177. Telegram 2278 From the Embassy in Costa Rica to the Department of State1 2

[Page 1]


  • Costa Rican Ties With Soviet Union

For Asst. Secretary Meyer, Deputy Asst. Secretary Hurwitch, and Breen ARA/CEN.

1. I had dinner with President Figueres September 4. He and I had an understanding that we with our wives would eat together periodically without protocol and discuss all subjects frankly with one another. There would be no punches pulled. This was the second of such “eat meetings” although it was the fourth meeting. On this occasion, he suggested that I invite others if I wished and that he might do the same. This began to look like a big spread to wash his face from his prior meeting with the Soviets. By the time we got through discussing the meeting, it was down to DCM Rabenold, the President and myself, and our wives. He was careful to have the press there in full, and one reporter asked the big question. He asked what I thought of [Page 2] GOCR–USSR question. I suggested that this was an informal social occasion and that the President was my host, so he should ask the President. The president, in turning his back, said “he knows what I think of it”. The reporter was decent enough to drop the subject.

2. In the private men’s discussion after dinner, I told the President that he knew of course that I had not publicly criticized his policy toward the Soviet Union but I was a man of candor and I would be less than candid if I left the impression that my silence denoted approval. I stated that my job and primary purpose was to protect the interests of the US and that my secondary interest was the future of Costa Rica. I said that the uneasiness which a Soviet diplomatic presence engendered was justified by the experience of Soviet subversive penetration elsewhere. I did not see how he could warm up to the Soviets when they made possible the type of Castro-inspired violence and terrorism which he deplored. The political price for his country could be costly.

3. Figueres replied at length, making the following points:

  • A. He too was a man who believed in frankness; he said what he thought, and did what he said.
  • B. He had been in the international political game a long time and had rarely been wrong in his judgments. He might be wrong in this instance (“I am flying by the seat of my pants; there are no instruments”). If he were, he would be the first to admit it. (I remarked that this might be too late.)
  • C. He knew how the communists operated and was aware of Soviet capabilities.
  • D. Nevertheless, he had four motives (two economic and two political) for wanting to improve Costa Rican ties with the USSR:
    • 1) The development of a large Soviet market for high-quality coffee [Page 3] would greatly benefit Costa Rica.
    • 2) Costa Rica has a need for the tractors and road equipment it can obtain on favorable terms under a Soviet loan.
    • 3) By closer relations with the Soviets, Costa Rica can help end the cold war and ease tensions between the U.S. and the USSR.
    • 4) At the same time, this would serve to maintain peace and order within Costa Rica. certain groups associate closer GOCR–USSR ties with “progress”, making violent action less likely.
  • E. One thing the U.S. can be sure of—if greater hostility should develop between the U.S. and the USSR, Pepe Figueres and Costa Rica would be on the American side.

4. Throughout our conversation, the President indicated that he had every intention of proceeding with his “opening to the east.” He states he thinks that he is right, that no damage will be done, that he has the backing of his party, that the only opposition comes from “La Nacion” and the rightist U.S.-backed “Movimiento Costa Rica Libre”, and that the general public, while a bit puzzled at the moment, will come to understand the validity of his position. I said I hoped everything would turn out all right. He said he shared that hope and expressed appreciation for our friendly exchange of views. We parted company on the best of terms.

5. Comments: This is the same orchestration he has played for me four times, motivated by public criticism of the way the Soviets are proceeding. He is underestimating public criticism which is a good 90 per cent against him on this subject. Two other Ambassadors here (the Israeli and Chinese) have expressed their interest and concern about the U.S. position on GOCR–USSR relations, indicating their and other diplomatic corps disapproval of what figueres is doing.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 779, Country Files, Latin America, Costa Rica. Confidential; Priority. It was repeated to Guatemala City, Nicaragua, Panama City, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa.
  2. The Embassy reported on an informal dinner between Ambassador Ploeser and President Figueres, during which they discussed Costa Rica’s policy toward the Soviet Union.