The Chargé in Costa Rica (Collins) to the Secretary of State

No. 1262

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Legation’s despatch No. 1246 of September 3, 1936,17 reporting conversations with Costa Rican officials concerning the acceptance by Costa Rica of the cooperation of the United States in the construction of the Costa Rican section of the proposed Inter-American Highway; and in this connection to enclose herewith a copy and a translation of a note that has been received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,17 in which the attitude of the Costa Rican Government toward the proffered cooperation is set forth. While the note is dated September 10, it was not delivered to the Legation until September 28.

As forecast by Minister Sack in his despatch under reference, the Government of Costa Rica, while not expressly rejecting bridge construction, suggests that the cooperation of the United States under existing appropriations take the form of aid in the construction of a [Page 169] stretch of about forty kilometers of road southward from the city of Cartago to the village of San Marcos, as the beginning of a San José-Cartago-Panamá road, over a route yet to be studied in detail. The adoption of such a route would, presumably, imply the utilization as a part of the ultimate trunk route of the existing highway extending westward from San José to Alajuela and its environs, and the connection of Alajuela with Liberia, Guanacaste by a road over one of the routes examined in the reconnaissance of 1935–36.

It is perhaps significant that the region that would be tapped by the proposed Cartago-San Marcos road is potentially an excellent coffee producing area, which can at present be exploited only scantily, owing to lack of transportation facilities. …

Press notices of the conversations reported in despatch No. 1246 revived public interest in the Highway project, and this has been fed by occasional notices since, particularly by publication at considerable length of an address delivered on September 16 before the Rotary Club of San José by Mr. Leopoldo Arosemena, Secretary of the Treasury of Panamá, who advocated the highway, and called for Costa Rican cooperation in furthering it. It can scarcely be said, however, that there exists an active, purposeful and effective body of sentiment for the prompt accomplishment of the project.

The attitude revealed by the conversations of private individuals and officials, and by the public utterances and the acts (the delay of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in despatching the enclosed note is an example) of the latter is at best flaccid.

Underlying this situation are several causes. There is the genuine belief, not ill-founded, that the rapid construction of the Highway in Costa Rica is beyond the country’s financial reach. There are personal and sectional selfishnesses that seek to utilize such funds as are available for the construction of roads serving individual or regional interests, the highways to the two volcanoes now under construction being examples. There is uneasiness lest the Highway compete too strongly with the Government-owned Pacific Railroad between San José and Puntarenas, which is at last on a self-sustaining basis. There is the canny feeling that in any case nothing is to be gained by haste, since the longer the delay the more the United States is likely to do. And deep under all is the instinctive unreadiness of the Costa Ricans to abandon an isolation that through generations they have come to feel is their best bulwark—a feeling not unlike that which caused the British to shrink from the proposal for a channel tunnel a few years ago.

Rapid progress against such a situation is hardly to be expected.

Respectfully yours,

Harold M. Collins
  1. No. 489–B, dated September 10, not printed.
  2. No. 489–B, dated September 10, not printed.