File No. 818.00/203

The Agent of the De Facto Government of Costa Rica to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: I have the honor to hand you herewith a memorial in which are set forth the reasons underlying the deposition of Don Alfredo González from the Presidency of Costa Rica on the 27th of last January, and the proclamation of Don Federico Tinoco as Provisional Chief of the Republic pending the establishment, by free popular elections, of the constitutional régime.

As an accompaniment to the memorial, I enclose a translation of certain statements made by Don Máximo Fernández, ex-leader of the Republican party in Costa Rica, in an interview granted by him to La Información of San José and published in that newspaper’s issue of February 24, ultimo, copy of which issue I also enclose herewith.1 These statements are of the first importance in making clear the truth respecting the project for his reelection pursued by Don Alfredo González and the methods by which he proposed to carry out his project.

I take pleasure in placing myself at the disposition of the Department of State for the purpose of explaining, or adding to, the facts set forth in my memorial, and answering any adverse criticism or charges that may have been lodged against Don Federico Tinoco at the Department.

With assurances [etc.]

R. Fernández Guardia


The undersigned, as agent of the de facto Government of the Republic of Costa Rica, has the honor to submit for the consideration of the Department of State the following statement, in order that the Government of the United States may be fully informed as to the facts and reasons that underlay the upheaval of the 27th of January, 1917, in Costa Rica, which resulted in the overthrow of the administration of Don Alfredo González and the proclamation of Don Federico Tinoco as the Provisional Chief of the Republic.

At the outset it must be observed that after more than forty years of peace and constitutional government a country as quiet and well ordered as Costa Rica could not have had recourse to such measures unless swayed by reasons of a powerful and urgent nature. Such reasons were in fact present, and, for a proper comprehension thereof, should be studied from their very inception. This makes it necessary to enter into a brief historical narrative.

Costa Rica, from the time of her emancipation from Spain, has been governed practically by a sort of oligarchy similar to that which has controlled Chile—with this difference, however, that what may be called the Costa Rican oligarchy is not an oligarchy exclusively of patrician families, but, rather, one of intellect. In its ranks have always figured many men of humble origin, who, nevertheless, because of their recognized merit and honorable character, have discharged the highest functions of the State. In a word, what, for want of a term that would better describe that particular directive group, I call the Costa Rican oligarchy, is entirely open to all men of true merit, whatever their origin.

Incontestably it is true that the presence of so substantial an institution in Costa Rica’s political life has contributed more than any other element to the good government with which she has been blessed, for it has kept from power politicians [Page 314]who were actuated by mere vulgar ambition and men of mediocre abilities But about twenty-four years ago a political party was born, demagogic in its methods, which from the very first showed that its main aspiration was to supplant in the Government of the Republic the country’s ablest men. That party, in 1901, took the name Republican and its leader since that time has been Don Máximo Fernández.

It would be useless to deny that up to the present the Republican party has enjoyed much strength. None the less, it is certain that the principal source of that strength has been derived from the ignorant masses. It is also unquestionably true that the Republican party has never controlled the majority of the voters in Costa Rica. Its advantage has been in maintaining a compact organization, whereas what I have described as the oligarchy has frequently split up into factions, as occurred in the last presidential elections in 1913, when the Republican candidate received 28,000 votes as against the 38,000 that were divided between the National Union party (20,000) and the Civil party (18,000), for which reason, notwithstanding the fact that the Republicans were thus in the minority, they came into power in May, 1914—though not with their candidate, Don Máximo Fernández. Don Alfredo González instead became President without having received a single popular vote.

So strange a result calls for explanation: It is provided in the Constitution of Costa Rica that when three or more candidates present themselves for the Presidency and no one of them secures an absolute majority of the votes (i. e., one-half of all the votes cast at the polls, plus one or more), it shall devolve upon the Congress to decide the election by choosing between the two who shall have received the greater number of the votes cast by the people.

Because of the fact that the forces of the three parties that were contesting in 1913 were about evenly balanced, it became evident that no one of them could secure the absolute majority prescribed by the Constitution and that the election must of necessity be thrown into Congress, whereupon the National Union and Civil parties, both of which represented factions of the above-mentioned historic oligarchy, resolved to enter into a compact whereby the deputies in Congress of each should vote for that candidate of either who might receive the larger number of the popular votes. Thus, when the adherents of those two parties presented themselves at the polls, they cast their votes conscientiously and indiscriminately for Dr. Durán (the National Unionist candidate) and for Don Rafael Yglesias (the candidate of the Civil party).

