5. Paper Prepared by the Operations Coordinating Board1


I. Nature of the Security Threat

1. The Costa Rican Communist Party (Partido Vanguardia Popular—PVP), does not now constitute a threat to the stability of the Government of President Jose Figueres.

2. The PVP has an estimated dues-paying membership of less than 300, half of whom live in San Jose. There are about 2,000 active sympathizers (estimates of “sympathizers” run as high as 10,000), of whom the majority live in the banana zone on the Pacific coast south of the capital. Here the degree of their “sympathy” varies with changing labor conditions.

3. The PVP reached its peak between 1940 and 1943 when it was closely allied with the Calderon and Picado administrations, had five members in the national legislature, and developed an independent voting strength of some 20,000. It fought in the 1948 civil war alongside the Calderon–Picado forces and after their defeat by the Figueres forces, the PVP was outlawed and virtually disintegrated. [Page 20] Popularly discredited because of its activities in 1948 and before, it now has no known significant representation or allies in the government including its security forces, and has but a small and indirect influence in national affairs.

4. Organized labor support of the Calderon and Picado regimes within Costa Rica was closely identified with the communists. However, it is unlikely that the Calderonista leadership, now anti-communist, would again recognize any overt alliance with the PVP. Within Costa Rica the Calderonista party (Independent National Republican Party) has only three Assembly members, and was further discredited by the failure of an invasion attempt in January, 1955, when most Costa Ricans rallied behind the government.

5. The current PVP program reflects careful study of the international communist line, and specifically, of the Brazilian Communist Party program. It calls for the development of a “National Democratic Front” based on the class alliance of the workers, the peasants, the petty bourgeoisie, and the intellectuals, and is designed to exploit their respective nationalistic, anti-imperialist potentialities. The replacement of the Figueres Government is called for as a product of the “politico-electoral action of all the forces of opposition”—violence being rejected unless the Government “violates freedom of suffrage.”

6. The immediate objectives of the program include the consolidation of the parties of opposition to the Figueres regime into a political alliance. Although a legal PVP is regarded as the essential “backbone” of a National Democratic Front, certain top party leaders are currently minimizing the campaign for legalization out of fear of provoking repressive action, and advocate the formation of local “democratic fronts” in which the communists, for the present, would play a participant role, but not necessarily a controlling role.

7. To such an anti-Figueres alliance, the PVP would be able to contribute the organizational ability of its trained leaders, the support of its labor following, and the element of proletarian representation required to characterize a government as “democratic”. It is unlikely that the other anti-Figueres parties will enter into such an alliance with the PVP. However, political opportunism may keep them from actively opposing communist infiltration into their anti-Figueres campaigning, but even this degree of infiltration would not provide the communists either in an opposition or a resulting government with an effective voice in Costa Rican affairs.

8. The PVP has extensive, continuing international contacts. Trade union information is supplied regularly to the World Federation of Trade Unions through the Confederation of Latin American Workers (Confederacion de Trabajadores de la America Latina—CTAL), and relations with communists in Mexico are maintained [Page 21] both through deviously-directed correspondence and resident liaison in Mexico. Soviet and other communist literature is regularly sent to Costa Rica from abroad. The PVP leaders themselves are able and experienced, some having been associated with organizational and doctrinal work in other countries and with the CTAL.

9. The PVP’s President, Manuel Mora Valverde, was party delegate to the XX Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. A Costa Rican communist women’s leader, Adela Ferreto de Saenz, has recently been selected to head the Latin American section of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in East Berlin. Five members of the Party’s National Political Commission visited Moscow for periods of up to three months between 1952 and 1955. During 1954 and 1955, 14 members traveled to congresses or attended schools behind the Iron Curtain. Over 30 trips to communist-front conferences in Europe and China have been made by Costa Rican communists and pro-communists since 1949. Much of this travel has been financed by international communist or communist-front funds.

