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23. Report Prepared in the Military Intelligence Branch, Department of War General Staff1

[Omitted here are a cover sheet and table of contents.]

COSTA RICA

I. OBJECTIVES.

Costa Rica is the egg nearest decomposition in a basket where the explosion of one would set off four other bad eggs. Any stench raised in Central America would divert slightly our military resources but might seriously cloud the political horizon. America’s political offensive against Germany would suffer if forced intervention in Central America made the whole Latin American continent fearful of the United States and gave Germany the chance to raise a cry of “Yankee imperialism.”

[Omitted here is Part II, “Controlling Factors.”]

III. PROPAGANDA STATUS.

German Propagandists are numerous and powerful in Costa Rica and their close association with political plotters has been indicated above. Their object is the obvious one, pilloried by President Wilson, to create disturbance to divert United States energies. In this case they work for the definite end of forcing the kind of United States intervention which would invite the cry of “Yankee Imperialism” and give Berlin a talking point against the American war aims.

They probably hope to have disturbances serious enough to cause real embarrassment to our military affairs.

There are indications that German wireless stations are concealed in Costa Rica. The trail of Germans who have been making maps and surveying strategic positions has been picked up in Costa Rica in more than one place. A startling example of the mysterious speed with which isolated German colonists, three days’ ride from the sea coast, have received European war news ahead of those on the coast at the cable ends, was recorded last November when the Germans of the interior told an American mahogany buyer the news of the Italian defeat before those who got only cable news had learned of it. It was believed that[Page 51] a wireless station in Costa Rica was a great aid to von Spee’s2 operations in the Pacific.

Under the Episcopacy of Bishop Johann Gaspard Stork3 of San Jose the number of German subjects as priests or members of the seminary has more than quadrupled. They are scattered throughout the country and certainly are used for the transmission of information besides talking German propaganda under the mantle of religion.

The “Nueva Era” is a four-page daily published in San Jose by Bishop Stork. Its circulation is small but articles from it are sometimes reproduced by the provincial papers. It is violently anti-American and strictly “neutral”, i.e. pro-German.

Types of ‘neutral’ articles are:

a. Defense of Germans:

  • 1. how badly they are treated—trade cut off.
  • 2. they are lied about and represented as anarchists.
  • 3. how splendidly they are as individuals: von Hertling4 a glory of Catholicism.

b. Wicked Allies:

  • 1. won’t make peace when the Pope asks them to.
  • 2. perfidous England, etc.,
  • 3. they control the cables and send them out falsely.
  • 4. they practice “frightfulness” themselves, e.g. throwing bombs on Jerusalem.

Types of anti-American articles are:

  • a. American imperialism, e.g. the invasion of the “Latin American Republic” of Haiti.5
  • b. Hypocrisy of the Monroe Doctrine.6
  • c. America is the arch-hypocrite and oppressor of small countries, won’t allow American Union,7 etc.

Many pro-German propaganda newspapers have been shipped into Costa Rica from Barcelona, Spain. On October 30th one printed a telegram from Nauen commenting on the shooting of Mata Hari, and adding, “She was shot by the very government which once acclaimed Miss Cavill, an English spy, who confessed her guilt.”8

On November 3rd one of these papers published the statement, “The Yankee treasury has loaned the Italians $230,000,000 for purchases in America.—American aid—to herself.”

On November 6th a paper by a Venezuelan was published lauding German achievements in all fields and ridiculing calling such “barbarians.”

November 4th this paper sketched the defeat of Italy “abandoned by her allies.”

The following Spanish newspapers have been sent from Barcelona to Costa Rican addresses: “El Tiempo”, “El Debate”, “La Tribuna” and “El Iris de Paz”. All are pro-German.

Juan Kumpel’s “La Guerra” has been sent to all South American countries, a German distributor in Chile estimating the number of such pamphlets circulated by him as 125,000.

Spain constantly tries to send into Costa Rica translations of German war books notably “Germany and the European War” written by Delbrueck, Treitschke,9 and a dozen other German professors and officials, giving the usual German justifications and onslaughts on England, France and America.