Dr. Durán received the larger vote and was, therefore, unquestionably legally elected President of the Republic, since he received 38,000 direct votes against 28,000 cast for Don Máximo Fernández. Such at first was the understanding of the whole country. It was an election, too, to which no one made objection, for it had been conducted with perfect freedom.

The election, however, was to be perfected by Congress, which was composed of 43 deputies, distributed as follows among the three parties: National Unionists, 18; Civilists, 12, and Republicans, 17, an alignment that gave to Dr. Durán a majority of 13 votes; and, this being the situation, certain leaders of the Republican party who could not bring themselves to accept its defeat—notably Don Manuel Castro Quesada—resolved to exploit the ambitions of Yglesias in order to prevent the accomplishment of the freely expressed will of the majority of the people of Costa Rica, and, to that end, proposed to make him President if he would break his agreement with Dr. Durán.

Yglesias allowed himself to be seduced. He violated his compact with the National Union party and entered into a new agreement with the Republicans, an agreement which, it should be noted, could not have been carried out except by the violation, also, of the constitutional provision that imposes on the Congress the duty to elect the President by choosing between the two candidates who receive the greatest number of all the votes cast. In the case in question Fernández and Durán were the two candidates who received the greatest number, Yglesias having in fact been excluded.

Subsequently those leaders of the Republican party declared that they had never intended to act in good faith with Yglesias, whom they particularly abhorred. They asserted that the real purpose they had in view was to profit by the natural indignation excited in Dr. Durán and his party against Yglesias in order thus to bring about a condition of affairs in which the National Unionist deputies, rather than permit the unconstitutional election of the disloyal ally, would vote for Don Máximo Fernández. But the plan came to naught because of the positive refusal of the Nationalist to deliver the Government of the Republic over to Fernández.

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It was then that the leaders of the Republican party planned a combination by means of which the candidates Fernández and Durán were to be sidetracked by virtue of a renunciation they were to present to Congress and which would permit that body to elect a Designate (Vice President) to exercise the executive power during the term 1914–1918. The Republican authors of this plan proposed, as such Designate, Don Manuel Castro Quesada and other Republican leaders, but these were all rejected. Don Federico Tinoco, the sole Republican leader who had not entered into the combination with Yglesias, and who was opposing that combination openly, then suggested the name of Don Alfredo González, who, after much discussion, was accepted.

This was a combination, then, that was brought to fruition through the failure of the Republicans to abide by the agreement entered into with Yglesias, as Yglesias himself had failed to abide by the compact signed by him with Dr. Durán. Thus González entered upon the exercise of executive power on a foundation consisting of two breaches of the given word, of a violation of the Constitution, and of a mockery of the will of the people of Costa Rica, expressed at an election both free and popular. He was elected first Designate and the Congress called him to exercise the supreme power as President of the Republic, technically by virtue of the withdrawals of Fernández and Durán.

The agreement between Dr. Durán and Don Alfredo González that brought the latter into power was signed on the 28th of April, 1914, in the house of Don Federico Tinoco, who had acted as mediator between them. In the belief that he could prevent a pronunciamiento by the military forces, the adherence of which to Durán was notorious, and which might have been occasioned by the failure of the Civilist deputies to fulfill their agreement with Durán, that gentleman patriotically renounced his unquestionable rights. The conditions imposed upon González by Durán in the agreement of April 28, 1914, were few in number and wholly of a patriotic character—such, for instance, as not to enter into contracts involving the national sovereignty, not to sell the Pacific Railroad, not to interfere in the politics of other Central American Republics, and to guarantee, in an effective manner, the freedom of elections.

On the same day Dr. Durán, Don Alfredo González and Don Federico Tinoco presented themselves before President Jiménez and communicated to him the agreement that had just been signed by the two gentlemen first named, together with a document subscribed by twenty-two deputies, wherein they agreed to vote for Don Alfredo González in the manner above set forth. They also asked President Jiménez to guarantee that agreement against the danger of a protest by the military forces. President Jiménez acceded to their request and placed all the military forces as well as the police under the orders of Tinoco, who thereupon undertook to guarantee the execution of the compact between González and Durán. González took refuge in one of the barracks of the Capital, from which place of safety he did not venture forth until the 8th of May, 1914, when he emerged to take possession of the Presidency of the Republic.