10. The training and indoctrination received by PVP leaders abroad is being used in an effort to strengthen party organization and discipline in Costa Rica. A campaign to recruit by the end of 1955, 225 new militant members, who would receive a preparatory course in principles of communist party organization, was initiated in mid-year. Recruiting committees were named for the various provinces. This campaign was not successful. A new campaign has been started but results thus far have been negligible.

11. The PVP has two regular publications: Adelante, an eight-page tabloid, a legal organ calling itself “an independent weekly”, sold to PVP militants and to anyone else who wishes to buy it; and Correo Semanal a four-page leaflet-size clandestine publication, for use and distribution by PVP militants. Adelante costs the Party approximately $30 per week for 3,000 copies, and Correo Semanal approximately $6.00 per week for 1,000 copies. Their sale is intended to cover the cost of publishing, but payments are usually in arrears, and the deficit is taken from party funds. These funds are obtained from the monthly dues of militants, voluntary contributions by sympathizers, and the earnings of small clandestine party investments.

12. Labor is the PVP’s chief operational target. The communist-controlled but legal General Confederation of Costa Rican Workers (Confederacion General de Trabajadores Costarricenses—CGTC), is affiliated with the Confederation of Latin American Workers and the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU). It nominally controls 21 of the country’s 70 registered unions or about 2,000 or approximately 25% of organized workers, but control is probably effective over [Page 22] only a small percentage of the nominal membership. The communists are most effective in the banana zone, where the communist-controlled Banana Workers’ Federation (Federacion Nacional de Obreros Bananeros y Anexos—FOBA) led a three-week strike against the United Fruit Co. in September 1955. The PVP was able to collect only $271 nationwide in support of the strike, and the FOBA’s secretary-general, Isaias Marchena Moraga, was expelled from the Federation and the party for his alleged cowardice in settling the strike. The communists have less fertile soil in which to sow discontent now that the United Fruit Co. and the government have reached an agreement increasing to 30% the tax the company pays on its earnings. This tax constitutes approximately 8% of government revenues. The CGTC is also being challenged by the larger anti-communist labor group, the Costa Rican Confederation of Workers (Confederacion Costarricense de Trabajadores—Rerum NovarumCCT) whose leadership in the past has been relatively ineffective. In July 1955 a bill to make it illegal for communists to hold office in labor unions was sidetracked in a committee of the Assembly.

13. The PVP is well organized; it meets regularly in the homes of members, but its internal financial resources are minimal. Foreign travel, however, is financed from communist funds from abroad.

II. Existing Internal Security Forces and National Military Forces

A. Primary Internal Security Forces

14. In the Ministry of Public Security the staff offices engaged in combatting Communist subversion are The Office of Investigation Coordination (Oficina de Coordinacion de Investigaciones, the G–2 Section of the Ministry), and the Directorate General of Detectives (Direccion General de Detectives). These offices are headed by fairly capable and enthusiastic directors who have natural ability as investigators but lack training. They have only a handful of subordinates, their sources of information are casual, they have not penetrated the Communist apparatus, they have no adequate filing system and their funds are limited.

15. Under the Minister of Public Security public order is the responsibility of the Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), assisted by the Directorate General of Detectives and the Directorate General of Traffic Police. A small Revenue Guard (Resguardo Fiscal) handles customs responsibilities and is equipped to supplement the Civil Guard in case of emergency.

16. The Civil Guard strength is approximately 1,400. Personnel in San Jose, the capital, approximately 900, are in 3 companies. Remaining officers and men are distributed to six command headquarters [Page 23] in outlying provinces, each headquarters having slightly less than 100 men. Crime incidence in Costa Rica is very low, and thus there is no need to maintain more than skeletal police forces.

17. In early 1954, a Reserve of Volunteers was organized. At one time an estimated 1900 men were actively participating in a Reserve Training Program formed into 9 battalions and 28 skeletal companies. Lack of funds and equipment has lessened participation to the extent that the Reserve is currently ineffective as a ready force. Plans to rejuvenate the Reserve await budgetary consideration by the legislature.

