When the casket carrying former Vice President Jorge Manuel Dengo was transferred out of San José’s Metropolitan Cathedral on Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of Costa Ricans applauded in tribute to one of the nation’s most important political figures.
With a solemn and elegant state funeral, the country said goodbye to a man that dedicated his life to serving his country.
The former statesman’s funeral drew dozens of notables of all political stripes, many of whom referred to Dengo as a generous genius. The cathedral filled with former presidents, current and past lawmakers, government ministers, ambassadors, representatives from public and private institutions and ordinary citizens.
Dengo’s achievements on the path to make Costa Rica a more developed nation are many, but his career in public service began in 1948, when he led a group of engineers before Banco Nacional’s board of directors to present a document that changed Costa Rica forever. It was a plan to bring electricity to every Costa Rican home.
The bank’s board members were so impressed that they immediately sent the document to the Casa Presidencial. One year later, Dengo became head of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), one of the country’s most important institutions, which he founded (see Perspective on Page 15).
Following Dengo’s passing Monday at the age of 93, President Laura Chinchilla declared three days of official mourning, and all public festivities were cancelled. Lawmakers cancelled their morning session Wednesday to attend the state funeral.
Dengo died Monday night in his home in San Pedro, an eastern suburb of San José, after battling pneumonia. Shortly after his death, President Chinchilla sent a message on Twitter expressing her condolences to the family.
“We have lost our dear Jorge Manuel Dengo, a comprehensive man, a role model. He leaves his mark on all Costa Ricans,” the president tweeted.
Social network sites were flooded with thousands of messages honoring Dengo’s life and work.
Former presidents Oscar Arias and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez attended the funeral mass in San José and a burial service at Heredia’s General Cemetery, north of the capital.
At mass, Chinchilla delivered a personal homage: “[Dengo] was a man who fought for his convictions. He was a man of thought, but also a man of action.
“He was present in every step of my public life. He helped me tame the resistance [I encountered] from [members of] the National Police when I became the first female security minister in this country. He accompanied me with enthusiasm during my presidential campaign, despite his already fragile physical condition. I remember him as a loving and accessible man,” Chinchilla said.
In addition to his role as ICE director for 11 years, Dengo filled other public posts. He served as vice president during the first Arias administration (1986-1990) and trade minister from 1982 to 1986. He also worked at the Heredia Municipality, the National Planning Office and the Public Works and Transport Ministry.
“I never found words to thank him for his company during my 1985 campaign, and for accepting to become my vice president,” Arias said after Wednesday’s funeral. “His participation was very valuable, especially in international affairs. He was a bridge, ensuring that we never stopped receiving international aid. He was more than a friend to me, he was a guide, a mentor and a master. I feel for this loss.”
During the 1964 Irazú Volcano eruption, Dengo was the man behind disaster response, and the one who helped mitigate damages. That year, he laid the foundation for the National Emergency Commission (CNE) by founding a civil defense agency that was the CNE’s predecessor. The CNE was created in 1994. For this achievement, Dengo received an environmental award in 2005 (TT, Nov. 11, 2005).
Dengo was awarded two of the nation’s top honors. In 2007, he received the title of Benemérito de la Patria, the highest state honor, for his public service. In 2010, Dengo was named honoris causa from the University of Costa Rica (UCR) and the Technology Institute of Costa Rica (TEC) for founding ICE and the CNE.
According to UCR’s website, Dengo was a supporter of the creation of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and geology curriculum. At TEC, he promoted the creation of the engineering faculty.
On Wednesday, ICE Executive President Teofilo De la Torre said the institution had been left an orphan. He called Dengo “a mentor, a creator and a leader.” De la Torre called Dengo a man ahead of his time, as the plan he wrote back in 1948 and its guidelines for the use of sustainable resources are still the basis of ICE’s work today.