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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Jose Figures
INTERVIEWER: Richard Junkins
DATE: November 15, 1982
J: What is the significance of the Legidn Caribe to the 1948 Civil War?
F: You would be very disappointed if I tell you that the Legidon Caribe is
a myth. I was responsible, among other things, for the specific
terminology of the war. I invented the names of the groups, the names
of things, and so on. When we decided to take Limon from the air--
the first airborne operation in the Western Hemisphere--I appointed a
Dominican military man to be military commander, and a Costa Rican to
be the civilian commander of the force. I organized a very small group
of fifty-three people--a commando group. They received secret training
to jump out of the airplanes. One day, Ornes, who was the military
commander of the operation, came and confronted me and said, "We have
no name for the operation. What do you think of Legi'n Caribe?"
It is a small group--a legion--and Limon was on the Caribbean. We
considered Limon to be an Atlantic port. They considered it a
Caribbean port. He was a Dominican from the Caribbean, so I said
"Fine." That was Legidn Caribe. At that time, there were already
newspapermen in Sain Jse. The moment they had heard that we had taken
Puerto Limon, they managed to go...I don't know how they managed to go
to Limon. There was a man from Time magazine called Jerry Hanafin.
You should take these two names: The name of the military officer was
Capitan Ornes and the newspaperman was Jerry Hanafin. He is alive, and
with Time magazine -in Washington. We make fun about this. Jerry
arrive iTn Limon after our troops had taken the port, and he noticed
there was a Dominican commander and that we were friends of the
Dominican and Nicaraguan exiles. We were friends with the exiles from
all the military dictatorships in the Caribbean and somehow he thought
that...oh, he had heard of the Legi6n Caribe when he hit the air-
port--which sounded very "poetical"--and he made up the theory that it
was an international group designed to go wherever there were military
There was a document signed in Guatemala at the suggestion of President
Arevalo which started an alliance between the anti-dictatorship parties
of the Caribbean. This document is historical. It didn't accomplish
much, but it is historic. Somehow Jerry Hanafin gave Time the
information that an international group, dedicated to overthrowing
dictatorships, had taken Puerto Limon. The moment that we took San
Jose', Jerry flew up to San Jose' and found Colonel Ramirez, who was a
Dominican officer, and found a couple of Nicaraguans and a couple of
Hondurans and so on. That confirmed his theory of an international
military group. Dictators became scared as hell and began attacking
the Legion Caribe. And from then on, I used to say the Legion
Caribe only exists in the fearful souls of the dictators There was
never such a thing.
There have been similar things, I think, in Europe in the past century.
They had the "Anima Majedra," or something like that, in the name of
which assassinations were done. They never had an organization. We
never had an international organization. It was an invention of
Jerry Hanafin. The hoax probably did some good--it scared Somoza and
it scared many people.
I '. .:- '. .; ..
J: What about the participation of the United States in the 1948 Civil War?
F: This was an hysteric moment in which the United States was turning
around from being friends with the Communists to being enemies of the
Communists and of Russia. We had both types in the embassy at that
time. We had pro-Russian feeling; that is to say that we were the
troublemaker and so on. We had people in the embassy who were noticing
that the relations with the Soviet Union were deteriorating. They
informed the State Department about what was going on, so that the
American government was neither for us nor for them. The Ambassador
was very correct. He was an old man and very neutral, but as usually
happens after many years, there were both kinds of feelings. Some were
pro-Russian and some were anti-Russian at that particular moment. A
year or so afterwards, everybody was anti-Communist, while a half a
year before everyone had been pro-Russian.
J: Who sank the San Pablo July 2, 1942?
F: What the paper says, for a change, was exactly what happened. A German
U-boat sank a United Fruit Company ship. It killed twenty-three Costa
Ricans and created a furor here. I was indignant because San Pablo
was loaded with fifty thousand pounds of flour and we were on second or
third rationing and there was a terrific need for flour. The U-boat
.came and sank it. Absolutely simple. Nothing complicated about it at
all. I have never found a reason to doubt what the government of Costa
Rica...When we were fighting the Axis. The Communists of today
believe it was Uncle Sam or the State Department or the Pentagon. Or
whoever it was, a la moda. Or maybe the CIA, which didn't exist!
I wouldn't be surprised-Tf it was the CIA. Nonsense, it was exactly
the German...part of these eight German submarines which we can prove!
A few weeks later, in South America--in Uruguay--an American fleet was
anchored in front of Montevideo. Two or three small German submarines
penetrated and sank the ships. That was the second successful action
off the coast of Latin America. One was Puerto Limon--the San Pablo--
and one was in Montevideo. They sank a couple of American ships.
J: What about an incident involving the Fela, in Puntarenas?
F: I don't think there was any political significance.
J: There was a fuego [fire] in a schoolhouse which burned ballots.
