The Minister in Costa Rica ( Eberhardt ) to the Secretary of State

No. 796

Sir: I have had the honor to report on the recent abortive coup d’état by Presidential candidate Manuel Castro Quesada in the following telegraphic despatches:—

  • February 15, 7 a.m. (No. 12)
  • February 15, 2 p.m. (No. 13)
  • February 15, 4 p.m. (unnumbered)2
  • February 16, 11 a.m. (No. 14)
  • February 17, [16] 10 a.m. (No. 15)
  • February 17, 3 p.m. (Enclair-unnumbered)
  • February 17, 9 p.m. (No. 16)
  • February 18, 8 a.m. (No. 17)
  • February 18, 4 p.m. (Enclair-unnumbered)
  • February 19, 12 Noon (No. 18)2

The Presidential elections passed off quietly and apparently with the greatest of order on February 14th last, and until midnight, the reports were to the effect that no candidate had received a constitutional majority. However, I am reliably informed that one of the election committee called on candidate Manuel Castro Quesada at 2 a.m., with information to the effect that candidate Ricardo Jiménez had been obtaining sufficient last-count votes to assure his election. Manuel Castro Quesada is known to have left his house immediately after receiving this visitor and to have proceeded to the Buena (or Bella) Vista Barracks across the street from the Legation.

Shortly after 4 o’clock on February 15th, I was awakened by the noise of shots in the street between the Legation and the Barracks, and the shouting of “Vivas”. The barracks was a scene of activity and numerous armed pickets were proceeding therefrom to occupy strategic positions in the neighborhood. I have learned that the Pacific and Atlantic railway stations, the Customs House and all the streets leading to the Buena Vista Cuartel were occupied. That the aforementioned act was premeditated there can be no doubt.

At 5 o’clock on the morning of February 15th the forces at the barracks consisted of the regular garrison of 200 men, more than 200 Costa Rican volunteers and over 100 imported Nicaraguan professionals. See my despatch No. 787 of February 9, 1932,2 page 5, reporting the importation of alien combatants. The military equipment consisted of two pieces of light artillery, 1000 rifles (the most [Page 521] recent acquisitions having been routed to this barracks), a score of machine guns, 300 or more cases of cartridges, and a reasonably large supply of siege food. The armament figures were obtained by Messrs. Werlich and Trueblood during a visit which they made to this barracks some two months ago and were confirmed on the morning of February 15th by Colonel Amadeo Vargas, the commander of the barracks in question. At 8 o’clock on February 15th, a train was run up alongside Buena Vista on the Pacific Railroad spur, bringing over reinforcements and additional food supplies.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The leading political personage in the barracks was of course Manuel Castro Quesada. Other important personages were Alejandro Aguilar Machado, whom the Department knows of through the Legation’s despatches in respect of his enthusiasm for the League of Nations and his propagation of propaganda for peace; and General Jorge Volio, unfrocked priest and the person primarily responsible for the importation of professional combatants from Nicaragua.

At 6 o’clock on the morning of February 15th, I called, accompanied by Major Harris, American Military Attaché to Central America, upon the President of the Republic, who was still at his official Residence although preparing to leave for a safer place. The purpose of my visit was to inquire about the disturbing events and concerning the steps which would be taken for the maintenance of public safety. I ventured to express the hope that a prompt settlement of the affair would be possible and I offered my personal assistance for such purpose as might assure the minimum amount of bloodshed. The President, who seemed even more nervous and upset than during recent months was apparently much relieved by my visit and asked me to keep in the closest possible touch with him. He expressed his dread that the country would be involved in an agonizing revolution during the remaining months that he is to hold office. His greatest concern, however, was for the safety of his nephew, don Fabio Baudrit, who, as the Department is aware, is Minister of Finance and Interior, as well as the First Vice President of the Republic and therefore the legal successor to President Cleto Gonzáles Víquez up to the expiration of the latter’s terms of office on May 8, 1932. Also, Don Fabio, in the capacity of Minister of the Interior, had directed the presidential elections. Some time between two and four on the morning of February 15th, don Fabio Baudrit was taken prisoner by followers of Castro Quesada and interned in the Buena Vista Barracks, to be held as a hostage and a lever in negotiations which might be subsequently taken up with the Government. Other hostages were taken and an unsuccessful attempt was [Page 522] made to get Rubén Castro Beeche, the Chief of the President’s household and the most energetic person in his entourage. When I made my first visit to the President, I told him and his advisors that I considered the uprising a purely internal affair and that responsibility for lives and property lay entirely with the Costa Rican Government.