As may be seen, the foregoing presents many of the characteristics of a coup d’état, and, therefore, the legality of the election of Don Alfredo González would seem to be very doubtful. It is unquestionably true that the Congress ignored the constitutional mandate to elect the President by choosing one of the two candidates who had received the greatest number of votes. It is also true that the candidates Durán and Fernández could not renounce their rights until after the election had been held by the Congress. Furthermore, the fact that Don Alfredo González set out from the barracks in the midst of an elaborate display of military suggested an intention to exert pressure upon Congress, a proceeding that naturally brought about violent protests; and there can be no doubt that the country had never considered Don Alfredo González as a truly constitutional President.

The surprise caused by González’ election by the Congress was enormous. He was at that time a man almost wholly unknown. He had never exercised any other public functions than those pertaining to the office of deputy in Congress during the administrations of González Víquez and Jiménez, and he never at any time distinguished himself in that office. A bill introduced by him relating to a mortgage bank was looked upon by every one as puerile, and that was the only measure that marked his political career.

But to resume: Why the office of President had not been cast upon Dr. Durán, or at least upon Fernández, or even upon Yglesias—since these were the men who had been discussed for the office and who had received the popular votes—the people could not understand. It was a deception that [Page 316]was so great and far-reaching that even the Republicans themselves were not satisfied with the result. However, thanks to the peaceful temperament of the Costa Rican people, no disturbance of the public order resulted, though feared. The acts of the unknown and unheralded President, the people resigned themselves to await. They trusted González to hold himself free from the influence of certain Republican leaders and to avail himself of the support that was loyally and disinterestedly offered him by Dr. Durán and his friends, among whom were nearly all the men of the highest political reputation in Costa Rica.

But these were illusions that were of short duration. President González lost no time in betraying a spirit of stubbornness and an autocratic attitude that made all approach impossible. Nevertheless, in Congress the Nationalist deputies loyally gave their support to his policies up to the day on which González openly broke the agreement he had signed with Durán, that is to say, up to the time of the congressional elections at the end of 1915.

It has already been shown that one of the clauses of the agreement of April 28, 1914, stipulated that President González should guarantee the freedom of elections during his entire administration. The freedom of elections had already come to be looked upon as an ineradicable principle in Costa Rica’s national life. It had gradually come to be enjoyed by the people until, during the two previous administrations: of González Víquez (1906–1910) and Jiménez (1910–1914) it had become complete. Don Alfredo González did not know how, or did not wish, to emulate his predecessors in that regard. Greatly to the chagrin of the citizens, he openly violated that liberty.

The congressional elections in 1915 constitute a black page in the history of Costa Rica and represent a sad retrogression in the progress of the country toward the establishment of true republican institutions. Thousands of citizens were arbitrarily excluded from the lists of voters. From those lists, in the Capital alone, which has scarcely forty thousand inhabitants, nearly two thousand citizens were eliminated. Under such conditions the result of the election was a foregone conclusion. The parties in opposition, which had united against the González Government, and although unquestionably composing the vast majority, were enabled to elect only two deputies in the whole Republic.

From the day on which González committed this violation of the freedom of elections, the people of Costa Rica became convinced that he could not serve out the balance of his term in peace. The outrage against the law and the liberties of the people was too flagrant to be tolerated by the country and the breaking of his given word made that outrage even more intolerable. To all accusations launched by the opposition press against the breach of the agreement with Dr. Durán, González replied in his newspaper, El Impartial, that he was under no obligation, as President, to fulfill an agreement signed by him as Alfredo González, the individual. This is an answer that paints more effectively than I could hope to do the character of the man who had made bad faith into a principle of government.

So convinced was the undersigned that such must be the result of so outrageous a violation of the freedom of elections that, in a conversation he had at that time with Major Edward J. Hale, United States Minister to Costa Rica, in the presence of Mr. Samuel T. Lee, United States Consul at San José, he predicted that sooner or later revolution would come. Possibly Minister Hale has informed the Department of State of this conversation.

