79. Memorandum From the Assistant to the Vice President (Rielly) to Vice President Humphrey1


  • Your Meeting with Daniel Oduber

Daniel Oduber is making his final trip to Washington before the Presidential election scheduled to take place on February 6, 1966. He is here to mobilize all possible outside support for the government and to the extent possible for the party during this critical election period.

The electoral race in Costa Rica has changed considerably since his last visit and his left of center Populista party now faces the opposition of a united conservative front. Our independent assessments indicate that though he will have strong competition, he is still expected [Page 195] to win. The current estimate is that he will carry about 54 percent of the vote, although an estimated swing vote of 100,000 votes could alter this outcome.

Oduber contends that it is not sufficient merely to win the election but to win by a sufficiently large majority so that the new president will have in the Assembly a working majority sufficiently large to put through the needed constitutional changes. This would require getting about 60 percent of the vote, as constitutional amendments require approval by two-thirds vote of the legislature. To effect basic structural reforms in the economy and the society it is necessary to change the constitution.

The government is encountering economic problems which could have a direct bearing on the election. A two million dollar repayment to the Ex-Im Bank falls due sometime late this year. The Costa Rican Government would like to get it rolled over for six months or so so they can have that money available for other purposes during this period. Secondly, the government must raise electricity rates by 12 percent before the election if it is to meet requirements set down by a previous World Bank loan. It is doubtful that the World Bank will consider delaying this. However, the Ex-Im loan repayment could easily be rolled over if it is considered important to do so here in Washington.

The Costa Ricans are also seeking to expedite the disbursements under a 7½ million dollar project loan approved earlier. They would like to have part of the remaining 4 million dollars disbursed ahead of schedule so as to permit them to have funds to meet the government payroll for the rest of the year. Apparently there is some possibility they will default on the government payroll unless they get some external assistance—which would be disastrous politically.

I believe the Costa Ricans may be operating under the assumption that external funds might be available for the election campaign itself. They argue that much of the 1.5 million dollars that is being spent by the conservative opposition comes from outside the country, namely from the Somozas in nearby Nicaragua. Therefore they consider it legitimate for them to accept funds from outside of the country. A check with the appropriate people here reveals great reluctance to get involved in this contest, as it does not involve any left-wing threat. Most everyone in Washington agrees that it is desirable from the U.S. point-of-view for Oduber to win, but it is not considered appropriate to actively intervene as the conservative opposition is not considered a threat to U.S. interests.

As a practical matter, I believe you could say something to Dean Rusk, who is a friend and a great admirer of Oduber, about the U.S. Government doing all it can to help him. Rusk could pass the word both to Ex-Im and to AID to do everything they can to cooperate with [Page 196] the Costa Rican Government. With a word from Rusk both Ex-Im and AID would grant the roll-overs and the advance disbursements.2

Whether you would want to raise with Rusk the question of additional aid, I am not sure. It would take a strong push from the White House to get final approval on this. On the basis of his knowledge of previous elections in the hemisphere (Venezuela, Chile, Dominican Republic), I believe Daniel may be making some false deductions about what is available.3

  1. Source: Minnesota Historical Society, Hubert H. Humphrey Papers, Vice Presidential Files, Foreign Affairs General Files, Meeting with Daniel Oduber, September 15, 1965. Secret; Sensitive. Oduber also met Humphrey on April 15 to discuss, among other issues, “the Presidential campaign in Costa Rica next year.” (Memorandum from Rielly to Humphrey, April 14; ibid., Meeting with Daniel Oduber and Amb. Facio of Costa Rica, 4/15/65) No substantive record of the meeting has been found.
  2. Although no evidence has been found that he spoke to Rusk, Humphrey evidently asked the Export-Import Bank to refinance construction of the Pan-American Highway in Costa Rica. In an October 12 telephone conversation Vaughn discussed the project with president of the Bank, Harold Linder, complaining of a “rather exotic process trying to pin down what the White House wants on Costa Rica.” Linder explained that the loan had been refinanced three times, but thought that “something could be arranged to get at what the White House had in mind.” (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, ARA Files, 1965–67: Lot 70 D 295, Inner Office Memoranda, October 1965)
  3. Humphrey met Oduber on September 15. According to a draft memorandum of conversation, Oduber said that he needed outside assistance “for his campaign to be really successful,” charging that his opponent had already received support from the Somoza family and a local television station owned by the American Broadcasting Company. Humphrey maintained that “liberal people up here should have an interest in the outcome of this election,” and agreed to enlist “some labor friends of his.” The Vice President promised that “he would have his lawyer and confidante, Max Kampelman, look into this matter and see what the possibilities are.” Humphrey also said that he would ask Kampelman to “get word to the ABC people that they are discriminating against a candidate whose program is favorable to the United States.” (Minnesota Historical Society, Hubert H. Humphrey Papers, Vice Presidential Files, Foreign Affairs General Files, Meeting with Daniel Oduber, September 15, 1965)