During conferences which I had subsequently with the Executive, as well as with Castristas, I was reminded of the strategic position of the Legation building and of the great temptation which existed to use it for attacking and defensive purposes. My reply to these hints from the Government was that I had no intention of forsaking United States Government property, but that I would not feel justified in interfering with such military operations as might be considered necessary.

I received the visit of Garrison Commander Colonel Amadeo Vargas on the morning of February 15th. He called to tell me of his military dispositions and of his desire to cause the minimum of harm to the United States Government property.

Don Fernando Castro Cervantes, cousin and financial backer of candidate Manuel Castro Quesada, became during the days of February 15th and 16th the official intermediary for parleys between the opposing forces. On one occasion he feared that he would be unable to reach the President and asked me to convey a proposition which the Castristas desired to submit to the Government and the President. I complied, without comment, one way or the other. The visit was outlined in the first part of my telegram No. 14 of February 16, 11 a.m. (1932).

Negotiations continued throughout February 15th and 16th, with sporadic rifle and machine gun fire fairly well localized in this section of the city. The Government issued proclamations to the people stating that it was in a position to settle the affair, but that it desired to avoid bloodshed. However, the spirit within the country was becoming exasperated at the dilatory tactics of the government, and was threatening to take over, in an illegal way, the suppression of the insurrection, this threat being fostered by the energetic followers of Presidential Candidate Ricardo Jiménez. Moreover, the true story of the complete confusion and lack of unified command which existed in the Artillery Barracks, where the President and the Government had fled for protection, had become public knowledge. To add to the prevailing lack of confidence was the fact that the foraging by the Buena Vista Garrison in nearby grocery shops had proceeded unmolested up until the afternoon of Tuesday, February 16th.

[Page 523]

At 4 o’clock on that afternoon, Government troops drove into the Buena Vista barracks all the insurgent units at large in the city. This was the first active step taken. It was followed by the occupation of a number of strategic points by loyal volunteers, although I am reliably informed by leaders of the occupying units that the seizure of these points was not only done without orders—but contrary to orders from General Quirós and the President.

On the morning of February 17th, the President finally … made the announcement to the people of the city, and to the insurrectionists in the Buena Vista Barracks, that he would order an artillery attack on the latter stronghold that day. No confidence was felt in the President’s statement and surprise was great on all sides when six shrapnel shells were fired during the afternoon. One of these shells exploded over the Buena Vista Barracks, while two found their way into the Legation. (The material damage to the Legation will be reported in a subsequent despatch).

When the news came out that the shelling was to occur, the Mother Superior of the Convent of Zion, across the street from the Legation, asked what she should do, stating that she had received no word or offer of assistance from the French Chargé d’Affaires. The Convent of Zion is a French religious order which specializes in teaching and assistance to the poor. I advised evacuation, and, at the request of the Mother Superior, I obtained promises from both sides of a fifteen minute cessation of hostilities starting from 12 Noon, in order that the 40 nuns and the children at the Convent might be able to leave their building without the risk of physical harm. Unfortunately, the promise was not carried out by the insurgents, although I am quite sure that failure to do so is not to be attributed to either Castro Quesada or to Colonel Vargas. I have learned that General Volio and a band of his Nicaraguans decided to disobey the orders of their commander and make a sortie slightly before noon with the purpose of taking the Convent and using its corner windows as a machine gun emplacement and rifle parapet for sweeping the National Square and the loyal defenses around the President’s residence. As proof of the utter disorganization of the Government chief command, it may be noted that the first that command knew of the seizure of the Convent was a telephone message from Major Harris at the Legation to me then in the President’s temporary office, stating that the nuns could not be escorted to a place of safety as the Convent and the other houses to the North of the Legation had been seized.

There is no doubt that the seizure of the Convent, although a most regrettable occurrence, was the turning point in Government policy. [Page 524] More authoritative Government commands were issued, the artillery attack mentioned above was started and there was a general stiffening in the attitude of the loyal units. Moreover, the seizure of the Convent was the critical moment in the morale of the insurgent forces; it was done without the authority of their superior command and had a deteriorating effect on discipline in the barracks.

Throughout the afternoon and evening of February 17th, rifle and machine gun fire was very heavy and although the Government forces did not seem to make any headway, the morale of the insurgents was doubtlessly harmed by the unexpectedly energetic action of the loyal troops.

On Thursday morning, the 18th, bulletins were sent out by the Government announcing that the artillery attack on the Bella Vista barracks would be renewed that day and advising all persons who feared for their safety to leave San José. This advice was taken au pied de la lettre; the roads leading out of San José which were not in the line of fire resembled those of Belgium during August of 1914; vehicles of every kind went piled high with assorted treasured belongings. By noon, sections of the city in the line of fire were practically deserted.