After the elections of 1915, González’ unpopularity, then already very great, increased from day to day until it became, if I may so express it, unanimous. It was an unpopularity in fact such as had never been known in Costa Rica from the time that State came into existence as a nation. And that violation of the suffrage was not the only basis of President González’ unpopularity. There were many others: his notorious incapacity, for example, and his utter lack of preparation and training for the high office of which, through mere casualty, he had become the incumbent. This might have been remedied had he had the modesty to surround himself with competent men, but he could not bring himself to a recognition of any superiority.

Under such conditions the administration of public affairs resulted in veritable chaos, particularly with respect to the finances. The custom established by his predecessor, Don Ricardo Jiménez, of making public all expenditures in behalf of the State ceased when González came into power, and this was an omission that in large measure made possible the great squandering of the public funds during his government. Public opinion could not look with patience upon the spectacle of the expenditure by González of relatively enormous sums in ostentatious [Page 317]living and in the embellishment of his native city (Heredia) at a time when poverty was rife throughout the country and in the face of the economic crisis that existed, and at a time, moreover, when, because of lack of funds, public service works of peremptory necessity stood paralyzed.

A further tax on that patience was the sudden and inexplicable enrichment of certain of his intimate friends and the prodigality of others. The numerous brothers of González and all his relatives were placed on salary or in one way or another were receiving the nation’s money. Under the González administration Costa Rica saw for the first time a Secretary of State engaged in business transactions with the Government, the case of Don Juan Rafael Arias, Secretary of the Interior.

Another cause for profound disgust was the discourteous, at times insolent, manner in which González treated the most eminent men of the country. On one occasion he insulted even former President González Víquez, a man who is admired and loved by every one in Costa Rica because of his great virtues and his goodness and kindly character. Also, in this connection, mention should be made of the unjust destitution of the former Minister of Costa Rica in Washington, the late Don Joaquin Bernardo Calvo, whom González condemned to death in miserable surroundings and afterwards opposed a plan, undertaken in Congress, to grant a moderate pension to the family in recognition of Calvo’s twenty years of loyal service to his country at the Capital of the United States.

Another ground of serious displeasure throughout the country was the intrusion of foreigners in the Government of the Republic. It was universally known that González was much under the power of Dr. Diéguez, a Guatemalan émigré, and particularly of a German agent by the name of Johann Kümpel, the author of the tax measures recently voted by the Costa Rican Congress. The decisive influence of Kümpel on the mind of President González, his Prussian insolence and his despotic ideas, particularly wounded the pride and dignity of Costa Ricans.

This pernicious influence of Kümpel made itself felt in all of González’ policies and was apparent even in the public documents bearing the Presidential signature, as is shown by the fact that they were replete with phrases referring to illy digested democracy and false liberalism—phrases that had appeared frequently in the newspapers over the signature of Kümpel. In a letter, for instance, addressed to a daily paper of the Republic of El Salvador, González went so far as to describe the liberties of the people as inútiles zarandajas (useless trifles).

All these things indicate clearly that González was becoming infatuated with the idea of converting himself into a dictator; and again the country began to concern itself with the idea of revolution, an idea which had agitated it profoundly at the time of the elections of 1915. But counsels of prudence prevailed.

It was resolved to wait and see what attitude González would assume toward the presidential elections, which were once more approaching.

Suddenly, toward the end of last December, alarming rumors began to be circulated to the effect that González would stand for reelection. The Constitution of Costa Rica prohibits the reelection of a President for the next ensuing term, but it was given as a pretext for the reelection of González that he had exercised the executive power only in the capacity of a Designate. Those who favored the project—of whom Don Manuel Castro Quesada was the leader—maintained that González was indispensable to the welfare of the country and to the perfection and enforcement of the new tax laws.

In fact the deputies elected in 1915, the country being then practically in a state of siege, and who really represented only the will of President González, had just voted in extraordinary session a land tax and an income tax that provided for an enormous increase in the taxation of the country, which was already staggering under the weight of indirect taxation. In the beginning González’ plan had been to substitute one system of taxation for another and he so informed Congress in a presidential message. The project was thereupon accepted by Dr. Durán and his friends. But immediately González contradicted himself in another message, wherein he declared that it was no longer his idea to supplant the existing tax laws, and added that, not only was he not disposed to economize, as recommended by former President González Víquez, but that it was necessary to increase the public expenditure fifty per cent.

