MHC’s Gudmundson Speaks on Costa Rica

Posted: April 26, 2010

Professor Lowell Gudmundson's expertise on Central America was in demand at Harvard and UMass Amherst in recent weeks.

On Friday, April 23, Lowell Gudmundson, professor of history and Latin American studies, spoke at Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies on "Costa Rica Turns Right: Political Realignments and the 2010 Election."

On April 12, Gudmundson spoke at a research colloquium hosted by the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at UMass Amherst on "Beyond Brown Gold and Green Revolutions: History via the Metaphors of Costa Rican Coffee Coop Founders."

For his Harvard talk, Gudmundson drew on his extensive scholarship and work on the ground in Costa Rica last year. He is author of key revisionist interpretations of the origins of Costa Rican democracy and its current prospects, and spent a sabbatical year in residence observing at close proximity the presidential campaign for the February 2010 presidential elections won by Costa Rica's first woman president Laura Chinchilla of the incumbent National Liberation Party.

Chinchilla had served as vice-president in the controversial second presidential administration of Nobel Prize-winner Oscar Arias. Gudmundson's interpretation ("Costa Rica's Arias Administration at Mid-Term," in the journal Current History) of the first Arias administration (1986-90) and its role in revealing the Iran/Contra scandal was quickly followed by editions in both Spanish and German. Widely seen as leftist and anti-U.S. at the time, the second Arias administration clearly pursued rightist, neoliberal policies making it a close ally of the U.S., according to Gudmundson. The incumbent party's choice of a woman as presidential candidate constitutes only one of the many complex and contradictory Costa Rican shifts toward the political right over the past two decades, often employing formerly left or progressive leaders and symbols.

Gudmundson's UMass talk drew on the National Endowment for the Humanities-supported work he did last year for his project Deepening Democracy and Disciplining the Democrats: Coffee, Cooperatives, and the Lessons of Costa Rican Development. The grant allowed Gudmundson to interview more than two dozen founding generation coop members, agricultural extension agents, and other state technical advisers who participated in the radical transformation of coffee cultivation practices during the 1960s and 1970s. That generation’s achievements, as well as their changing social and political positions, are revealed in a series of metaphors, jokes, and ironic comments they shared with Gudmundson for his book project on the agrarian bases of democratic development.

Related Links:

Lowell Gudmundson Faculty Profile

Latin American Studies at MHC