At 8:45 o’clock on the morning of the 18th Colonel Vargas called across to Mr. Werlich to request that a message be transmitted to the President of the Republic that the Castristas forces desired a parley. When Colonel Vargas spoke, some 20 of his troops went into one of the turrets of the barracks and begged Mr. Werlich to send for an ambulance and doctor, as some of their “pals” had been killed or wounded. This latter request was spontaneous from the men and did not come from their commander. Mr. Werlich asked Colonel Vargas if he needed the ambulance and doctor, to which he replied with a shrug of the shoulders. Colonel Vargas added that he had already sent Alejandro Aguilar Machado to the President with the same message, but that he feared his emissary had not succeeded in getting through the lines. Mr. Werlich came to the city unmolested, reported the request to me and we then immediately called upon the President with these messages.

When I delivered Colonel Vargas’ message, the President informed me that he had already received Alejandro Aguilar Machado and informed him of the terms on which he would cease his attack. He told me that he had given the Castristas until ten-thirty, two hours, to accept his terms, which were as follows:—

Amnesty for all and freedom from persecution and prosecution during the remainder of his administration.
Immediate disarmament of all insurgent forces and occupation of the Bella Vista barracks by loyal police.
No consideration of the political demands of Manuel Castro Quesada and his insurgents.
Return of Minister Baudrit.
Capitulation in a signed act by Manuel Castro Quesada and his associates in neutral territory, to wit, in the chancery of the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps—the American Legation—in the presence of the Diplomatic Corps assembled.

President Gonzáles Víquez insistently urged that I comply with the latter request, doubtlessly having in mind the extremely magnanimous terms which he was offering and at the same time desiring to humiliate in so far as possible the insurgents, through having their failure made doubly painful by being in the presence of foreign representatives. He asked that, if his terms were accepted by Manuel Castro Quesada, I take upon myself the convocation of my colleagues. At eleven o’clock he informed me that his terms had been accepted in principle and requested that the diplomatic corps meet with his representatives and those of the insurgents at one-thirty p.m. on Thursday, the 18th.

I was pleased to comply with the President’s request although I am frank to admit that I was not sympathetic with the extremely lenient terms offered. I made no comments at any time relative thereto and merely acted in the perfunctory duties of Dean, as presiding officer of the conference. I escorted my colleagues through the lines from the center of the city, where we had assembled, to the Legation and I had in my car General Quirós. The following foreign representatives, in addition to myself and the Legation staff, were present at this meeting:

  • J. E. Lefevre, Minister of Panama;
  • Monsignor Cogliolio, acting Papal Internuncio;
  • Luis Soto, Secretary of the Uruguayan Legation (Luis Saavedra, the Urugayan Minister, did not arrive until later, but was present at the signing of the articles of capitulation);
  • Luis Quer Boule, Chargé d’Affaires e.p. of Spain;
  • Francisco A. de Icaza, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Mexico.

Conspicuously absent were the diplomatic representatives of France, Chile, Cuba and Guatemala, who had followed the advice of the Government and fled the city.

Two and a half hours were spent in discussing the articles of capitulation and in drafting the terms thereof. Speeches were made by both sides and the Castristas insisted on bringing out, though I personally cannot see the value of their argument, that their insurrection was not against their good friend President González Víquez, but [Page 526] against their political foe, candidate Ricardo Jiménez—who, they said, had resorted to the use of foreign capital to obtain votes, tampered with registrations and indulged in other unfair practices.

The act of capitulation was signed on behalf of the Government by Minister of Public Safety General Arturo Quirós, and Ricardo Castro Beeche, the chief of the President’s civil household. (Leonidas Pacheco Jr. was present as the personal aide and escort of Mr. Castro Beeche); and on behalf of the Castristas by Manuel Castro Quesada and General Jorge Volio. (Alejandro Aguilar Machado was present to plead the case of the insurrectionists and Ricardo Toledo as personal aide and escort of Manuel Castro Quesada; the Diplomatic Corps acted as observers.

The document was signed in triplicate, the original now being held in the archives of the Legation; one true copy was given to each of the signing parties. There will be found attached hereto, in copy and translation, the act of capitulation.4

Any remarks which I might have to make concerning the conditions of capitulation would appear trite in the eyes of the Department. However, as is easily understood, these terms have met with violent protest from the country at large. In fact, the country is seething with unrest and resentment against the President and only during the last few minutes I have learned that Government troops have succeeded in disarming the loyal volunteers who consider that to no avail they have spent three or four days under fire and endured other discomforts. Manuel Castro Quesada, General Volio and Colonel Vargas were given asylum under military guard in the fortress which they so recently held, but for a time it seemed that lynch law might prevail in their cases. I understand that during the morning of today, Manuel Castro Quesada was spirited out of the barracks and taken to the Mexican Legation. Colonel Vargas has just requested asylum at the American Legation, and been refused.

