SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA -- Jose Figueres, 83, a former president of Costa Rica who led his country through a revolution and into 41 years of peace, died yesterday at his home here. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Figueres was elected president three times. He abolished the army in 1949. A civil guard remains the nation's sole line of defense in this island of tranquility surrounded by neighbors in turmoil.
Affectionately known as "Don Pepe," he was a contradictory figure. He boasted of having worked closely with the CIA in his earlier days. But he raged against U.S. policy opposing Nicaragua's leftist Sandinista government, which ruled until it was ousted this year in free elections.
Born of Catalonian immigrants in Costa Rica, he entered politics and by the 1940s had developed a strong following. In 1948, after allegedly fraudulent elections, Mr. Figueres took to the hills with a band of rebels and led a brief but bloody revolution that overthrew President Fernando Calderon Guardia, who had allied himself with the Communist Party.
After taking over as president of a provisional junta for a year, Mr. Figueres banned the communists, oversaw the writing of a new constitution that provided increased social services and, most importantly, banned the army. He was the only Latin American leader in history to do so.
"This small country made a contribution to mankind by outlawing the army," he said. "But we had to pay dearly. We killed 2,000 communists."
He had a second term from 1953 to 1958 and a third from 1970 to 1974. He was an accessible president, often seen on the streets of San Jose.
His short, graying figure remained for years a familiar sight at gatherings of almost any class in Costa Rica, always traveling alone without bodyguards. He lived his last years in a simple A-frame house on a farm in the hills 10 miles east of San Jose.
While anti-communism had been a trademark of his earlier years, he grew to tolerate and even embrace the left. He was an adviser to the Sandinistas before and after they ousted dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
He saw U.S. backing for anti-Sandinista rebels as flawed. However, he said U.S. policy was succeeding in El Salvador, where he visited as an observer during elections in 1984.
Mr. Figueres studied electrical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He married Henrietta Boggs of Alabama in 1942, and they had two children before they divorced in 1952. He then married Karen Olsen, a naturalized American citizen of Danish birth. They had three children and were divorced in 1980.