Followers of Taer'n Guardia said that this had been a fraude
F: The followers of Calderdn Guardia had a very guilty conscience because
they had been introducing fraude electoral [electoral fraud] into
This is one of the main reasons for the Civil War. It is absolute
nonsense that there was a fraude on the part of the opposition. The
followers of Caldero'n Guardia were terribly mischievous. When they
annulled the election of Ledn Cortez, the president was reading the
ballots in the casa presidential. There was no tribunal electoral
Little villages that we knew voted three to ninety-seven, they had
inverted, in reading over the race. Fraude electoral is
something that no one in good faith could allege. Nor corruption. The
three causes of the war were electoral fraud, corruption, and the
Communist threat. This has been said 100 times and it is always true.
The Communists afterwards...we were in government and they were
involved in writing. They had been writing a bunch of inexact
information. Many of the books that have been written have nothing to
do with the truth. It is my fault for not having written.
J: You should write.
F: I know. I know. And I should write to my mommy, too. [laughter] No.
Never was a war so morally justified as ours. And of the three main
objectives of the war, only one has been 100 per cent achieved: to do
away with fraude electoral. Elections in Costa Rica today are the
purist in the world. In the world! But then on corruption, there has
already been a reappearance of the same things as before the war. And
on the Communist issue, things have changed because of...world circum-
stances. They had been outlawed for twelve or fifteen years, and then
we let them free. As soon as they were let free, they proved to have
no more than three or four per cent of the electorate. Relations with
Communism have been changing throughout the world.
Of the three objectives of the war, the one that has been achieved is
electoral purity--pureza electoral. The Communist thing has been
changing and the corruption came back, although not in the proportions
that they had it. That was awful for a country that had never had
any corruption before Calderon. There had never been any corruption.
We had never heard of the word.
J: Do you agree with what Villegas printed in the Prensa Libre?
F: As far as I can find out, Villegas has produced one of the more honest
J: I would like to know what you think about those authors who have
written on the Revolution, mostly American, and then...
11I,: ^ ':^ ., ; ;; ",' / .. ^ .
F: I think Ameringer [Charles D. Ameringer] is a very scholarly man. I
have not read him. I am ashamed to say that I have never read the
book, because it is unpleasant to read about yourself. I am sorry,
because they tell me he did a very scholarly job. They say that at
the end, he was very impressed by the propaganda against Vesco [Robert
Vesco], which was nonsense at that time. Except for that, friends who
have read the book say that it is scholarly, and I tend to believe them.
Bell [John Patrick Bell] I have not read.
J: English [Burt H. English] is from the University of Florida, and has
written about Liberacid'n Nacional.
F: There was one from Gainesville who also wrote about Apra in Peru. He
was a professor in Gainesville who adopted two Costa Rican children.
He wrote a book. Oscar Aguilar Bulgarelli is absolutely unfair.
Eugenio Rodriguez, I think, is more objective and is a better man to
read. He is a very nice person. There are several others that are
sheer nonsense. After the war, we have been very busy running this
country, and the Communists have had all the time in the world to write
books. You have books by people who were not even alive at that time.
I don't remember Aguilar Bulgarelli in particular. I understand there
are several brothers. They are an intelligent family, Aguilar
Bulgarelli, but I don't know him personally.
It is such a delicate subject for me. For years, I have been partici-
pating in electoral conflicts. I didn't want to write anything because
I have an absolutely enormous respect for what was going on and it
seemed to me unfair to use the glory of the war and the dead to get
votes. I never wanted to. I think it is wrong. I do not approve.
After I am sure I am not going to participate much in politics, I want
to write about the war because there was such heroism and such inno-
cence, the men didn't know anything about political tricks...but we had
men that wanted to win the war. I don't mean the Ulate forces, which
were quite different.
J: What is your opinion of allegations that the opposition burned ballots
in February 1948?
F: The Tribunale electoral was made up by the constitution. Why should
we burn documents in the office of the Tribunale electoral when we
had won the election?
J: What was the origin of the "mariachi" troops?
F: Mariachi comes from the French word marriage When the French
were occupying Mexico under Maximillian and there was a wedding, they
would bring in groups of troubadours--a troop of Mexicans with big
hats. They were so often used to celebrate weddings that they became
called mariachis. It was a corruption of the word marriage.
They were very colorful in their dress.
