"No hay rosas sin espinas": Statecraft in Costa Rica

Annamarie Oliverio, Pat Lauderdale

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


During the 1970s and 1980s, largely through images transmitted worldwide, state terror became almost synonymous with Latin America. Death squads, desaparecidos ("the disappeared ones"), and unstable, elite oligarchies appeared to be the normal elements of Latin American political and social control. Indeed, repressive actions were so prevalent that numerous Latin American "specialists" declared that state violence was simply a shared cultural legacy, a part of the cultural heritage of the region (Koonings and Kruijt, 1999; Bauer, 1992; Rosenberg, 1991; Wiarda, 1982; Zea, 1965). From the autocratic rule of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan nations to the brutal Spanish invasion in the 1500s, state development seemed to have been characterized primarily by repression, violence, and military power. It has even been suggested that the Spaniards, in addition to their own forms of terror and mass slaughter, learned many strategies of domination and brutality from the large indigenous nations of the area. Thus, the level of terror conducted by the state in the latter half of the twentieth century is often considered to be consistent with its history: terror ostensibly is inherent in Latin American political culture. Such claims, however, are either gross simplifications or misleading stereotypes that ignore both historical patterns of hegemony and external pressures on state formation (Perez, 1981). The experience of Costa Rica, despite that country's own problems with various forms of state domination, violence, and repression, presents a significant challenge to such simplifications and stereotypes. While surrounding states were characterized by military rule, Costa Rica abolished its formal army in the late 1940s, promoted civilian control of its security forces, and encouraged international research and teaching regarding peace. However, as the title of this chapter suggests, "there are no roses without thorns." International pressure, as well as the nature of modern states and now dominant forms of globalization, threaten continually to encroach on the autonomy of small Costa Rica. Contrary to the cultural heritage theory just outlined, we suggest that terror and violence are more closely related to the development of the modern state, specific global influences, and the process of "democratization" than they are to a "cultural inheritance" of Latin American societies. Modern technologies of control and terror are integral to the centralization of the state, to homogenization, and to dominant forms of globalization. Although its experience has been less bloody than elsewhere in Latin America, Costa Rica has also had to manage such pressures and difficulties, surrounded geographically by political and social instability and buffeted by influences from external forces (from, for example, the geopolitical machinations of the Reagan administration). Thus, in explicating this case as a challenge to the cultural heritage theory, we include a brief historical analysis of Costa Rica prior to and following 1948. Before focusing more specifically on Costa Rica, however, it may be useful to examine the essence of the modern state, and its ostensible "democratic" transition, to better understand the relevant structures and processes of domination, repression, and violence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWhen States Kill
Subtitle of host publicationLatin America, the U.S., and Technologies of Terror
PublisherUniversity of Texas Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Print)9780292706477
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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