On December 1st, 1948 people gathered in the Costa Rican capital of San José and watched as José “Don Pepe” Figueres took a sledgehammer to the walls of the Cuartel Bellavista. The hammer shattered the wall, sending bricks crashing to the ground and the crowd roared with approval.
With this symbolic act – one mighty swing of a hammer – Costa Rica declared peace on the world by becoming the first nation to abolish its standing army.
Don Pepe re-dedicated the fortress as the National Museum of Costa Rica – a center for learning and culture and a symbol of what the country could be.
The image of Don Pepe swinging the sledgehammer at the Cuartel Bellavista has become iconic – it is even featured on the 10 mil colon. But what few people know about this historic moment is that the night before the ceremony, a team of soldiers loosened the stones to be sure that Don Pepe’s theatrical moment of breaking the wall would go off without a hitch!