Earlier in this despatch, I had the honor to report that vandalism and disorder had spread in the provinces. This disorder became intensified yesterday afternoon when armed bands of marauders attempted to seize a dynamite deposit near Siquirres. There had already been attacks on the commissaries of the United Fruit Company in their plantation districts. Last night, one hundred policemen were despatched by special train to the Siquirres district, and I understand that they now have the situation well in hand.

My position throughout this whole incident has been a difficult one. I am thoroughly aware of the Department’s attitude in respect of [Page 527] interference in the internal problems of foreign countries, and I have guided every step accordingly. In this matter, I have had the full cooperation of every member of the Legation staff, whether officer or employee. I have offered no criticism or advice and have confined myself to listening.

As will be seen from the attached memorandum dated February 16, 4:30 p.m.,5 I did undertake one negotiation with the insurgents over the telephone at the request of the President of the Republic, namely to request the liberation of Fabio Baudrit.

My public statement upon the signing of the act of capitulation was the following:

“I am delighted that Costa Rica has been able to settle its own difficulties.”

I do not feel justified in saying more or less. However, the Department knows full well the prevailing Central American attitude towards American policy and I have never had doubt that anything that I might do would be willfully misunderstood by those who desire to give any interpretation that they choose to my actions. I am already aware that such has been the case, I have been accused of being the person who dictated the terms of the act of capitulation. In order to stifle this accusation, I have communicated officially with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in a note, the copy of which is attached. I also forward his reply in copy and translation. That overt attempts to force me to intervene were made will be seen from the attached letter and its enclosure, with translation, from Presidential candidate Carlos María Jiménez.5 No acknowledgment has been made of this letter and no action has been taken in connection with the request contained therein.

The whole affair has been a most unfortunate one, the like of which has not occurred in Costa Rica for fifty years. It was undertaken by the irresponsible Manuel Castro Quesada. He might have acted otherwise if he had not felt confident that General Arturo Quirós and the army of the country would cooperate with him. Why General Quirós remained faithful to the Government is beyond comprehension. He is now considered a traitor by both sides. Public opinion, at first apathetic became inflamed when it was learned that the insurgents had brought in Nicaraguan mercenaries.

Respectfully yours,

Charles C. Eberhardt
[Page 528]
[Enclosure 1]

The American Minister ( Eberhardt ) to the Costa Rican Minister for Foreign Affairs ( Pacheco )

No. 28

Excellency: It is with the greatest regret that I have learned of the mistaken conception on many sides concerning participation by myself and this Legation in the recent political upheaval in Costa Rica and concerning the influence which I, either in my official or private capacity, have brought to bear incidental to the signing of the Pact between the Government and its opponents at the American Legation yesterday afternoon. I feel justified in reminding you of that with which you are already aware, namely that neither I nor the Legation took sides in the affair nor were in any way concerned with its beginning, continuation or termination.

Yesterday afternoon, as the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Costa Rica, and at the personal request of His Excellency the President of the Republic, I turned over one of the rooms of the Legation for a parley in the presence of my colleagues of the Diplomatic Corps, between representatives of the Government of Costa Rica and its opponents. Subsequently, an amnesty pact between the aforementioned parties was signed here. It is my duty to reiterate that the hospitality which I thus extended was at the request of the President of the Republic and in my capacity of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps.

I permit myself to request Your Excellency kindly to acknowledge the receipt of this letter and to give its contents and your reply all possible publicity. The people of Costa Rica are well aware of the sentiments of devotion which I feel toward them and I am loath to have myself misunderstood by them.

I avail myself [etc.]

Charles C. Eberhardt
[Enclosure 2—Translation]

The Costa Rican Minister for Foreign Affairs ( Pacheco ) to the American Minister ( Eberhardt )

No. 70-B

Mr. Minister: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency’s courteous note dated today setting forth the part played by your Excellency and that Legation in respect of the signing of the pact entered into yesterday.

[Page 529]

It is with deep satisfaction that I ratify all the thoughts expressed in your note under acknowledgment and declare in the most emphatic way that your Excellency in your character of Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Costa Rica confined yourself to lending the premises of the Legation for the celebration of the conference, without your Excellency participating or interfering in that act in any way.

The Government knows full well the good will and the feeling of affection which your Excellency manifests for our people and the cordiality and good will which inspire your Excellency and the distinguished staff of that Legation in your relations with our country.

I take [etc.]

Leonidas Pacheco
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