COSTA RICA: Middle Class Reformer

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While he was running Costa Rica in 1948-49 as head of a revolutionary junta, Jose ("Don Pepe") Figueres had his hands full with the aftermath of civil war, but he still found time to start turning his country into the moderately socialistic state he wanted. Figueres nationalized the banks, slapped a 10% tax on capital, raised wages by government decree. Complained one wealthy cattleman: "God made the world in six days, but look at what Figueres is trying to do in one night!"

Last week the grandes finqueros really had something to worry about. Figueres was elected President of Costa Rica by a 2 to 1 vote over his conservative opponent. Next November he will take over the presidency from Otilio Ulate and, barring death or revolution, will have four years to turn his plans into reality.

Figueres, educated at M.I.T. and recently divorced from an American wife, is something of a phenomenon in Costa Rica. After college, he bought a barren finca in Cartago which he called La Lucha Sin Fin (Struggle Without End), in recognition of the farmer's never-ending battle with nature. There he learned firsthand about the peasants' problems, set up a private welfare state for his own workers. He built them clean bungalows, saw them well fed from a community vegetable farm and a dairy that provided free milk for every child. In 1948, when the outgoing government tried to deny the legally elected Otilio Ulate the presidency, Figueres led a motley band of students, clerks and farm workers, many of them armed with .22 sporting rifles, to victory over the government forces. Then he took control himself for 18 months before he decided it was safe to turn the presidency over to Ulate.

Last week, flushed with the greatest popular vote ever received by a Costa Rican politician, Pepe Figueres was talking softly. He pledged that U.S. investment capital would find an "environment of safety and honesty" in Costa Rica. "There is one thing I want to make clear: this is going to be a pro-United States government. That is definite."

Figueres did not spell out his intentions toward the United Fruit Co., but he is determined to make the company cut Costa Rica in for a bigger share of its profits or else pull out.

The middle-road socialist government of Denmark is Figueres' ideal. "Our movement," he said, "is not in any sense a Marxian revolution. It is really a revolution of the middle class."