181. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Holland) to the Secretary of State1


  • Latest Developments—Costa Rica-Nicaraguan Dispute

The investigating committee appointed by the Organization of American States arrived in San José, Costa Rica, this morning after overnighting at Panama. Its plan probably will be to remain in Costa Rica for three or four days in order to consider the facts, rumors and charges which have arisen as a result of the fighting which broke out in the country on Tuesday, January 11th. It will promptly submit a preliminary report to the COAS, which is acting in the matter as Provisional Organ of Consultation for the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics, a meeting of whom has been called by the original resolution of January 11th to be held at a date and place unspecified.

On January 11th at dawn a force of undetermined size attacked Villa Quesada, 14 miles off the Inter-American Highway and about 50 miles northwest of the capital city, San José. Villa Quesada is well within Costa Rica and is approximately 55 miles from the Nicaraguan border. The Chief of Staff of the Costa Rica Guardia Civil (the government’s principal military force) reported yesterday, January 12th, that perhaps no more than one hundred revolutionaries are in the Villa Quesada area. Later in the afternoon, the Costa Rican forces reportedly recaptured Villa Quesada and 22 revolutionaries were captured. The remaining enemy there fled northward.

Planes variously identified as AT—6’s—a training type plane—and P–51’s were reported to have flown over and bombed and strafed San José, and five or six small Costa Rican towns. The attackers have taken Peñas Blancas just south of Lake Nicaragua on the Costa Rica-Nicaraguan border, and have landed near Puerto Soley very close to Nicaraguan territory. A truck used jointly by the United States and Costa Rica in the construction of the Inter-American Highway was machine-gunned. The Costa Rican government regional commander has ordered La Cruz, about 10 miles from the border, to be evacuated.

The Costa Rican communists appear not to be involved although guarantees are now suspended and communist party members and sympathizers are being rounded up.

[Page 595]

The Costa Rican government has decided for the present time to take no action to break relations with Nicaragua because the Organization of American States is currently considering the case. However, the Nicaraguan Chargé2 in San José was declared persona non grata on January 11th and given twenty-four hours to depart.

Our Ambassador in San José reports that many volunteers are offering their services to the Guardia, and that the reactions of the people to air attacks has been one of rage against the attackers and support for the Figueres government. A clandestine radio is being operated by the rebels within Costa Rica.

President Figueres accused President Somoza of aiding the revolutionaries. President Somoza responded to your personal request for nonintervention by stating that “Nicaraguan territory will not be used to give assistance to rebels but they have my full sympathy”.

The Department is beginning to receive letters from American supporters of Figueres in the United States. Senator Paul Douglas has cabled you urging the Department to make every effort to support the legally elected government in Costa Rica.

In the event you are questioned about the United States position, you may wish to emphasize the United States is maintaining an impartial attitude on the problem, which is before the appropriate regional American organization. The United States supported strongly the OAS action to send an investigating committee to the area to seek the facts. The United States assisted this committee to hasten to the area by furnishing a plane for the flight to San José, and also, in accordance with the OAS resolution yesterday, planes of the Caribbean Command in Panama are being placed at the disposal of the committee “in the name of the committee, and under its supervision to make pacific observation flights over the regions affected by the present situation”. Meanwhile, United States Embassy and military officials in Costa Rica and neighboring countries are keeping a vigilant eye to report all pertinent developments.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 718.00/1–1355. Official Use Only. Drafted by John L. Ohmans of the Office of Middle American Affairs.
  2. Alfonso Ortega Urbina.