Calderón Guardia, Rafael Ángel (1900–1970)

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Calderón Guardia, Rafael Ángel (1900–1970)

Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia (b. 10 March 1900; d. 9 June 1970), president of Costa Rica (1940–1944). Calderón Guardia was born in San José, Costa Rica, to a bourgeois, Catholic family. After completing secondary school, he went to Belgium to pursue his medical career. He studied at the Catholic University of Lovain, where he was influenced by Christian-socialist ideas. He then went to the Free University of Brussels, from which he graduated as a surgeon in 1927. In Belgium he married Ivonne Clays before returning to Costa Rica. He later married Rosario Fournier, with whom he had three children, including Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier (president of Costa Rica, 1990–1994). In Costa Rica he practiced medicine, dedicating himself to the poor, an experience that influenced his populist ideas.

Calderón Guardia began his political career in 1930, when he was elected councilman and president of the municipality of San José. In 1934 he was elected to Congress, and in 1936 he became third alternate (vice president) of the Republic. In 1938 he was reelected to Congress and was chosen as its president due to his gift as a political leader. In 1939 he was the presidential candidate of the National Republican Party, and with little opposition he was elected. Even though Calderón Guardia had the support of the oligarchy and the liberal politicians of the time, once in power, he decided to implement a series of social reforms. He recognized the urgency of making changes in society in order to attend to the needs of the working class and avoid serious future conflicts.

His vision and success were shaped by his Christian-socialist ideals, his medical profession, and the Costa Rican economic crisis brought on by World War II and a dependent economy. Domestically, a series of conditions made the country ripe for reformism. The Catholic Church, led by Monsignor Víctor Manuel Sanabria and following papal encyclicals, supported laws in favor of the working class. The Communist Party under Manuel Mora was advocating state intervention on behalf of the proletariat and the peasants. The union movement had been growing since the beginning of the twentieth century. And several new reformist and revolutionary political parties were demanding reforms in the country. These factors allowed the government of Calderón Guardia to create the University of Costa Rica in 1941, establish a social-security system in 1942, and institutionalize a labor code in 1943. The reforms were made possible by an alliance between the government, the Catholic Church, and the Communist Party. For these reasons, Calderón Guardia is remembered as a statesman, a willful leader, and a social reformer. However, he also displayed a lack of fiscal planning and a tendency toward political favoritism, and he failed to confront Costa Rica's economic problems.

After his term as president, Calderón Guardia continued to exercise a strong influence in the administration of Teodoro Picado (1944–1948). In 1948 he was again a presidential candidate but lost to the opposition, led by the journalist Otilio Ulate. Not accepting the defeat, Calderón Guardia demanded that Congress nullify the election, which it did. With a strong political opposition and an armed movement under the leadership of José Figueres, the country was thrown into civil war in April 1948. After the military triumph of Figueres, Calderón Guardia, Picado, and other leaders went to Nicaragua. Backed by Anastasio Somoza, Calderón Guardia invaded Costa Rica in 1948, but the mission failed. In 1955, again backed by Somoza, he undertook another invasion and failed. He lived in Mexico until 1958, when he returned to Costa Rica upon being elected to Congress. In 1962 he ran again for the presidency, but lost. From 1966 to 1970 he served as ambassador to Mexico, then returned to Costa Rica. He died in San José. In 1973 the Congress declared him a national hero in honor of his political legacy and work as a social reformer.

See alsoCosta Rica .


Carlos Araya Pochet, Historia de los partidos políticos: Liberacíon nacional (1968).

Ralph Lee Woodward, Jr., Central America: A Nation Divided, 2d ed. (1985).

Additional Bibliography

Salazar Mora, Jorge Mario. Calderón Guardia. San José: Editorial Universidad Estatal a Distancia, 1980.

                                 Jorge Mario Salazar

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Calderón Guardia, Rafael Ángel (1900–1970)

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