Rough work debilitates and produces little. Technical work enhances and increases production. " (Hidalgo and Monge, 1991, p. 149)

As a result of this effort, an annual 6% to 7% increase in production was observed in the 1950s. Productivity per worker increased at an average annual rate of 5% between 1950 and 1970 (Reuben, 1982).

Development of Physical Infrastructure

As a way to the above effort, a series of institutions and sectors were created in the country to develop the infrastructure necessary for the enhancement of production and productivity. Some of the institutions created were the Electric Institute of Costa Rica for the production of electricity for industrial development, the National Water Service for the distribution of potable water and urban sewage disposal, the Atlantic Port Administration to manage the port system of the Atlantic, and the Pacific Electric Railways as an autonomous institution (Salazar, 1982). The Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, in charge of the building of bridges, highways, and rural roads, was reorganized.

These actions resulted in a substantial increase in physical infrastructure that favored the development of markets and production.

Development of the Internal Market

To provide an outlet for the increasing national and foreign production, the markets were expanded during the period under consideration. The process followed the Keynes's model of increasing aggregated demand to stimulate production. The measures to develop the internal market included the stimulation of production for the market as well as the creation of demand for the increased production.

The stimulation and protection of production for the internal market was reflected in the process of integration of Central America, which protects and stimulates an industry that serves the region. Fostering an increase in purchasing power as a stimulator of efficiency and an incentive for economic growth is promoted by the following argument:

"...everywhere, and particularly in Latin America, if there is no pressure to increase wages from either organized labor or progressive governments, nations tend to adopt inefficient working methods that only produce, through the labor of everybody, the well-being of a few." (Figueres, taken from Gamier et al., 1991, p. 26)

This approach resulted in increased internal market production, purchasing power, and quality of life. The expansion of the internal market can be seen from the 6% average annual growth between 1950 and 1970 (OFIPLAN, 1982, p. 46). The 70% in the middle class benefited the most, since their income participation increased from 48% to 60% between 1961 and 1971, at the same time as the 20% at the bottom end of the income scale moved from 6% to 5.4% and the top 10% moved from 46% to 34% (Vega, 1986, p. 364).

Other Complementary Measures in the Economic Arena

During the 1950s and 1960s, other complementary measures that also favored the development of productivity and the growth of internal markets were taken, including:

· The nationalization of the banks, which allowed government control of savings and loans. It guaranteed the implementation of the desired production approach within the new strategy.

· Training of workers and technicians mainly through the creation of the National Institute of Learning. This institute trained workers for industry, a process that was mainly stimulated through the incorporation of Costa Rica within the system of Central American integration in 1963. In fact, the Institute was founded in 1965 (Rovira, 1988, p. 110).

We should not believe that the measures taken to improve production (productivity) and markets prevented a process of concentration of wealth and an increased dependence on foreign investment. This was observed in the displacement of small coffee and sugarcane producers by their larger counterparts. Similarly, the contribution in terms of industrial production of small and medium-sized industries diminished and became increasingly controlled by the larger enterprises, including transnationals (see Paz, 1976; Izurieta, 1979).

In conclusion, beginning in the 1950s, the implementation of a new development strategy in Costa Rica required the intervention of the government to facilitate the expansion of production and productivity, physical infrastructure, markets, financing, and the training of the labor force.

Emergence of the Government and Social Policy

The government that was formed in Costa Rica beginning in the 1950s favored production and required an institutional development that would allow it to implement social activities in favor of the majority of the population. The social government, which meets the demands of the new development strategy, became a very complex system in Costa Rica by combining new demands with the social policies of the previous decades.

The government intervened to foster increased production and productivity, training of the labor force, adequate health conditions of workers, production in specific areas of interest, foreign investment, growth of internal markets, regulation of transactions among different social sectors, and a stable social environment that would allow growth while avoiding serious conflicts.

In addition to fostering production and market growth, the government also worked under a broad social policy that allowed it to buy internal production and to increase the purchasing power of large segments of the population.