These astonishing statements caused consternation throughout the country, and these projects of President González were judged to be so ill-advised and prejudicial that the very deputies elected by him especially for the purpose of imposing the new imposts on an unwilling country showed themselves indisposed to vote them. However, as Don Máximo Fernández, who was President of the [Page 318]Congress and leader of the Republican party, exercised a decisive influence over those deputies, González proposed to make him President of the Republic for the term 1918–1922 if he would, in exchange, secure the adoption of the tax measures. Fernández accepted the proposal and the laws in question were enacted.

Nevertheless, this did not prevent President González, about the middle of January last, from despatching Castro Quesada with a message to Fernández informing the latter that he (González) had retired from his agreement and proposed to bring about his own reelection in a violent manner. The people of Costa Rica were in no way surprised when they learned of this new act of bad faith on the part of González, for already they well knew the value that could be placed on the President’s word, and, because of this, from that moment they began to prepare to resist, by all means possible, the perpetuation of González in power.

González now maintains that he never seriously thought of reelection. He must know the truth on this point, although it is possible that he has not stated it; but what is an unquestionble fact, not denied by him or by any of his friends, is that his positive resolution was to prevent the free election of his successor. As soon as they became certain of this resolution, the opponents of González’ Government—among whom, without exception, were all of the men of real worth in Costa Rica—determined to resort to the extreme measure of revolution as the only means of securing a return to the régime of freedom and good government to which Costa Rica owes the honorable reputation she enjoys in the family of nations. With respect to the means to be employed to that end, opinions were divided. Whereas some were for civil war as a necessary evil, maintaining that excessive love of peace had corrupted and enervated the people, others opposed that plan and expressed a preference for a coup d’état, whereby the same result could be accomplished without any great disturbances. The latter opinion prevailed and was the real origin of the upheaval of the 27th of January last.

The only man who could bring those hopes to fruition was Don Federico Tinoco, because, although in later years he had affiliated with the Republican party, by family tradition and education he was allied with what I have called the Costa Rican oligarchy, and the latter had confidence that if he should come into power he would surround himself and the Government with men of real merit. Furthermore, Tinoco was the guarantor in the agreement of April 28, 1914, and was morally bound to see to it that that agreement was fulfilled, as had been many times demanded by the friends of Dr. Durán. In reality Tinoco, in deposing President González, yielded to the irresistible pressure of public opinion, as shown by the circumstance that, from the first moment of the coup d’état from the entire country, especially all the men of political and social importance, gave their support to the new government.

This is a notorious fact, indisputable and easily susceptible of proof. Whatever may have been the origin of Tinoco’s Government, that Government represents the will of the vast majority of the citizens and enjoys undeniable and widespread popularity. It is enough to say that the seven former Presidents now living in Costa Rica have given it their support, that all have accepted, with every manifestation of gratification, appointment to the commission charged with the preparation of the reforms to be made in the Constitution with a view to correcting the defects that have crept into the operation of that instrument through the methods above set forth. Five of those gentlemen: Don Bernardo Soto, Don Ascensión Esquivel, Don Cleto González Víquez, Dr. Durán and Don Rafael Yglesias, are serving in the capacity of active members, and the other two: Don José J. Rodríguez and Don Ricardo Jiménez, as counsellors. These seven former Presidents represent more than thirty years of Costa Rican history and all are men of the highest standing.

Further proof of the great popularity of the coup d’état lies in the extraordinarily peaceful manner in which it was effected. No one was killed, no one was arrested or placed in restraint for more than twenty-four hours, no one was injured. Instead, the 27th of January, 1917 was a veritable festal day in Costa Rica. The normal life of the Capital was scarcely altered during the few hours covered by the incident. On the same night all the theaters were filled as though nothing unusual had taken place. Even the foreign colonies manifested their gratification, with the exception, possibly, of the German colony, which looked upon the change in government as a stroke directed against the German interests in Costa Rica.

Since then the country has continued to live in the most perfect peace. Tinoco made up his Cabinet of men of excellent reputation, and belonging to the different political parties, in order to demonstrate his intention to make his Government [Page 319]truly national. The courts of justice have continued in operation without the slightest interruption; the laws are being scrupulously enforced, liberty is complete, and absolute confidence reigns throughout all classes of society.

