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

No. 1288

Sir: I have the honor to refer to Instruction No. 352 of October 20, 1936, concerning the visit to Costa Rica of Mr. E. W. James of the [Page 171] Bureau of Public Roads, Department of Agriculture; and in this connection to report as follows:

On November 2, Mr. James, who arrived at San José on October 81, requested me to arrange an interview for him with the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs. He desired to inform the Acting Minister, and, also, if possible, the Minister for Public Works, that the United States might be prepared to expend funds allotted for expenditure in Costa Rica, on machinery, culverts, drains and the like for the Cartago-San Marcos road, proposed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his note No. 489–B dated September 10, 1936, a copy and a translation of which were enclosed with my despatch No. 1262 of September 29, instead of on bridge construction; but that the contribution of the United States in this way would be relatively less than if the funds were devoted exclusively to bridges, inasmuch as in the construction of bridges, steel, concrete and other imported materials suppliable by the United States would predominate, while in the carrying out of the Cartago-San Marcos project the predominant elements would be labor and local materials suppliable by Costa Rica.

Pursuant to Mr. James’s request I arranged for an interview on November 4, and on that date accompanied him to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where we met the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Fernandez, and the Minister for Public Works, Mr. Pacheco. It appeared that Mr. James had, the day before, had a short informal talk with Mr. Pacheco.

Following introductions and some casual conversation, Mr. James started to outline the situation; and his exposition soon made it plain that he conceived of the undertaking of the United States as being limited to expenditures for machinery and other equipment and materials suppliable by the United States. Mr. Fernandez interrupted here to say that note No. 489–B of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs was not intended as a definite proposal, but as an inquiry whether the assistance offered for bridge construction could be switched to the Cartago-San Marcos project; and that Costa Rica had understood that funds allotted could be applied to all purposes—to local labor and materials, as well as to machinery, equipment and imported materials. Mr. Pacheco assented to this. Mr. James replied that he was sure that it was not understood in the United States that Costa Rica contemplated the use of allotted funds for labor and local materials, and that it would be necessary for him to consult at Washington before discussing the matter further. The interview was then brought to a cordial close. I took no part in the conversation, beyond exchanging civilities, and saying that, having received no instructions, I was there simply to accompany Mr. James and to listen.

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Having reviewed the Foreign Office’s note No. 489–B, I am inclined to think that the Costa Ricans were not quite ingenuous in their statement of their intention and understanding. The note seems to me to be a fairly definite proposal, and the paragraph numbered 2 indicates that they contemplated furnishing “construction materials now in the country and the labor or men deemed necessary”. I suspect that what must have appeared to be a disposition on the part of the United States to assent rather easily tempted them to endeavor to maneuver for more than they had originally intended to ask.

As I advised Mr. James in a somewhat detailed discussion that we had after leaving the Foreign Office, I do not believe that to assist Costa Rica to construct a finished road from Cartago to San Marcos would be materially promotive of the aim to get the existing highway rapidly extended all the way to the Panamá boundary. As I indicated in my despatch No. 1262, the region between Cartago and San Marcos is potentially a good coffee growing area, which the road would open up. Costa Rica has, therefore, strong motivation for building to San Marcos. However, there is nothing in view that would impel the Government to build beyond that point—no numerous and politically powerful population to be heeded, no particularly interesting immediate economic possibilities to be realized; and from San Marcos construction would be difficult and costly. If Costa Rica had an active, purposeful interest in the Inter-American Highway, and the means for effectuating the interest, voluntary continuance of the work beyond San Marcos might, perhaps, be expected; but, as indicated in my despatch No. 1262, there is not only no such interest, but there exists a formidable body of instinctive resistance to the Highway, and, moreover, means are exiguous. Hence there is for the time being, and for an incalculable, but probably relatively long, time in the future, little prospect that building would proceed materially beyond San Marcos, unless we ourselves carried it on or heavily subsidized and urged it.

If we should, nevertheless, decide to assist in building to San Marcos, it should not be necessary for us to go to the length that Mr. Fernandez and Mr. Pacheco suggested. It would, I believe, be sufficient for us to survey the road, and put down culverts, drains, and the few small bridges required, and then withdraw from the scene. With such a start made, and in stimulating view, political pressure from Cartago and the coffee interests intent upon the Cartago-San Marcos region would, very probably, compel the Government to do the rest.

Respectfully yours,

Harold M. Collins