The Expansion of Social Aspects in Government Actions

The social policy that began in the 1950s included the expansion of education at the elementary, high school, technical, and university level. It also involved the expansion of health coverage; the provision of electricity, water, and telephones; the regulation of markets involving basic products, the previously mentioned policy to increase real wages, the provision of housing, and land distribution. The government was able to achieve labor stability with both the private and public sector, the latter through the Civil Service regulations.

Two examples illustrate increased public investment during these decades. The CCSS expenditures increased from C11 to 23 million constant Costa Rican colones between 1950 and 1958 (Valverde et al. 1990). The second example is the number of social institutions that were created during this period: the National Production Council, which already existed but which became an autonomous institution; the National Fund for the Blind; the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity; the National Water System; the Land and Settlement Institute; the National Children's Hospital; the National Institute of Learning; and the National Rehabilitation Program.

As a result of this growth, the government had an increased demand for labor and became an important source of employment. In addition, the increased government participation stimulated the creation of new entities in the civil sectors (nonprofit organizations, cooperatives, etc.) that also fostered the quality of life and the general well-being of the population.

The Regulation of Conflict

In the field of social conflict, the policy launched in the 1950s was designed to favor organizations that worked closely with the government and to repress those that tended to operate independently of the government. The proposals of the National Liberation Party (PLN), which has governed the country since the civil conflict of 1948, include the search for harmony and solidarity among social classes that would always be guided by the entrepreneurs (Sol 1992). Figueres stated the need for the

"...substitution of the class struggle by harmonious and enthusiastic cooperation. Instead of war, peace; instead of struggle, solidarity; instead of hatred, love. This tendency is called solidarity." (Sol 1992, p. 255)

It is important to note that the search for this solidarity and harmony stimulated the development of popular organizations that were under the control of PEN without real power of decision.

With respect to unions, after the victory of 1948, the workers confederation was repressed and instead the Rerum Novarum was recognized. In the field of community development, in 1967 a law was approved that, as a result of the weakening of the Progressive Cooperatives, created the National Community Development Department (DINADECO). The societies for community development that were created as a result received financial support from the government and were also strengthened by "inducing or forcing other community organizations to adopt this model of development." (Valverde et al., 1989, p. 77). In the field of agriculture, the protests of the small producers were answered with the creation of cooperatives and the channeling of discontent through different entities such as the County Agricultural Committees (Valverde et al., p. 78).

On the other hand, social policy and all the apparatus that surrounded it institutionalized the demands, answered them individually, and fostered passivity and paternalism by developing an attitude in which the government had to solve the problems.

Nevertheless, there was a margin for negotiation that remained open due to the legal status of the Social Guarantees and the Labor Code. As a result, some entities were created to negotiate issues such as wages and prices. Some public institutions mediated labor disputes and conflicts between small- and large-scale producers. Therefore the legal framework existed for the discussion of agreements and collective conflicts involving the labor force mostly within the public sector. Within the private sector, due to strong repression, it was only in the banana industry that it was possible to develop union movements and collective agreements.

The Jump from the 1930s-1940s to the 1950s-1960s

The social policy that was developed beginning in the 1950s deviates from the policies developed during the previous decades in at least three respects.

First, during the decade of the 1940s there was not a clear correspondence between social and economic policy, since the former did not modify the fundamentals of the liberal economic policy. During the second half of the century, social policy became a complement of the economic policy that required an expansion of the internal market. This is how many of the activities that were performed by the government through its institutions favored production and entrepreneurs as well as low-income workers and consumers. Training programs, education, health, policies, etc. that favored workers also benefited enterprises that could recruit a healthy and alert labor force.

Second, the social policy of the 1940s was, on the one hand, a product of the government reform resulting mostly from the need to establish alliances with the popular movement which was then headed by the Communist Party. After the events of 1948, the Communist leaders were exiled or thrown into jail and the Communist Party became illegal. This meant a serious weakening of the autonomous popular movement and favored the birth of new organizations controlled by the government. Therefore, social policy had an important component of social conflict prevention and favored the development of nonautonomous popular organizations.