Immediately after the coup d’état, a notice of convocation was sent out to the people, in accordance with existing law, with a view to the election of a Constituent Assembly. The elections are to be held on the first of next April and the Assembly was to begin its sessions on the first of the following May, but later, in obedience to the general desire that the country should return as soon as possible to the constitutional régime, a decree was issued on the 23d of February last providing that the Assembly shall meet on the 11th day of April and that the election of a President, by direct popular vote, shall be held on the first day of that same month.

This Constituent Assembly is being convoked by virtue of the law of 1901, which contains the provisions enacted for the purpose of governing reforms in the Constitution. The procedure is, furthermore, in accordance with the constitutional historic right of Costa Rica. By means of the same instrumentality all former changes in the constitutional order have been effected, to wit, those of 1838, 1842, 1859 and 1870.

In deposing President González, whose government had become an intolerable burden to the country, Costa Rica has made use of a sacred right that resides in all peoples: the right of rebellion. On that right has been built all the liberty in the world. To deprive a people of the right of rebellion is to condemn it inevitably to be the victim of tyranny; otherwise political assassination would be encouraged as the sole means left to rid the people of bad government. In a country as peaceful and well ordered as Costa Rica, but at the same time as jealous of its liberties, there could be no other way of avoiding the danger of rebellion than to guarantee effectively the freedom of elections, a freedom that Don Alfredo González failed to respect in 1915 and which he was preparing soon to violate anew in a manner even more serious.

The little upheaval in Costa Rica has now passed into history. She has resumed, well satisfied, the even course of her life of peace and industry by means of a general reconciliation of all political parties, which have grouped themselves spontaneously about the new Government. She is now concerned only with the fact that foreign countries do not fully understand this thing that the people have been obliged to do under the compulsion of imperative reasons and circumstances that have been stronger than its love of order and its traditions of peace.

Every change of government, whatever may be the manner in which it is brought about, strikes at many interests and ambitions. Don Alfredo González and the tiny group made up of his friends builded upon their desire to maintain themselves in power during a long period of years, although against the expressed will of the people of Costa Rica. It is natural and human they have not yet been able to resign themselves to an abandonment of their illusions and that they should foster the desire to revenge themselves upon the man who has destroyed those illusions—the very man whom they once loved to eulogize, the man whom they now picture as a vulgar bandit.

If Don Federico Tinoco were in fact a man such as Don Alfredo González and Don Manuel Castro Quesada are now making him out to be before the people of the United States, it would be interesting to ask them why they distinguished him for so many years with their intimate friendship and why they availed themselves so often of his services. One would be led to believe, also, that the only two men of honor now existing in Costa Rica are González and Castro Quesada, because they are practically the only men of any political importance who are not now giving their support to Tinoco.

Don Federico Tinoco belongs to one of the most prominent families in Costa Rica. He was educated in the United States and in Europe and is a man of refinement and good habits. His wife is one of the most distinguished ladies in Costa Rica and the home she has made with her husband is a model of dignity and refinement. All that can be said against Tinoco is that he is a man of force and, therefore, has made enemies. But there is not a strong man on the face of the earth who has not made enemies. Yet even those very men who were formerly his political enemies have now become his resolute supporters, notably the ex-President Don Ascensión Esquivel, because all consider him to be the only man who, in the present circumstances, is capable of maintaining the unity of political parties which is indispensable to the peace and welfare of the country. If for any reasons Tinoco should be obliged to separate himself from the Government of the Republic, Costa Rica would immediately become the prey of anarchy and would soon find herself in a situation similar to that of unhappy Mexico.

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On the other hand, in the short time he has governed the Republic, Tinoco has given convincing proofs of his prudence and political tact, proofs that have won for him the good will of all, and at the same time he has been able to inspire on all sides the greatest confidence, as is shown by the decided support that is being extended to him by all the financial institutions of the Republic, which have just loaned his Government three million colones on the most favorable terms. In so far as relations with the other Central American countries are concerned, Tinoco has declared positively that he will faithfully adhere to and fulfill the Conventions of Washington, and, furthermore, has categorically given the Government of Nicaragua to understand that he will not permit any activities on the part of its enemies in Costa Rica.

The undersigned rests in the hope that the Department of State will give its distinguished consideration to the facts above set forth.

R. Fernández Guardia

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