18. Military training of the Civil Guard is under the supervision of a United States Army Mission and includes weapons and basic recruit instruction, and a little training in small unit tactics. The Guardsmen are fairly well trained in the use of firearms, those in San Jose being somewhat better trained than those in the provinces. The U.S. Mission also supervises operation of the Civil Guard Military School, a center for recruit training and instruction of officers in handling small bodies of troops. On February 12, 1956 this school was closed because of lack of funds. There is now no officer instruction and recruits are trained in their parent units. Information indicates that the school will open when funds are again available. Costa Rica takes advantage of opportunities to send individuals to military schools in Latin American and some European countries.

19. Ordnance matériel is miscellaneous and obsolescent except for small arms purchased from the U.S. in mid-1954. In this shipment, Costa Rica received 3,500 M–1 rifles, 500 Thompson SMGs, and a few machine guns, rocket launchers and mortars, plus ammunition for all weapons. Supplies of small arms are more than adequate to equip the present force and are stored at armories in San Jose, and in Civil Guard headquarters in the provinces.

20. Although primarily a police force, the Civil Guard is capable of coping with riots and internal insurrection with the aid of the Revenue Guard and personnel from the Reserve of Volunteers.

21. Weaknesses lie in the detection and investigation of communist activity (which are beyond present capabilities), in the absence of legal authority to move against communists (except in the context of civil disturbances) and in the fact that the bulk of the people do not see communism as a menace and are unsympathetic to the use of force by the authorities.

B. Military Forces

22. Costa Rica has no Army or Navy. An Air Force was recently established and consists at present of 13 pilots and 4 aircraft. All pilots are employed by Costa Rica’s national airline and are automatically [Page 24] in the Air Force Reserve. Aircraft include 3 F–51 propellor-driven fighters and 1 light liaison craft. The air facility system is sufficient to meet local needs and includes one airfield, El Coco near San Jose, capable of handling heavy bombers and jet fighters.

III. Evaluation of the Internal Security Situation

23. The current Costa Rican government, chosen by two-thirds of the voters in a relatively free election, follows the democratic traditions of the country. The legal non-communist opposition groups within the country—landowners, merchants, importers—while they operate freely, are in a divided minority and are not vigorously led. They have the outlet of a free press, in which they can and do criticize Figueres and his policies forcefully. It is not probable that they will resort to violence to unseat him.

24. Outside Costa Rica, exiled followers of former Presidents Calderon and Picado, who enjoy the sympathy of the Nicaraguan and Venezuelan regimes, still constitute a threat which cannot be altogether ignored. But for numerous reasons an invasion is now much less likely. The exiles are scattered in Venezuela, Mexico and Nicaragua, and their morale has suffered from the failure of their invasion attempt in January 1955. Also, in January 1956 Nicaragua and Costa Rica agreed to surveillance of their common frontier, with a permanent outside committee of five nations, including the U.S., in readiness for investigations and conciliation. The Organization of American States (OAS) stands ready to turn a spotlight on any invasion. In December 1955 an Amnesty Law was passed which should encourage exiles to return legally. Furthermore, landings on the Atlantic coast would place attackers in an unfavorable strategic position and the Air Force can now put three F–51’s into the air. On balance, therefore, it appears probable that the Calderonistas will prefer to await the February 1958 elections, seeking to oust the Figueristas by legal means.

25. The Costa Rican Communist Party is small and its finances are chronically in bad shape; it has no known representation or allies of significance in the government or security forces, has not succeeded in forming an alliance with any other party, and is held in low esteem by the public. Its capabilities for influencing national affairs are therefore low. The party may be able on occasion to create limited disturbance in the banana zone, but is incapable of overthrowing the government.

26. The government is opposed to communism in principle but neither it nor the public is militantly anti-communist. This current climate of opinion operates against the fullest enforcement of existing legislation against communists. Only if communist subversive activity should markedly increase would the government and people [Page 25] be sufficiently aroused to the threat of international communism to take effective measures to control it.

