818.00/3–248: Telegram

The Ambassador in Costa Rica ( Davis ) to the Secretary of State

confidential
us urgent

65. Two hours before Congress vote annulling election2 (reEmbtel 64, March 13) some fifty uniformed troops and police with armored vehicle machine guns and rifles surrounded house of Dr. Carlos Luis Valverde prominent oppositionist where it is well known Ulate has been staying. House riddled with bullets Valverde seriously wounded one other slightly. Ulate and several companions have presumably taken refuge in a neighboring house. Entire area surrounded by police and irregulars with imminent possibility further bloodshed unless some means worked out remove him to refuge in Archbishop’s4 palace or friendly Legation. Understand Archbishop actively endeavoring effect such arrangement.

Official version Ulate opened fire on police who had come to search for arms. I witnessed preparations for attack and some firing but did not see who shot first.

Valverde taken to hospital in critical condition. At urgent request hospital surgeon I appealed to President5 permit Red Cross ambulance and personnel evacuate other wounded. Permission granted but no wounded found but two government dead in street.

At midnight I received appeal to arrange safe conduct Ulate and party to Brazilian Legation which offered asylum. I declined suggesting [Page 489] Brazilian Minister more appropriate and suggesting appeal to Archbishop lend assistance.

Radio has announced decree signed by President last night closing banks March 2 and 3 and press unofficially threatens suspension guarantees if opposition calls general strikes.

Following facts clear (1) uniformed government troops under command Major Tavío6 with overwhelming force surrounded fired into house where Ulate publicly known to be; (2) despite predictions press radio no suspension of guarantees had been decreed and Calderonista version does not claim troops had search warrant; (3) attack occurred during Congress debate and before vote while galleries patio and street filled with Calderonista crowd demonstrating for annulling election; (4) a prominent citizen seriously wounded perhaps killed by government troops under order.

Following undetermined: (1) whether police intended search for illegal arms as alleged; (2) who fired first shot; (3) whether Tavío had orders from superiors or acted on own responsibility. Of significance is that he or his men obeyed order from President to pass ambulance.

Davis
  1. In the election of February 8, 1948, the Administration’s presidential candidate, Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia, of the National Republican Party, with Vanguardia Popular (Communist) support, lost to the Opposition candidate, Otilio Ulate, of the National Union party, supported by José Figueres, leader of the Social Democratic Party. The National Congress (composed of a Calderonista majority) did not approve the finding of the Electoral Board in favor of Ulate, and, on the basis of allegations of fraud determined, on March 1, that the election was null and void.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Monsignor Victor Sanatoria, Archbishop of San José.
  4. Teodoro Picado Michalski.
  5. Lt. Col. Juan José Tavío Silva (Cuban).