Third, policy coverage broadened during the second half of the century and benefited not only the wage earners but also a large middle class that grew and became stronger during these decades.

Fourth, the social policy that was initiated in the 1950s had more internal as well as external resources available. On the one hand, the abolishing of the army in 1949 meant the release of resources that could be used, among other things, for social expenditures. On the other hand, there was a greater availability of external resources for the development of infrastructure as well as for social programs.

In conclusion, the development of the social government in Costa Rica is the result of the needs of the new development strategy together with the historic antecedents of the country and a greater availability of resources. The development, as previously described, required the existence of expanding markets. The historic antecedents included a social policy already in the process of development and a government style that incorporated public needs and mechanisms of negotiation to avoid conflicts among different sectors of society. Finally, the greater availability of resources was the result of the dissolution of the army and foreign assistance through loans and donations.

The consolidated social government

During the 1970s, the Costa Rican development strategy, which had achieved such impressive gains, underwent a crisis due to international events and events in the Central American Common Market, and the persistence of high levels of poverty. The crisis in the Central American Common Market was the result of a breakdown (precipitated by the war between Honduras and El Salvador) in the intergovernmental arrangements that had been established. In Costa Rica, the industry that had been developed showed limitations in its ability to create jobs, expand markets, integrate the productive process, and be less dependent on foreign raw materials, machinery, technology, and patents. It also did not prevent a further concentration of wealth.

In the agricultural sector, increased mechanization and consolidation generated unemployment and under employment. Poverty not only did not diminish but actually became worse among the most disadvantaged. In light of this situation, Figueres, who was reelected President in 1970, ran for office with the slogan "fight against extreme poverty" and strengthened the participation of government in the economy.

The governments of the 1970s, in particular the 1974-1978 administration of Daniel Oduber Quirthe main promoter of entrepreneurial government, modified several aspects of the development strategy in a direction that was conducive to a strengthening of the social government that had been developing since the 1950s. The control of the government apparatus and of the so-called entrepreneurial government provided the government of the 1970s with more control over the rest of society and a stronger influence in the social arena. In the following section we will discuss the characteristics of this new entrepreneurial government and its impact on the development of stronger social policies.

The Entrepreneurial Government as a Response to the Crisis

To confront the above crisis, a stronger government interventionist policy was proposed to compensate for the weak national economic resources. This is why during the early 1970s several measures were taken that led to the entrepreneurial government of the period 1974-1978.

The formation of the entrepreneurial government was possible because of the support of owners of industry, whose development depended heavily on government, and of public employees, who were themselves part of the government apparatus. Daniel Oduber, who was the main ideological and political leader of this model, stated:

"It was necessary to nationalize many things to launch a more integrated and, thereby, more democratic Costa Rican socialism."

The issue was to create in Costa Rica an institution able to develop large and new industries that later would be owned by Costa Rican shareholders to avoid having transnational firms guiding industrial development on a large scale in Costa Rica. This applied to cement, aluminum, fisheries, navigation, etc. (UCID, 1981, pp. 9-10)

During the government of Figueres between 1970 and 1974, some important measures that led to the entrepreneurial government were approved, but it was not until Oduber's term that this new style of government was fully established. The Figueres administration took measures such as the nationalization of the oil company, but it was the Oduber administration that established the Corporation for the Development of Costa Rica (CODESA) with the intention of creating enterprises that would take advantage of the natural resources of the country, become modernized, and thrive in an international market. CODESA acquired many enterprises but by also supporting and channeling resources to the private sector, it assumed some banking functions as well.

The development of productive activities by the government with the purpose of generating profits did not imply the disappearance of other activities that had been carried out since the 1950s, such as developing private enterprises, transportation, physical infrastructure, and markets; fostering exports; and improving training and productivity.

During the 1970s, the government worked in favor of internal markets through the strengthening of the National Production Council (CNP), which was created in 1948 for the purpose of stabilizing prices. During the 1970s, CNP participated in sales, establishment of prices, and purchasing of industries for processing rice. This trend of the entrepreneurial government was supported by the international financial organizations, which at the time preferred to deal directly with governments rather than with private enterprises.

