Memorandum by Mr. William Tapley Bennett, Jr., of the Division of Central America and Panama Affairs
The attached despatch from the Embassy at San José1 provides an excellent appraisal of the extent of communist participation in the present Costa Rican political crisis. A summary of the despatch is submitted as of particular interest in connection with the forthcoming conference at Bogotá and possible informal approaches there by other Governments with respect to the Costa Rican situation.
Communism in Costa Rica, operating under the name of Vanguardia Popular since the 1943 Comintern dissolution, today occupies a position of importance far out of proportion to its numerical strength. With an estimated 7,000 militant members, representing less than 1 percent of the total population of the country, Vanguardia was successful during the recent political campaign in increasing its representation in Costa Rica’s unicameral Congress to at least 6 and possibly 8 seats out of a total of 54. Since the other two parties are evenly matched with about 23 seats each, the communists have thus been successful in obtaining an effective balance of power in the Congress.
Vanguardia’s influence on the National Republican (administration) party is paramount. It constitutes the bulk of the Government’s support today. The Embassy describes Vanguardia as being both directly and indirectly responsible for the present state of chaos and uncertainty in Costa Rica. The Vanguardia leader, Manuel Mora, who is on intimate terms with candidate Calderon, appears to have been primarily responsible for stiffening the will of the latter (who had conceded defeat on the night of the election) to resist a compromise solution, and Vanguardia propaganda has steadily endeavored to sabotage negotiations to that end.
Aside from its congressional position, the infiltration of Vanguardia Popular into the machinery of Government is summarized as follows:
Armed Forces. With the addition of hundreds of irregular troops (Mariachis) in the present crisis, communist elements now constitute some 70 percent of the police and army. Recent events have shown beyond a doubt that the primary allegiance of these irregulars is to their communist leadership rather than to the Government. The Mariachis replaced the regular police on missions where brazen disregard of the law was a prerequisite. Acting under orders which have apparently emanated from the Calderon and/or Vanguardia headquarters rather than from the Government, they have spread a reign of terror unparalleled in Costa Rican history.[Page 503]
Social Security Administration. Except for a few top positions, the great majority of posts in the administration is held either by Vanguardia members or individuals approved by Vanguardia. Dr. Rudolf Pomeranz and his wife, both international communists of Polish nationality, spent two years in the administration indoctrinating their fellow-communists before returning to Poland last year.
Transport. The Department of Public Works contains several hundred Vanguardia members. In the Government-owned Pacific Railway there is a not unduly large but important number of Vanguardistas, especially in the San José shops.
Communications. Between 20 and 25 percent of the personnel in the general telegraph office at San José and approximately 15 percent of the employees in the general post office in San José are controlled by Vanguardia.
The Embassy concludes that one of Vanguardia’s greatest achievements has been the replacement of members of the Costa Rican middle class in Government positions by Vanguardia members. Non-government facilities owned by Vanguardia include a radio station, a newspaper a sound truck and other expensive activities.
The Embassy states that the situation of uncertainty and insecurity which now exists in Costa Rica is in many respects similar to that prevailing today in Eastern Europe. While this estimate may be a bit overdrawn, it is perhaps worthwhile to recall that Haya de la Torre of Peru, in a recent statement to the United Press, described Costa Rica as “the Czechoslovakia of the Western Hemisphere”.
- Despatch 128, March 17, 1948 from the Embassy in Costa Rica, not printed (818.00B/3–1748).↩