Obituaries Manuel Mora Valverde

Manuel Mora Valverde, founder of one of the oldest Communist parties in Latin America, consistently rejected the option of violent revolution for his country. He believed instead that Costa Rica, with its democratic traditions unique in Central Am erica,would gain more from a Communist party that worked to change the system peacefully from within.

Born in 1909 to a working-class family in San Jose, Mora founded the Communist Party of Costa Rica in 1931 while he was a law student. In 1934, still just 25 years old, he won election to Congress and was repeatedly re-elected until the outbreak of civilwar in 1948. A man of considerable intellect, he was self-taught in economics, philosophy, mathematics, political science and sociology.

Mora's Communist Party gained prestige throughout the 1930s as a champion of electoral reform and individual freedoms in opposition to the President, Leon Cortes Castro. It also built a base of support among the new labour movement, leading a successful banana strike in the port of Limn in 1934.

Mora led his party with a pragmatism and skill that won considerable benefits for Costa Rica's poorer classes. Arguably his greatest achievements came in the 1940s, when the ideological opportunities thrown up by the Soviet Union's wartime alliance with the Western powers led him to take the Communists into strange alliance with the right-wing National Republican government of Caldern Guardia, whose election he had opposed. Caldern had been chosen as a tame successor to the strongman Cortes, but had rapidly alienated his oligarchic supporters. Mora reformulated his party as the Popular Vanguard (PVP) to placate Catholic anti-Communist sensibilities and allied it with the ruling party and the reformist archbishop Victor Sanabria.

Mora was thus able to lock the Caldern government into a reform programme that included the introduction of a Labour Code and of ``Social Guarantees'' as constitutional amendments. These were probably some of the most important legal measures of modern Costa Rican history. They prepared the way for the subsequent establishment of the Costa Rican welfare state and a degree of social harmony only dreamt of in the rest of the isthmus.

Following the defeat of the government in the 1948 civil war, the PVP was outlawed and Mora spent a period in exile in Mexico. The Communists continued to participate in elections under different labels however, and Mora, returning to Costa Rica after two years, resumed his leadership of the party.

Throughout the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties he opposed attempts by far-left groups to involve the country in the kind of guerrilla activity so prevalent in the rest of Central America. Eventually, in 1984, he was expelled from the party by a pro-Soviet leadership that accused him of "opportunism''. His departure split the party.

Manuel Mora Valverde was a committed politician but, unlike many of his far-left colleagues, not a prisoner of his own dogma. To ideological purists his political skills may have appeared opportunistic but his actions secured tangible improvements in thelives of poor Costa Ricans.

James Hodges

Manuel Mora Valverde, politician: born San Jose, Costa Rica 27 August 1909; founded Costa Rican Communist Party 1931; deputy to national legislature 1934-48, 1970-74; married 1951 Addy Salas (one son, one daughter); died San Jose 29 December 1994.

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