Leon Fink (UIC Distinguished Professor, Department of History, University of Illinois-Chicago), “The Costa Rican Exception: José Figueres, Adolf Berle, and the Limits of Anti-Communism as Social Policy”
Abstract: This paper offers a case study of American Liberalism and U.S. postwar foreign policy in Central America. For liberal democrats, the policy question boiled down to a single query: who could be counted on as friends and allies in building what one influential liberal (Adolf A. Berle) awkwardly called a “socially oriented Latin American democracy”? Here, rather than select any of the worse-case scenarios of U.S. influence, I choose for closer inspection a relative outlier: Costa Rica. Part of a larger story of postwar liberal state-making, Costa Rica emerged from a stormy decade of political conflict with an untidy but ultimately peaceful and democratic social-welfare state – certainly an anomaly in the hemisphere. Under the shifting regimes of ‘populism’ (or caldero-comunismo) and social democracy (orfiguerismo), Costa Rica weathered the U.S. shift from the Good Neighbor policy to anti-communist interventionism with peculiar dexterity. Might the course of this generally peaceful and at least moderately progressive regime have proven reproducible and served as a template for others? By reconstructing the interactions of key in-country players with liberal advocates in and outside of the U.S. Government, I hope to identify potential paths not taken as well to underscore the long-term costs of the dominant course of postwar development.