In conclusion, during the 1970s, the most important change influencing development was the emergence of an entrepreneurial government, which carried out activities for the purpose of generating profits and competing with the private sector. At the same time, actions were taken to foster exports and to strengthen internal markets, mainly those associated with the consumption of basic products, always taking into account the international trends that were prevalent in those days.

The Strengthening of Social Policy

The changes in government participation that took place during the 1970s resulted in some institutional transformations that allowed a stronger social role of the government. Forty-seven percent of the institutions created between 1950 and 1980 were formed during the 1970s (Valverde et al., 1990). It should be noted that these transformations did not mean a break in the central characteristics of the development strategy that prevailed in the country during the 1950s and 1960s. Furthermore, the social government that is required to meet the need of expanded markets and the government style that tries to avoid conflict by taking social measures not only continued but became stronger during the 1970s.

The combination of factors that led to the strengthening of the social policy, to the point where the results reached a level comparable with the industrialized countries included previous experience with social measures that formed a basis for their broadening, the social measures taken, and a reconciliatory government style; the international crisis and the Central American integration crisis; continued poverty levels, unemployment, and social inequity that led to discontent; and lastly, the entrepreneurial government, which represented a strong and decisive government willing to intervene in different social spheres where the private sector could not or would not intervene.

The social policy of the 1970s was a deeper and more effective continuation of previous social policy. This was possible due to the institutions that had already been created and the greater control of the government over social life. This greater control over society is manifested not only by the existence of government enterprises but also by a greater concentration of power in the executive. This was achieved through a series of measures taken to achieve control of public institutions. Among these measures were the law that allowed the party in power to name four of the seven directors of institutions, and the law that granted permission to the President of the Republic to name an executive director who would be the chief authority in each institution.

This process was also extended to social conflicts, where the government tried to achieve greater control of the popular movement. In agriculture, the government dealt with latifundism (the establishment of large estates with workers in a state of partial servitude) through the Land and Settlement Institute (ITCO), which attempted to avoid conflicts taking into account the interests of large owners, but demonstrating the illegal nature of latifundism, and avoiding any control of the left over popular agricultural movements. The ITCO ended up being a large owner that converted industrial workers into agricultural employees for the purpose of producing grains for the internal market and facilitating incorporation of Costa Rica into the international agroindustrial market (UCID, 1981, pp. 78-89).

It was during the 1970s that the National Community Development Department (DINADECO) took the previously described actions to attempt to control the community movement. With respect to labor unions, the Oduber government established a "tacit alliance" (UCID, 1981, p. 114) with the Communist Party of Costa Rica which controlled the principal popular organizations, although it simultaneously strongly repressed the more independent unions.

The most important social measures that were taken during this period were extended to other areas such as housing, education, health and nutrition, price control, culture and recreation, as well as the expansion of many other existing programs.

A housing deficit had been evident since the beginning of the decade, particularly among the low- and middle-income sectors. To face this problem, the government created or strengthened some institutions and programs. Two of these were devoted to the building of housing for low-income sectors: the Mixed Institute for Social Assistance (IMAS), which concentrated on the indigent, and the National Institute for Housing and Urban Planning (INVU), which concentrated more than ever before on programs targeting low-income segments of the population. Other institutions and programs targeted housing for the middle class through institutions such as the National Savings and Loans System, the National Insurance Institute (INS), the Costa Rican Social Security Institute (CCSS), public banks, and the Popular and Community Development Bank. These actions confirm that in the field of housing major resources were committed which increased the number of institutions dedicated to housing and expanded the programs (see Valverde et al., 1990, pp. 96-97).

In education, a study done in 1971 uncovered the deficiencies of elementary and high school education, providing the basis for the approval of the National Education Development Plan in 1971. The purpose of this plan was to modernize the education system and improve the average educational levels of the Costa Rican population. At the same time, diversified education began to be introduced in the technical colleges and institutions that young people attended after elementary school. The Technological Institute of Costa Rica was opened, and since the beginning it has had a strong linkage with industrial enterprises, The National University, and the State University, which absorbed students who had difficulties entering the National University of Costa Rica.

