192. Telegram From the Ambassador in Costa Rica (Woodward) to the Department of State 1

278. From Berle. Have conferred with Woodward and have had two long conferences with the President. Situation rather different from picture of it in the Department. Though the main attack has been repelled, hostilities are actually continuing. (This morning rebels attacked Los Chiles and communications cut; size and details attack not yet known.) President expresses himself entirely willing cooperate in any program for normalizing relations which is possible, but points out any gesture of this nature suggested would be at once meaningless and politically impossible until a recognizable degree of peace and tranquil relations has been restored.

He is disposed not to press for condemnation of Nicaragua or other findings which might embitter future relations. He is making a radio statement tonight stating that there must be no bitterness [Page 610] between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans and that he bears no personal animosity to Somoza in this matter. The real issue is getting actual peace.

Certain concrete measures can perhaps be taken evidencing actual termination of hostilities:

Six Costa Rican prisoners taken by the rebels, including member of Congress, presently held in Nicaragua. These men could be immediately returned or released. Method of securing their release might be through recommendation or request provisional organ or still better by unilateral Nicaraguan act, perhaps encouraged by us.
Costa Rican civilians in Nicaragua might be permitted to return to Costa Rica if they so desire and restrictions lifted as to those who desire live peacefully in Nicaragua. This probably not in present terms of reference provisional organ, but action by Nicaragua might be suggested from our side.
Normalization of communications might be arranged which might include permission LACSA 2 planes land normally at Managua. Figueres points out he has not prevented Nicaraguan ships from docking normally at Punta Arenas.
Possibly (it would be a great step forward) reopening of normal commerce between Managua and San José permitting classic trade to reopen between the two countries.

These limited preliminary steps would be tangible evidence that the war is over. Remains the broader and more difficult question of actually producing peace in the border area. The situation is that guerrillas (minimum 50, maximum 250) under arms are loose in northern tier Costa Rica and it is of course believed here that they have access to supplies and temporary refuge in Nicaraguan territory. There is a state of guerrilla warfare and until ended, tranquility cannot be restored or normal relations expected. Surveillance by observers difficult at best, and no practical remedy unless Somoza really intends use his best efforts to help put an end to these activities. Figueres, realizing that mopping-up operations take time, is not asking complete tranquilization before tackling difficult task of improving relations with Somoza.

Figueres receptive to idea of appropriate statement and indication of willingness to join in ceremonial gesture in connection with concluding reciprocal arrangements based on OAS recommendations. I am working along these lines.

Department should squarely recognize that at present direct personal gesture Figueres to Somoza or vice versa during continuing state of actual hostilities would be political suicide for Figueres and would be considered at mildest meaningless and in important sectors of public opinion reprehensible in other Latin American countries. [Page 611] Linked with practical measures setting up a measure of peace it could be productive and I think possible.

Am continuing discussions and will report further.

Foregoing fully discussed with Woodward whose estimate of situation accords with mine and who agrees.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 718.00/2–455. Secret; Priority; Limited Distribution.
  2. Lineas Aereas Costarriceses (LACSA), the Costa Rican national airlines.