When there was terrific political unrest, the Communists organized
unions in the banana plantations of the United Fruit Company. Then
.they would bring those unionized men--a thousand or fifteen hundred at
a time--and parade them in San Jose. These men were freezing in San
Jose', coming from the coast, so they gave them red cobijas--red
blankets which have-been a traditional blanket for the Costa Rican
peasant. People branded the pro-Communist soldiers "mariachis,"
because of their red blankets, and because the mariachis were so
colorful. When the war began, most of the people they sent to the
front were the banana fruit workers and they wore the same red
blankets. They continued to be the ones that wore the clothes of the
Mexican mariachis. It doesn't have anything to do with music. It
was the red blanket that made them. By extension, the word was applied
immediately to calderonistas also, not only to the Communists. With
the passage of time, anyone who was a victim was a mariachi. They
hated the word and for the first few years after the war, neither the
mariachis called themselves mariachis, nor the Communists call
themselves Communists. As always happens, the Communists began saying,
"Yes, we are now Communists--so what?" which is what they should have
done from the beginning. And the calderonistas are now calling
themselves the mariachis. It was an offense to be a Communist at
that time. At that time, mariachi was an offense. Communism was
an offense to the extent that they had to legislate, because some
judges condemned people for calling one another "Communist," which was
silly. That is like calling somebody a Buddhist. But they were so
hated that calling a man a Communist was condemned in the courts. Or
calling them a mariachi.
J: I would like to ask you one question about the contemporary political
situation. What do you think about President Reagan, and the
Hondurans, and the alianza against Nicaragua?
F: I am full of my own prejudices. I have so much contact with the United
States that I took sides in the election. I am a Democrat. Although
I do not vote, I am a Democrat. Ever since I was at Harvard I've
become very close that what they call in the United States "the
liberals." The liberals are the opposite of anything Mr. Reagan
represents, so I have those prejudices. I was called an "egghead." At
that time, Stevenson [Adlai Stevenson] was called an egghead because
the world was experiencing a remnant of anti-intellectualism in
American public opinion--I am one of those. I am looked upon as an
intellectual and a liberal and...as a word that they don't use now, an
egghead. I think that what is happening at this moment is exactly the
same thing that has been happening for fifty years. And I have been
saying so. For the past fifty years, the U.S. has not devoted its best
efforts (or the clearest) to Latin American affairs. They had two wars
in Europe and Asia, and the mistakes have been in succession.
Constantly there were mistakes, and now the same mistake has again been
made. One of the mistakes was to act as fireman. The U.S. involvement
in our lifetime has been has been as a fireman in Latin America, never
caring to prevent things from happening, but always going in and
improvising a solution. This is what they are trying to do now.
J: What could they do?
F: When you start on the wrong course, it is very hard to go back. When
Kennedy came to power, I had a very good friend in the State Depart-
ment who called me on the phone and said, "Listen, Pepe, Peru wants us
to sell arms to them." This was before Kennedy took office, but after
he had been elected. Peruvians argued that only a couple of months
before, the U.S. had sold arms to Chile. "If you were to recommend
anything, what would you recommend?" I said, "Sell arms to Peru." I'm
against all sales of arms to Latin America, but it is very.hard to-go
back from a certain wrong course all of a sudden. If you want to sell
arms to Chile and Peru is affected by them, sell them arms. It is a
continuation of the same mistakes. The U.S. has never been able to
have a policy of its own--a policy or policies--and never cared about
Latin America. The U.S. inherits the contempt that England had from
Spain in the nineteenth century: the U.S. inherited that for Latin
The mere phrase "banana republics"--which was not used by the Central
Americans, but by the Americans--should make the United States ashamed.
The existence of such a thing as banana republics is their fault.
They made them! The situation today in Central America, as far as the
U.S. is concerned, is nothing but the direct result of the mistakes of
fifty years. What can you do? At this moment the U.S. could have
several courses of action: They could wipe out Salvador and Nicaragua,
and even Cuba, but they have become hard nuts to crack. At the moment,
Washington doesn't have the support of American public opinion for
overrunning Cuba or Nicaragua. They don't know what to do. They are on
the verge of making some catastrophic mistake like the Bay of Pigs.
I was in Washington and I opposed [the Bay of Pigs operation] from the
very first day, not because of the moral considerations, but because I
saw it would be a perfect failure. I have always--nearly always,
according to what happened afterwards--been right. I was wrong in Viet
Nam! I was wrong in Viet Nam because my argument was that China was
very strong and if we didn't fight in Viet Nam we would eventually
fight on the shores of San Francisco; I had been led to believe that.
It was my own stupidity! I was proven wrong on many things about Viet
Nam, because I knew nothing about Asia. The information at that time
was that China was very strong and that the U.S. was a paper tiger. It
turned out to be the other way around: China was a paper tiger over
Viet Nam. With the exception of Viet Nam, I have turned out to be
right in judging American policy. Now the question for Reagan is "what
to do?" It is very difficult now, very difficult. Look what happened
with the issue of the pipeline to bring Russia gas.
