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Why Costa Rica does not celebrate Memorial Day

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Why Costa Rica does not celebrate Memorial Day | Costa Rica, Real Estate, News, Travel.

One of the biggest holiday’s in the United States is Memorial Day. Memorial Day was started during the Civil War to honor the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Gettysburg. After the war, remembrances and recognition of the soldiers who died continued to grow. On May 5, 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War, General Logan (commander of the Grand Army of the Republic) issued the following order to take place on May 30, 1868 “for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion….” 
Since that time the United States, and just about every other country, has some form or day to honor their fallen soldiers. 

This brings me to Costa Rica and the answer to the headline. The reason Costa Rica doesn’t have such a day is that they currently do not have any active soldiers. There are, however, several thousand veterans still alive from the Costa Rican Civil War that took place in March 1948. It is tough to keep a tradition alive when the only ones who “qualify” are not asking for a special day and are dying off.

Costa Rica Civil War Veteran Israel Carvajal Zarate

War and fighting are not as prominent in this country of 4.3 million people as other places in the world. In fact, I have spoken with one of those Costa Rican Civil War veterans. I asked about his uniform and any medals he may still have. He simply laughed. He told me that during that time, they didn’t have uniforms and the soldiers were more concerned about eating since they were out in the country side with no food. A small group of soldiers in each group would be given a gun in the morning, but then they would have to return it in the evening. 

Here’s a brief review of the Costa Rican Civil War:
The Costa Rican Civil War started after the Presential election of 1948. The candidate who “won” the election was namded One of the candidates, man “won” the election Otilio. Calderon, one of Costa Rica’s previous president, did not accept the results. Jose “Pepe” Figures joined with a bunch of farmers in Santa Maria in the mountains. They armed themselves with guns that they and other farmers had. 

Nick Halverson standing next to the only memorial
to the Costa Rica Civil War.
San Isidro del General

Instead of attacking the army in San Jose, Pepe came through San Isidro del General, a large city with limited access to San Jose at the time, with his armed militia. To gain control of San Isidro he killed all of the policemen, hid himself in the area and waited for an airplane to land at the airport. They hijacked the airplane in San Isidro and flew to San Jose to gather more supplies/guns/etc and then they flew back to San Isidro.  They conquered the area and then decided to attack the Cartago region (near San Jose). 

Costa Rica’s only Civil War Memorial in
San Isidro del General
Photo (c) Nick Halverson

The official Costa Rican Army was based in San Jose. The Costa Rican government did not have a very large or organized military so they asked for help from Nicaragua, and Nicaraguan and Costa Rican soldiers joined forces to fight Pepe. Figures and his militia hid in the mountains near Cartago and waited for the now combined Costa Rican Army to march through – which they did. Pepe and his group killed many of  them. After  the attack, Pepe Figures took over the government for a little over a year, disbanded the military and then and gave power to Otilio and the Costa Rican constitution was re-written.  NOTE:That’s how the PLN political party in Costa Rica started.

Rumor has it that afterwards, Figures sent the plane and all of the weapons from the Army, to the people of Cuba. Those weapons were used by Fidel Castro in the revolution that took place soon after.  This information is not confirmed but the story is often times told by Costa Ricans.


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