167a. Editorial Note
In April 1970, the U.S. Government learned that Costa Rican President-elect José “Pepe” Figueres had accepted $200,890 in covert support from the Soviet Union through the Secretary General of the Costa Rican Communist Party (Popular Vanguard Party) Manuel Mora. Also present at the meeting was Dr. Luis Burstin, a local physician. At the time of the payment, Mora told Figueres that the loan totaled $300,000, but that he had deducted $45,000 to repay an advance given to Figueres by the Communist Party in support of his election campaign, and another $50,000, which would be delivered to the Communist Party as a loan from Figueres. National Security Council Staff member Viron P. Vaky forwarded the information to Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Henry A. Kissinger and recommended that the 40 Committee consider four options: (1) do nothing; (2) attempt to neutralize the situation by publicly exposing Figueres’s link to the Soviets; (3) neutralize Figueres by privately telling him what the U.S. Government knew and threaten exposure should he act pro-Soviet; and (4) attempt to “double” or pay off Figueres by providing him with U.S. Government funds. Kissinger demurred on the recommendation for a 40 Committee meeting, and instead recommended that the discussion be limited to himself, Director of Central Intelligence Richard Helms, and Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson.
In September 1970, Vaky reported to Kissinger that the U.S. Government had continued to receive information regarding Figueres’s dealings with the Soviets and had initiated a propaganda campaign to embarrass the Soviets and Figueres. Vaky also indicated options for confronting Figueres were under consideration. Vaky again recommended that the issue be placed on the agenda for a 40 Committee meeting, but Kissinger again demurred. In November, Helms confirmed that the relationship between Figueres and the Soviets was closer, and observed that Figueres had received more than $300,000 from the Soviets through Mora. Helms recommended that former Ambassador C. Allan Stewart be sent to confront Figueres with the evidence. Kissinger recommended that President Richard M. Nixon approve Helms’s proposal. The President approved the recommendation, and, in December, Ambassador Stewart agreed to carry out the confrontation.
In January 1971, Stewart confronted Figueres with the U.S. Government’s intelligence, including a Hard Fact paper, which enumerated the details of the payment he had taken and the parties involved, including Manuel Mora, Dr. Luis Burstin, and the Soviets. Stewart also told Figueres that the U.S. Government was aware that his nominee to be Director of the Institute of Land Development, Francisco Gutiérrez Mangel, was under the control of Mora, and that Figueres had approved the nomination of a Communist to the National Production Council. Stewart provided evidence that Mora was working on Figueres’s behalf to establish an understanding with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and noted that Burstin had been working with Mora to cultivate Figueres’s trust. Figueres denied the accusations, defending Mora, Burstin, and Gutiérrez, and volunteering that he gave Max Blanco (who was not mentioned in Stewart’s demarche) a clean bill of health, but insisted that he had not sold out to the Soviets.
Subsequent to the confrontation, in February 1971, the Department of State reported that Figueres had demanded the recall of a high-ranking official from the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica. In March, the Central Intelligence Agency reported that Figueres and Mora were encountering difficulties in their relationship. Notwithstanding, Figueres claimed publicly that his goal in warming relations with the Soviets had been in favor of peace, and publicly offered to open up Costa Rica to U.S. intelligence to allow for any necessary vigilance. By May 1971, Figueres had agreed to establish an intelligence cooperation relationship with the U.S. Government. Nonetheless, during the next year Figueres continued to press economic relations with the Soviets. But by August 1972, the relationship waned as the Costa Rican Communist Party and the Soviets became irritated with Figueres when he failed to acknowledge their help and opposed them on commercial and political matters.