From Mexico a steady stream of propaganda flows into Costa Rica from the “Informaciones Alemanas”. The following is a sample list of pamphlets in a single package intercepted in the mails:

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“El Vampiro del Continente” Author Count Reventlow
“El General Mar le Von Hindenburg” “ Oscar Boer
“El Coalicion Contra la Argentina” “ P. de Cordoba
“El Problema Submarino” “ Emilo Huidobro
“La Dominacion Britanica en las Indes” “ W.J. Bryan
“La Protection al obreo an Alemania” “ Roberto Schmidt
“El Mowe” “ Conde de DohnaSchlodien
“De Kameron Hasta la Trinchera Alemana” “ M. Kirsch
“Grammar of the German Language” published by Otto Ruppert.

In sum, the list of known Germans and anti-Americans now at work in Costa Rica is upward of three hundred. The list of publications sent in and out of Costa Rica in every direction is now over fifty.

The American answers are obvious, indicated by the character of the German attack.

The principal feature of the situation at present is the prevalence of German agents and German reading matter in contrast to the lack of American news, American books, American films and American agents.

IV. AMERICAN PROGRAM.

1. Costa Rica now the key to Central America.

The need for American use of psychologic influence is indicated by the political situation and is emphasized by the very active pro-German propaganda existent there. Moreover the American embargo needs explanation to Costa Ricans.10

The opportunity is indicated by the high percentage of Costa Rican literacy and by the rather friendly attitude to the United States.

The prospect for the immediate future is confined to the sending of news dispatches but later there can be added special articles for the papers and magazines, pamphlets, moving pictures and the active aid of Americans resident in San Jose, etc.,

2. Summary of Factors to be kept in mind.

In general Guatemala is the most pro-American state in Central America. Costa Rica is next. Nicaragua is the most anti-American,[Page 54] therefore pro-German. Salvador is pro-German because of German capital. Honduras is pro-Mexican.

The merchant class is the chief power in Costa Rica. There are no big commercial houses representing the United States. The United Fruit Company, far and away the most powerful concern in Costa Rica, owning more land than any one except the government, is British in the eyes of the people, since its ships sail under the British flag though its capital is American. The British embargo on coffee, Costa Rica’s chief export, has caused some feeling against Britain.

Germany has the Hamburg-American Line offices, owns most of the coffee plantations and has fifteen large wholesale houses in San Jose. Consequently there is a strong pro-German colony, many of whose members are married to Costa Ricans.

The only real enthusiasms felt for any foreign country are for France. Costa Rican higher education is mostly in Paris.

One other economic fact should be kept in mind by American psychologists. Inasmuch as the middle class is poor and as there is absolutely no work for girls in Costa Rica prostitution is very widespread. There are not more than forty girls holding jobs in San Jose and women look upon these as degraded in comparison with the prostitutes.

The ever present factor is that Costa Ricans, even those most friendly to the United States, have always shown signs of fear lest the United States government should have designs on the country. This persistent apprehension is the underlying factor in all Latin American countries and just now is being continuously harped on by pro-German propagandists’ cries of “the ogre in the North” and “the vulture casting longing eyes on all Latin Republics.”

As regards publicity, billboards, pamphlets and handbills are extensively used to influence public opinion. Movies are popular and are a great medium of advertising. Newspapers are important, uncensored and widely read. The chief papers are “El Tiempo”, Port Limon (English and Spanish); “El Heraldo de Atlantico” (Spanish weekly) Port Limon; “L’Informacion” (Spanish daily) reaches all classes, San Jose; “La Republica” (Spanish daily) San Jose; “El Noticiero” (Spanish daily) San Jose; “La Prensa Libre” (Spanish daily) San Jose.

3. Dont’s for American psychologists as obtained from students of Costa Rica are:

(1) Don’t brag. The Latin American is sick of hearing how big the United States is. It is what he fears most. Let him infer how powerful the United States is, don’t rub it in directly.

(2) Don’t represent the United States as perfect, or Americans as thinking themselves superior to every other race. Better say that the[Page 55] United States has big faults but is struggling ahead faster and more democratically than any other nation.

(3) Don’t threaten. The Latin American is intensely proud. Flattery appeals to him, with understanding of his difficulties and eternal expression of personal solicitude for him.

