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

No. 1082

Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of the Department’s telegram No. 14 of March 30, 6 p.m., with reference to the Inter-American highway and the proposal of the Government of the United States to cooperate with the several countries in Central America. The Department suggested that upon the return to Costa Rica of Mr. James of the Bureau of Public Roads, that he and I discuss the highway project further with the Costa Rican authorities.

Mr. James returned to San José this afternoon (Saturday) and on Monday morning I will accompany him for a visit to the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Gurdián, where in the presence also of the Minister of Public Works, Mr. Pacheco, we will inform them of the Department’s views as contained in the telegraphic instruction above referred to. With Mr. Gurdián’s permission and through his good offices I plan either on Monday afternoon or on Tuesday to accompany Mr. James to the residence of President-elect, Mr. Leon Cortés, to informally discuss the entire Inter-American highway situation with him. I consider it appropriate and timely to discuss this subject with Mr. Cortés, because of the fact that whatever tangible progress is made on the highway during the next four years, will be under his administration.

As I have heretofore informed the Department, Mr. Cortés is extremely interested in the project and he plans to further the program as much as possible during his administration as president, which begins on May 8th. As I pointed out also in my despatch No. 1046 of February 28, 1936,7 the Costa Rican Government has decided that [Page 157] it is best to delay formal acceptance of the offer of the United States to cooperate in the construction of certain bridges until after Mr. Cortés comes into power. Among other reasons for this decision is the fact that the consent of Congress is necessary before provision can be made for the allocation of the necessary funds which will be required to meet the offer of the United States. It is unfortunate from the standpoint of the highway in general that Costa Rica was in the midst of a political campaign during most of the past year and the Government felt that it was unwise to take any decisive action on the offer of the United States during that period. It is also unfortunate that following the election of February 9th, the Government of President Ricardo Jimenez, acting upon the advice of the President himself, decided that the best interests of the highway will be served if there was a three months delay until after May 8th when Mr. Cortés assumes office, before formal acceptance of the offer of the American Government is given. As I have endeavored to point out to the Department through this entire period, there has always been the friendliest sentiment among the officers of the Government and the intelligent citizens of Costa Rica toward the proposed Inter-American highway. The delays which have occurred were attributable to the then prevailing disturbed political situation and the fear that a politically minded Congress would refuse to cooperate wholeheartedly in the project. As objectionable as this situation was to me and as distressed as I was that delays were occurring in Costa Rica nevertheless I recognize the logic of the reasons which prompted the delay of the Jiménez Government.

I am happy to say, however, that under the administration of Mr. Cortés, I have every reason to anticipate intelligent and wholehearted cooperation by the Government of Costa Rica to the extent of its financial ability.

When Mr. James called at the Legation this afternoon I took the immediate opportunity to show him the Department’s telegram No. 14 of March 30th. The last paragraph of this telegram reads:

“For your own and Mr. James’ information it is this Government’s desire that to the extent it may be practicable the one million dollars when expended shall have been apportioned equally among the five countries to which assistance is being given or contemplated. Mr. James can supply you with revised estimates of the costs to the United States of the bridges in the construction of which this Government has already agreed to cooperate.”

Mr. James then gave me, from memory, the revised estimated costs of the proposed bridge construction in the countries of Central America and Panamá as follows: [Page 158]

Honduras, estimated $213,000.00
Guatemala, estimated 75,000.00
(Contemplated in addition) 50,000.00
Total 125,000.00
Panamá, estimated 160,000.00
(Contemplated in addition) 50,000.00
Total 210,000.00
Nacaragua, estimated 65,000.00
(Contemplated in addition) 50,000.00
Total 115,000.00
Costa Rica (Contemplated) 50,000.00
Gr. Total 713,000.00

In addition to the above commitments totaling $713,000.00, Mr. James informed me that $250,000.00 of the million dollar fund would be allocated for Mexico. It seems to me that Mr. James’ plan of recommending to the Department that it approve the allocation of approximately $50,000.00 for Costa Rica in contrast with $213,000.00 for Honduras; $210,000.00 for Panamá; $125,000.00 for Guatemala; and $115,000.00 for Nicaragua would be in violation of the intent of the Department of State when it informed me that,

“it is this Government’s desire that to the extent it may be practicable the one million dollars when expended shall have been apportioned equally among the five countries to which assistance is being given or contemplated.”

This tentative allocation of the proposed funds, I told Mr. James would, if and when it became publicly known, as it inevitably must, would in my opinion, cause much dissatisfaction in Costa Rica.

The Costa Ricans, it is my belief, will feel that they are being shabbily, and from their standpoint, unfairly treated by the United States Government. A division of the funds whereby Guatemala and Panamá, for example, receive approximately four dollars to one for Costa Rica, will create much criticism and will unquestionably, in my opinion, cause much resentment against the United States. Furthermore, as I explained to Mr. James, it should be borne in mind that the Costa Rican section of the proposed highway is the longest in Central America, the most expensive of construction and the burden falls on a country which is least able financially to pay these costs; at the same time, however, it is a fact that to the extent of its financial resources, Costa Rica is constructing more first class highways than any country in Central America.

[Page 159]

I also reminded Mr. James of a point that he himself is well aware of, from statements made to us by the Foreign Minister and from his knowledge of the general situation, namely, that the delay in Costa Rica has been due solely to technical and legislative reasons. Mr. James is aware and he so agreed that there has never been a desire on the part of the Costa Rican Government to procrastinate unnecessarily. I pointed out to Mr. James, may I add, that I did not feel that Costa Rica would be critical of the allotment of the $213,000.00 to Honduras and the allotment of $260,000.00 [$210,000.00] to Panamá because of the wide rivers to be crossed in those countries, but I did think that Costa Rica had the right to expect that it should obtain approximately the same amount as that awarded to Guatemala and Nicaragua, to wit: approximately $100,000.00.

Under the circumstances, therefore, I feel that this Legation is amply justified in recommending to the State Department that it do not approve any allocation which in the end will prove contrary to the intent of the Department of State as set forth in the last paragraph of telegram No. 14 of March 30, 1936. To do otherwise in the opinion of the officers of this Legation would be to create unnecessary ill-will in Costa Rica which aside from causing resentment might delay and jeopardize further construction in Costa Rica north and south from the Meseta Central on the main route of the proposed highway, as is planned as a major part of Mr. Cortés’ program for the next four years.

In conclusion may I add that Mr. James declared that the Costa Rican share of the million dollar fund has been increased also because of the resurvey now in progress. I expressed the belief to him that the total cost of this additional survey which has involved part of the time of two engineers and the assistance of helpers since the beginning of the new year should not exceed more than a few thousand dollars. Furthermore, in my opinion, such a survey is not a comparable contribution particularly as similar surveys have been made in the other countries. Mr. James also said that the United States Government is making a great contribution to Costa Rica in that the office of the Inter-American highway is located here. I replied that while the Government of Costa Rica and this Legation in particular are happy that the office was established in San José, we all know that this was done as a matter of convenience to the engineers themselves and that the over-head expenses which have occurred in Costa Rica including salaries of engineers, office rent and wages of helpers would have occurred whether the office was located in Guatemala City, Panamá City or any where else. I reminded him that this Government is also aware of this fact.

May I respectfully request the Department’s careful consideration of the attitude of this Legation as above set forth. It should not [Page 160] be forgotten that there will be much opposition to the highway project from nationalistic, anti-government and so-called “anti-Yankee-imperialist” sectors of public opinion. We should do everything possible to avoid furnishing these groups with cause for criticism.

Respectfully yours,

Leo R. Sack
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