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La Educación
Número: (123-125) I,III
Año: 1996

The Liberal Restoration

The inauguration of the Jiménez Oreamuno administration (1924) was to mark the restoration of the Liberal hegemony. The convergence of three major factors: 1) the disruption of the only alternative political option at the time (the Reformist Party, founded in 1923), 2) the buoyant Public Treasury, which minimized social and economic tensions, and 3) the rise to power of Ricardo Jiménez, an astute politician who was able to dismantle the opposition movement and attract former adversaries to the ranks of his party, while simultaneously conducting a subtle purge of the reformist ideas that had hindered the Liberal hegemony. The conjunction of these factors reverted radically the “interventionist wave” initiated in 1914. This turn was particularly evident in the tax and education fields.13

Whereas the Liberal state seemed to flourish under the economic reactivation during the 1920s, the increasing questioning of the established order and the elaboration of new proposals to solve the ever-growing social problems gradually eroded the apparent Liberal strength.

Costa Rican society and economy were deeply affected by the repercussions of the world crisis of 1929. As the state apparatus became under severe fiscal strain, the education field was not spared. Not only economic restraints distressed the education sphere; administrative and infra-structural deficiencies and curricular and methodological problems reflected the existence of a profound disruption between social demands and the old educational parameters of Liberal inspiration.14

The complex panorama of education during the end of the Liberal era prompted government authorities to try to solve, or at least to soothe, the deplorable state of education. Official documents and several newspaper articles give concrete proof of the constant and urgent call of attention by public officials and intellectual personalities to confront the main ills affecting education. Even the arrival of a technical mission from Chile in 1935 to evaluate the education field and to design a comprehensive project for global reform could not bring in the necessary changes.15

It was apparent that there was a disruption between the desires and the possibilities of implementing the required modifications in the field of education. The objective conditions of the Costa Rican state—still attached to Liberal parameters—inhibited the reconfiguration of the educational structure.  Thus, new laws and dispositions acted more like an analgesic than a cure to the deteriorated situation.

In 1940, the arrival to the presidency of Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia was to mark the transition of the Costa Rican state to a new model of political, social, and economic development. Highly imbued with Christian democratic theories, particularly the Rerum Novarum Encyclica, the Lovaina graduated medical doctor was determined to transform the country’s indifference toward the needs of the majority into concrete measures of economic distribution and social justice.16

The creation of a modern social security system and the enactment of the Work Code—among other important dispositions—gave ample proof that the Liberal parameters were being overcome. The ideological and political shift also reflected itself in the education arena. Curricular as well as administrative changes in the school sphere were evident results.17 However, the most important step taken was the foundation of the University of Costa Rica. After sixty-two years without a university, the establishment of this crucial center of higher studies indicated the new ideological and social trends.18

The alliance between government, the Communist Party, and the Church —only conceivable within the framework of the United States-Soviet Union coalition during the Second World War—prompted a conservative reaction that sought to deter any more “socialist” advances and to revert the vanguard measures already taken. During the years 1940-1948, the unclever manipulation of politics by government, the accusations of corruption and nepotism, together with a fraudulent electoral process in 1948, exacerbated the political atmosphere to the point of civil war.19

A society that had been characterized by its attachment to consensus was sadly lead to violence and confrontation. The brief fratricide conflict (10 March to 28 April 1948) inflicted a profound sore to the social body. However, although Calderón Guardia and his supporters were defeated, their ideas and deeds were not reverted. On the contrary, José Figueres Ferrer, the military hero and the new political leader, not only did not eliminate the social advances made by his predecessor, but reinforced the interventionist orientation of the state—an unexpected result for those who had wished to restore the Liberal parameters and with them, their privileges and benefits.20