27. The security services, because of inadequate staff, funds and training, lack the capabilities for the detection and investigation of communist activity. They can, therefore, contribute little to the surveillance and control of the international communist movement. Although they are now capable of coping with any present communist threat to the internal security of Costa Rica itself, a major resurgence of communist activities could not be handled by the existing organization.

IV. Inventory of Existing U.S. Assistance Programs Bearing on Internal Security

28. Because of the country’s proximity to the Panama Canal and to the United States, it is essential that economic and political stability be maintained. This is particularly important in view of the fact that Costa Rica’s relationship with her neighbors and some other Latin American countries has recently been strained and difficult. The Mutual Security Program is intended to help maintain the desired stability. As a part of a general program to expedite completion of the Inter-American Highway, the Bureau of Public Roads has earmarked $19 million as its two-thirds contribution to the Costa Rican sections of the Highway over the next three years. The Costa Rican one-third share in the project which has been computed at about $9,540,000 has been covered by an Ex–Im Bank loan authorized on November 3, 1955. The Ex–Im Bank participation in other loans and credits to Costa Rica since January 1955 has totalled $3,990,000 chiefly for electrical equipment, farm tractors, and motor trucks.

29. Since land and timber are Costa Rica’s only recognized natural resources the Technical Cooperation Program concentrates on expansion and diversification of agriculture to lessen dependence on bananas and coffee. More than one-third of the total U.S. expenditure is devoted to this phase. However, in order to foster general economic progress, the U.S. provides technical assistance also in health and sanitation, education, public administration, civil aviation, farm-to-market road transportation, housing and community development as well as in the broad field of industrial development. Training in modern labor techniques and practices is offered to government officials and labor leaders. The U.S. spent $926,000 in FY 1955; has programmed $971,000 in FY 1956; and ICA is proposing $1,026,000 for the continuation of these activities in FY 1957.

30. All military aid to Costa Rica has been supplied under the Reimbursable Aid Program. Material received has been in the form of small arms, machine guns and ammunition for the Civil Guard and the 4 F–51’s (one since accidentally destroyed) purchased in [Page 26] early 1955. To date orders have been placed for $859,000 worth of equipment of which $764,000 has already been delivered.

31. There is a U.S. Army Mission consisting of two officers and five enlisted men which supervises training in the Civil Guard.

32. Currently about two officers are being trained each year in military schools in the United States and some seventy-six officers and enlisted men attend U.S. Army schools in the Canal Zone. In addition, four Costa Rican pilots are now being trained for propeller-driven fighter aircraft by the U.S. Navy at Pensacola, Florida.

33. The exchange program with Costa Rica has been in operation since 1940. Funds for exchanges are currently appropriated annually by the Congress under the general authorization of P.L. 402, 80th Congress. The following table shows the scope of the program with Costa Rica for the past three years.

Educational Exchange Grants

Costa Rican Grantees 1954 1955 1956
Students 5 5 7
Teachers 1 1 2
Leaders and Specialists 3 3
Lecturers 1
TOTAL 6 9 13
U.S. Grantees Students 2 2 1
Lecturers and Research Scholars 1
TOTAL 2 3 1

[None of the above exchanges was in the field of internal security]2

In 1955, assistance to the Lincoln School at San Jose amounted to $8,000. Of the 337 pupils enrolled, 75 were United States children, 228 Costa Ricans and 34 of other nationalities. The level of instruction extends from kindergarten through high school. Of a total of 19 teachers, 6 are United States citizens, 9 Costa Ricans and 4 of other nationalities. $14,170 has been obligated for American School assistance in Costa Rica in 1956.