With regard to health and nutrition:

... the year 1970 marked the beginning of a National Health System that provided universal coverage and the control of common childhood infectious diseases and malnutrition. (Valverde et al., 1990, p. 82)

The National Health System achieved the integration of services in its field and developed primary health care in rural and marginalized urban areas. Furthermore, health coverage became universal and the National Health Plan was approved to increase health coverage.

Prices of products for basic consumption were controlled. The National Production Council, as described before, had the function of stabilizing prices, providing price guarantees for producers and consumers and opening retail stores with the intention of establishing ceiling prices that would not be surpassed by the other commercial outlets. The law for Consumer's Defense was also approved with the objective of protecting consumers against speculators.

During this decade, other public services that were already in place were expanded. These included electric power, which was extended to most of the country, as well as access roads, and water and sewage services, which also were also markedly increased.

The concept of social development was expanded to include culture and recreation. This involved extensive effort that created and strengthened entities such as the National Dance Company, the National Theater Company, the Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports, the La Sabana Recreation Park, and the National Park System.

To cover some needs of the most disadvantaged population by providing housing, food, and education, the Mixed Institute for Social Assistance was created at the beginning of the decade. Later, the Fund for Family Benefits was approved to

"provide assistance for nutrition, poor or disabled people without income, and education and welfare programs for the worker and his or her family." (Valverde et al., 1990, p. 133)

The funds of this program were channeled through several different social institutions and included health programs, food and nutrition, housing, productive activities and employment, training of professionals, and protection of minors and the elderly (see Valverde et al., 1990, pp. 133-151).

In conclusion, new elements were added to the social measures that had previously been approved. The new elements modified the social concept and tended to improve the training of workers and technicians; the quality of housing, health, and nutrition; access to culture and recreation; and the basic consumption of the most disadvantaged population. All this was done with the purpose of preparing and maintaining under adequate conditions the workers and technicians required for the development of the new forms of production. Another important objective was for the government to avoid the emergence of social conflicts that would threaten social peace, productivity, and the ability to compete at an international level.

Nevertheless, the 1970s ended with the deepening of a series of problems that affected both the economic and the social sectors. This situation cast doubts over the development strategy that had been followed since the middle of the century and that led the country into a crisis that it would attempt to solve through the process of structural adjustment.

Final reflections

The emergence and the consolidation of the social government in Costa Rica cannot be explained without knowing the historical tradition of the country and its relationship with the international dynamic. The analysis of the historic tradition of Costa Rica allows us to observe the process that led in the 1940s to the acknowledgment of popular autonomous organizations and their demands and a government style in which the government intervened to mediate social conflict. By the same token, it allowed us to identify several factors that released funds for social development, such as the elimination of the armed forces towards the end of the 1940s and the financial assistance of international organizations that during the 1970s preferred to deal directly with governments.

During the 1950s, the factors that previously existed combined to permit implementation of a social and economic strategy. This required the participation of a government that facilitated improved productivity and market development, the creation of physical infrastructure for production, training of workers, and bank participation. This is the origin of the social government that reached its culmination in Costa Rica in the 1970s.

During the 1970s, to the factors already existing before it is necessary to add the international and Central American crisis and the limitations of the development strategy that was being followed. These limitations involved both an inability to stimulate production, to create enough jobs, and an observed increase in poverty. The entrepreneurial government was developed in response to this situation. The strong and centralized entrepreneurial government inserted Costa Rica into the international markets, and facilitated the expansion of the social government in order to maintain social peace and avoid unrest.

Therefore, the combination of the historic tradition of Costa Rica with the higher availability of funds and the formation of a strong government that worked towards the generation of profits in the 1970s allowed the successful application of an international development strategy that achieved the social indicators of an advanced country. This did not, however, protect Costa Rica from the international financial crisis towards the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s from which it has since tried to escape through a weakening of social policy as part of the structural adjustment.


I thank Josanuel Valverde for his multiple comments and suggestions for the preparation of this manuscript.


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