Former Costa Rican President Mario Echandi Jiménez died at the age of 96 last Saturday. Several days after his death, Costa Rican newspapers are still packed with condolences for the country’s leader, who served from 1958 to 1962. Echandi died at his home after three days of suffering from severe bronchopneumonia that led to cardiac arrest. The former president’s health had been deteriorating in recent years due to a stroke.
Mario Echandi’s name will remain in Costa Rican history as one of the politicians who fought to reconcile the country after the 1948 Civil War. During his presidency, Echandi facilitated the return of Rafael Ángel Calderón, who was exiled to Mexico in 1948 following a political coup by former President José “Pepe” Figueres, and he repatriated the remains of Federico Tinoco (who was exiled to France after a 1917 coup attempt) and Teodoro Picado, a former president also exiled to Mexico in 1948.
But Echandi’s legacy as a leader is still visible today. During his administration he established several social institutions that helped shape Costa Rica. He created the former Institute of Land and Colonization, a precursor to today’s Agricultural Development Institute, which was in charge of land redistribution among economically vulnerable residents. He also founded the Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), which provided potable water to most of the country.
“He was a passionate democrat with his ideas, and he always defended his convictions with an energetic personality and an unstoppable capacity for work. But his biggest accomplishment, on top of his political achievements, was to make out of his life a model of honesty and transparency,” President Laura Chinchilla said during a eulogy Sunday in the Metropolitan Cathedral in San José. Former presidents Oscar Arias, Abel Pacheco and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez also attended his funeral.
With an executive decree in 1961, Echandi broke off diplomatic relations with Fidel Castro’s Cuban regime at the encouragement of the United States and other Latin American countries. These ties were renewed in 2009, under Oscar Arias’ presidency. His administration also launched important legislation like the Aguinaldo Law (Christmas bonuses) and the Industrial Protection Law. He also served as the Costa Rican ambassador in Washington, D.C. and in the Organization of American States.