34. There is a small but active U.S. information program in Costa Rica, utilizing all local media outlets. At least ten radio stations regularly use USIS programs and many others borrow material occasionally. There is no television yet. All five daily newspapers [Page 27] make extensive use of news and special articles from USIS, which also publishes a monthly labor magazine and distributes pamphlets as part of its press operation. USIS films are shown by two mobile units and also by commercial theaters. There are two American grantees in the bi-national center which has over 1,000 enrolled members. USIA program cost for FY 1956 was approximately $76,600. Estimated cost for FY 1957 is $113,800. Priority target audiences are political, religious and labor leaders, radio and newspaper editors and commentators, teachers, students and businessmen. The program is designed to encourage confidence in democracy and free enterprise, as contrasted with the Soviet system; expose communist tactics and action in Latin America; create an awareness of U.S. technical and cultural cooperation with Costa Rica, and support U.S. foreign policies.

V. Political Factors Bearing on Internal Security Program and Feasibility of US Assistance

35. Costa Rica has traditionally been more stable than most of its neighbors, and its government has usually had a broader democratic base than is found in many Latin American countries. The stability was temporarily upset by a six weeks civil war in 1948. Constitutional order was restored but since that time Costa Rica has been subject to stronger internal and external pressures.

36. In 1948 Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia, who controlled the outgoing Picado administration, attempted to regain the presidency despite the evidence that his opponent, Otilio Ulate, had received a clear majority in the presidential elections. Calderon had the backing of the communist Popular Vanguard Party (Partido Vanguardia Popular or PVP) with which he had collaborated during the Calderon and Picado presidencies. The high-handed attempts of Calderon to annul the election of Ulate caused an immediate reaction. Anti-government forces, recruited and led by Jose Figueres, defeated the Calderonistas in a brief but bitter civil war. Figueres was the de facto head of government for eighteen months before turning the reins over to Ulate. In 1953 Figueres was elected to the presidency, obtaining two-thirds of the popular vote. His term runs until May 1958.

37. Figueres has the support of his National Liberation Party (Partido Liberacion Nacional or PLN). The PLN draws its support largely from the lower classes and especially from labor groups, although its leaders are mostly from the upper and middle classes. It is ideologically opposed to communism and friendly to the U.S. The PLN is noted for its zeal in crusading for social reform, although this has been somewhat moderated recently. To date, it still controls a majority of the voters through its propaganda and its party machine [Page 28] work. The social reforms of Figueres, although comparatively mild, have alienated a number of his former supporters. His opposition, however, is still in the minority and its effectiveness is further limited by deep divisions within it.

38. Fourteen of the 45 members of the Costa Rican Legislature were elected by parties opposing Figueres. Since the elections of 1953, these parties have largely disappeared as formal organizations, but they are now regrouping. Ex-President Ulate has recently attempted to organize a Democratic Opposition Movement (Movimiento Democratico Oposicionista) to unite anti-Figueres forces prior to the 1957 elections. Because of personal differences between the various leaders, this effort has not been entirely successful. None of the opposition leaders is believed to have communist connections or leanings at this time; the Calderons have repudiated their former communist support.

39. The Government of Costa Rica faced a serious threat early in 1955 when Calderon and Picado forces, with covert assistance from Nicaragua and Venezuela, attempted to invade the country. They received little or no internal support and the attempt was quickly terminated after the Organization of American States intervened. Since that time there have been occasional rumors of revolutionary movements against Figueres. Most now feel, however, that the opposition would have little to gain and much to lose by attempting a forcible overthrow prior to the next elections in 1957. It is considered that the government is generally stable and that Figueres will finish out his term.

40. The heir-apparent to Figueres is Francisco Orlich Bolmarcich, present Minister of Public Works, although there is some opposition to him within the PLN. Orlich is considered to have a more practical approach to economic and social problems than does Figueres being more of a businessman than a theorist, although he follows the Figueres program.

41. While the present government of Costa Rica has been anti-communist and pro-U.S. in its international actions, there have been occasions when its representatives have followed neutralist tendencies because of conviction, a lack of control or discipline, or as an assertion of independence. There is a general lack of concern over the threat of international communism. Mostly as a gesture of disapproval of the host government, Figueres refused to allow Costa Rican attendance at the Tenth Inter-American Conference at Caracas in 1954 which dealt with the menace of communism. Costa Rica has since subscribed to the anti-communist resolution adopted by this Conference, however.

