80. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Current Presidential Campaign

PARTICIPANTS

  • Josè Joaquin Trejos Fernandez, Presidential Candidate, National Unification Party
  • Mario Echandi, Former President of Costa Rica
  • Ambassador Telles
[Page 197]

Echandi started off a discussion of the election campaign by remarking that he was seriously concerned by the increasing amount of violence at campaign rallies and stated that during his Presidency (1958–1962) there had been no such problem. At the same time, Echandi also made it clear to me that he sees no likelihood of an attempted golpe, although he remarked that one could never predict the behavior of “irresponsible” elements in Costa Rica. Likewise he did not seem concerned that campaign violence might lead to a possible assassination attempt, planned or otherwise, on either candidate saying that it was out of keeping with the Costa Rican character.

Echandi mentioned again to me a favorite grievance of his regarding the U.S.—the fact that President Kennedy, during his original speech on the Alliance for Progress, had mentioned Josè Figueres.2 Both Trejos and Echandi alleged that the U.S. Government through “bad advisors in Washington”, and PLN candidate Daniel Oduber, as a deliberate effort, have tried to create the impression that the Alliance in Costa Rica is somehow the property of the National Liberation Party and that the benefits which Costa Rica receives from the Alliance are due to PLN efforts. Echandi asserted that Vice President Humphrey has befriended Oduber and that the latter is conveying the impression that without a PLN Government, the Alliance would not operate in Costa Rica. Trejos and Echandi both suggested that this impression could be countered by a public statement from me to the effect that the Alliance is politically neutral.

I replied that no political party in Costa Rica (or in any other Latin American country) has a monopoly on the Alliance, which is politically neutral, and that the U.S. is ready to cooperate with any freely elected government in this country. I recalled that during the Echandi Government, the U.S. had provided a great deal of assistance. I said that our only interest is that the 1966 elections be carried out in the best Costa Rican democratic tradition and assured them that once the Costa Rican people have elected a government we will support it. I also reminded Echandi that I had taken various steps to help ensure free elections in 1962 and told him how I had insisted then and have now on the strict neutrality of all Embassy personnel. As for Oduber’s relationship with Mr. Humphrey, I commented that Oduber has probably made a considerable effort to cultivate Mr. Humphrey, but that Mr. Humphrey [Page 198]would certainly not assist in Oduber’s campaign and further neither the Vice President nor any other U.S. Government official will extend any financial interest to either candidate. Regarding a public statement, I countered that any such statement would have to be carefully thought out, especially as to context and timing, but that I would be glad to consider it.

Referring to Trejos’ recent speech in which he had alleged U.S. Government favoritism toward the PLN, I said that, given the widespread pro-U.S. attitudes in Costa Rica, any statement which might be construed by the Costa Rican public as being anti-U.S. might well prove to be counterproductive. Echandi replied, rather heatedly, that “Costa Ricans would never tolerate U.S. involvement in Costa Rican affairs”. I quickly made the point that the U.S. was not involving itself in the Costa Rican elections and that it was apparent that we were not doing so. Both Echandi and Trejos agreed with me. Trejos then stated that he regards himself as a great friend of the U.S., but that he still had the impression that Embassy was attempting to “seek out” and “consult” Oduber. I said that the source of Trejos’ misunderstanding should not be difficult to dispel, since it must have arisen when two AID technicians were invited to attend a recent meeting at the Planning Office at which Oduber was also present; a fact of which they had no knowledge before the meeting. I said that this, of course, had placed the AID people in an awkward position, but that there was nothing they could do about it except to proceed with their presentation of facts; there was, of course, no “consultation” with Oduber. I then told Trejos that we would be glad to give him a full briefing on the AID program, or on any other U.S. program that might interest him at any time, as we had “absolutely nothing to hide.” I assured him that if he should ever be disturbed about any aspect of U.S. policy that I would attempt to explain it to him and if it should prove that the Embassy or I were in the wrong that I would do my best to correct it. Trejos seemed pleased at the invitation and said he would take up my offer at the first opportunity.

The conversation turned to other matters and I brought up the subject of the CIAP tax mission and asked Trejos his opinion of this effort to achieve an improved system of taxation in Costa Rica. The candidate replied that he was fully aware of the mission and thought that it would be “helpful”, and was in favor of technical assistance in connection with the Costa Rican tax program.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 14 COSTARICA. Confidential. Drafted by Willis and Sedgwick. The meeting was held at the home of Edmundo Gerli. Forwarded as an enclosure to airgram A–151 from San Josè, September 28.
  2. Reference is to President Kennedy’s address at a White House reception for members of the Diplomatic Corps from Latin American Republics on March 13, 1961, in which he formally announced the formation of the Alliance for Progress. The speech included the line: “In the words of Jose Figueres, ‘once dormant peoples are struggling upward toward the sun, toward a better life.’” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 172)