(4) Don’t say “Americans and America”. Say the “United States.” Latin Americans resent describing the United States as the whole of America.

4. Things to emphasize are:

(1) United States war preparations, their efficiency, thoroughness and speed.

(2) United States unity and determination to win a just peace.

(3) The anti-imperialistic war aims of the United States as declared by President Wilson, but guard against representing Wilson as a dictator, ambitious to dominate the war and the world.

(4) America’s intervention makes Allied victory certain. German propagandists’ great cry in Latin America is “Alemania vencera”, “Germany will win”.

(5) United States traditional friendliness for Republics. Emphasize any honor shown in the United States to South American visitors, writers and artists.

(6) The passing of the bumptious American globe trotter and the tricky American salesman. Tell of the reform in United States ideals of business and the new determination to please Latin American business men.

(7) America’s changing attitude toward labor and new curb on corporations which exploited workers in the United States just as in Latin American countries.

Open and above-board direct education, will have its hardest sledding in Latin America where indirection, flowery courtesy, flattery and “palaver” are indispensable.

5. The three general principles laid down for American psychologic efforts, however, are just as valid here as any where, viz:

(1) The United States is in this war for ten years if need be.

(2) The United States will make peace any day, on democratic anti-imperialistic terms.

(3) The United States is feeling the world-wide impetus toward reform, is changing rapidly and is ending some of the very abuses which hit her neighbors hardest.

Calm, courteous, confident reiteration of the fact that the United States can not lose the war will carry furthest and deepest.

6. What Can Be Done Now.

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The steady feeding of daily news dispatches to Costa Rican papers and to papers in nearby countries for reprint in Costa Rica can be extended at once.

7. What Can Be Done In The Future.

Besides daily news dispatches, special articles can be mailed as soon as distributing agents are arranged for. The forwarding of American newspapers and magazines in quantity to clubs and libraries is really important.

Special articles can be mailed from the Foreign Press Bureau for Costa Rican papers and magazines. Reprints of articles in United States papers praising Latin America are extremely powerful.

Pamphlets, in Spanish, of United States war aims are influential. Pamphlets explaining the United States embargo are especially needed.

Moving pictures are popular and influential. Besides films which the United States government can send, several film agencies sell to Latin America and their sales to Costa Rica can be especially adapted. The subjects outlined above can be filmed, together with general educational pictures of United States’ scenery, industries, personalities, etc.

Americans living in Costa Rica could easily be utilized for psychologic influence of the most penetrating kind by an agent sent directly to them.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 63, Entry 133, Manuals Giving Psychological Estimates of Foreign Countries, Prepared by the Military Intelligence Branch of the General Staff, Feb.–June 1918, Costa Rica Psychologic Estimate. No classification marking. There are two typewritten dates on the first page of the report: February 27, 1918, and May 1, 1918.
  2. Maximilian von Spee, German admiral killed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands, December 8, 1914.
  3. Bishop Juan Gaspar Stork.
  4. Georg von Hertling, German Chancellor.
  5. In 1915, President Wilson sent the Marines to Haiti in an effort to restore stability after the assassination of Haitian President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. U.S. military forces did not completely withdraw from Haiti until 1934.
  6. In his December 2, 1823, message to Congress, President James Monroe outlined a foreign policy that declared that, while the United States would not interfere with European affairs and recognized existing European colonies in the Western Hemisphere, it would not tolerate further attempts by Europeans to exert control over territories in the Western Hemisphere.
  7. Reference is presumably to the Pan American movement, a series of conferences of Latin American states which began during the 19th century. At these conferences, Latin American countries pushed for an “American” understanding of international law which promoted non-intervention in a country’s affairs, hoping to blunt U.S. influence in the region.
  8. Mata Hari (born Margaretha Zelle), a dancer executed by the French in 1917 on charges of espionage. Edith Cavell, a British nurse executed by the Germans in 1915 for helping Allied soldiers escape German-occupied Belgium.
  9. Hans Delbrück and Heinrich von Treitschke, German historians.
  10. In October 1917, the United States passed the Trading with the Enemy Act, which restricted trade with enemies during times of war.