42. Figueres has courted and experienced trouble because of his outspoken stand against Latin American dictators, his meddling in [Page 29] Central American affairs, and his harboring of prominent exiles from neighboring countries. He remained friendly towards Arbenz in Guatemala after others had become aware of his communist orientation. He probably was at least aware of the attack launched from Costa Rica in 1954 against President Somoza of Nicaragua, who had given military assistance to the Calderon brothers against Figueres in 1948.

43. Hatred and suspicion still exist between Figueres and Somoza despite an ostensible recent improvement in relations. This strong feeling does not apply generally to the peoples of the two countries. It is not certain that Figueres and PLN hotheads have ceased to conspire against neighboring dictatorships or that these have ceased their intrigues against Figueres. The presence in Costa Rica of Guatemalan, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan exiles is a source of irritation to neighboring governments.

44. While Figueres took drastic action against communists during the revolution of 1948, the attitude of the government toward their suppression is currently somewhat lackadaisical. No immediate threat from them is seen. Figueres feels he can control communism by his type of social reform designed to improve the conditions of the masses. He may also feel that repressive measures would only drive communists further underground. The communists, although opposing Figueres, find elements of his program that they could support if not given any better alternatives. Opportunism is apparently the dominating factor with regard to any political alliance by the PVP in the future elections.

45. The Figueres government has so far proved ineffective in removing communist influences from the labor movement in the banana zones despite reasonably good opportunities to do so. It has announced its intention of making further efforts toward that end.

46. Costa Ricans are very proud of their democratic traditions and civil liberties. The majority of the people are opposed to anything with a militaristic taint, and efforts to increase armed power would be most controversial. The government and the people would oppose measures tending to curtail freedom. In order to assure government and popular support for anti-communist moves, it would be necessary that any program in this connection be carried out gradually and unobtrusively. It is believed that the present government would accept U.S. assistance on this basis.

VI. Recommendations

47. Police Administration


Upon the request of the host government, conduct a preliminary survey to determine the requirements for improving the capabilities of the Costa Rican internal security forces under the Ministry [Page 30] of Public Security, paying particular attention to the strengthening of the organizational structure and quality of performance of the Office of Investigation Coordination and the Director General of Detectives in the surveillance and control of the communist movement.

Responsible Agencies: State (for obtaining request); ICA (for execution).

. . . . . . .

Cost: $8,000 to $15,000 (not presently programmed)

Timing: As soon as practicable.

Upon completion of, and in the light of conclusions reached by, the above-mentioned preliminary survey, the Operations Coordinating Board will consider the desirability of:
Training on the spot and/or in the United States, as required, the number of officers needed to make the operation of the Ministry of Public Security effective; and
Assisting Costa Rica in the procurement of the necessary equipment.

48. Attitude of Government. In order to bring about more effective control of communist activities, seek to convince the government to adopt additional legislative measures and enforce these and existing measures, to:

Limit the international movement of communists.
Increase penalties for communist activities.
Eliminate communists from union leadership.
Restrict communist propaganda.

Responsible agency: State

. . . . . . .

Timing: As appropriate

49. Attitude of Public. In order to increase public support for anti-communist measures, continue present U.S. programs aimed at alerting the public to the communist menace.

Responsible agencies: State, USIA

. . . . . . .

Timing: Continuing.

  1. Source: Department of State, OCB Files: Lot 62 D 430, Latin American, 1956. Top Secret. A cover sheet and transmittal note by Charles E. Johnson, Executive Assistant of the OCB, September 15, are not printed. The transmittal note reports that at its August 15 meeting the Board approved the paper and authorized the preliminary survey recommended in paragraph 47, but agreed that no further action would be authorized immediately.
  2. Brackets in the source text.