I believe that we have reached an age in which the non-desirability of
Communist societies has been established. In this state of the world,
I believe that only Costa Rica is beyond the point where you could have
representative and alternating governments, because most of what has to
be done has already been done. But if you want reform in Nicaragua,
after all that has been happening, how can you tell the Sandinistas to
hold elections now? Leaders of the Sandinistas swear to me that they
are holding elections in 1985, and I tell them nonsense, you are not
going to call me! Nonsense, you can't. I mean, they have undertaken
such a change in society they will have to have that type of society
for twenty-five or fifty years. After that time, all the societies
of the world will become more or less what we call "democratic:" having
elections and having people represent you. Even Russia. I think that
Russia, maybe in fifty more years, will copy the politics of the
northern Atlantic. But to have asked the Russians to hold elections a
couple of years after they overthrew the czar would have been sheer
In Managua these boys came to power--it is true that I was fighting
Somoza for forty years--but they came to the rescue and they really
helped enormously to win the war; practically, they won it. I gave
them arms, and sent my son to be an airline mechanic and give them
advice. Then I discovered to my surprise that they are not only a
group of professional guerillas, but are also an intellectual group.
They have been fed on the idea of establishing a Marxist-Leninist
society (whatever that means). I went to Cuba recently, and I can see
the need for the continuity of a government--how can you be changing
so often? To have an American like a midwest housewife or President
Reagan understand what is going on here is absurd. How can they? It
is absurd. You Americans have a very good story. A little girl coming
from a rich family is asked to write the story called "A Poor Family."
She writes: "Once there was a poor family. The father was poor and the
mother was poor. The butler was poor and the chauffeur was poor."
[laughter] This is what happens in Washington. I mean, they don't
learn because they have been so successful. They constructed such an
all-encompassing society, everything they could include. I think that
the best that the society of the United States created was their
children. They are so far ahead of the children of Nicaragua, how can
they understand each other? It is not a question of Spanish or Indian,
they just don't understand the emotional level.
The story of the little girl is typical; most of the high functionaries
of the Reagan administration are like the girl: they come and give
advice, "You have to have elections." They are fools! The nine com-
manders--the nueve commandantes-- who have been five, ten, fifteen
years up in the mountains; who have been tortured; who have been
jailed; who read Marx; and read about a new type of society. They
chose to get connected with a country which is mistakenly a great
rival of the U.S. (I think it is a mistake for Russia). After sym-
pathizing with the Russian side and so on...how can you tell them,
after all those sacrifices, to turn over the government to the
Chamorros and to the oligarchy that were the accomplices of the United
States in building the present catastrophe that is today's Nicaragua?
Even if they swear (and they are my friends) they are going to have
elections, I tell them "to hell with you. Because you can't do that,
or else you don't know what you are promising. Although you think six
years is a long time, very soon you will realize it is such a short
time that you haven't accomplished anything." I used to preach this
during the war [against Somoza]: "I know you have some indications
that you want to build a Communist society. I think you are wrong.
To rebuild Nicaragua will require an enormous amount of foreign aid,
which Russia cannot afford (even though they might not want to afford
it). Don't blind yourself by the fact that Russia has given so much
to Cuba, because I have reason to believe that the Russians regret it;
the cost has grown out of proportion. You will never get that kind of
aid. Try to get whatever aid you get from the U.S. and Western Europe,
and join the West." They never paid attention to me, they were
reading. I now discover they were writing books!
I absolutely believe it began with the Bay of Pigs. I was in Washing-
ton trying to prevent the [Bay of Pigs operation].
I have come to believe in the trite...that these countries are not
ready for democracy. For what we call democracy. I believe that
democracy is the future of manki-id, but, unless the Western world
(which of course includes Europe and Japan now) was willing to accept
terrific economic sacrifice, the spread of democracy in the rest of the
world is very difficult. It would be a lot cheaper than to arm them-
selves; it would be a lot cheaper to let them all start to develop in
Latin America. It is infinitely cheaper than buying armaments the way
they are doing, but you have the military mind in the U.S. and you have
the military mind in Russia. The military mind in Russia tells the
Russian government the Americans have spies, and of course they have to
spy on them--it is mutual. To hell with them!
The problems in Central America today are the same as the problems
between the Soviet Union and the U.S. If people want to advance a
century or two in a few years...To think that such enormously developed
societies--especially the U.S. and Europe, and then on the other side
the Soviet Union--are so stupid as to be dedicating to arms such a pro-
portion of what they produce in annual income. The world is crazy. Let's
hope we don't have to go to nuclear war. I believe that both the U.S.
and the Soviet Union are making anhonest effort at this moment to
prevent war. I think that those negotiations are the last remnant of
rationality between the modern Romes and the modern Carthages.
J: History repeats itself.
F: Yes, if you tell it in such short periods of history as 5,000 years,
yes, but you don't have to...Carthage is only 2,300 years old. We have
to respect Carthage because Carthage was destroyed. Hannibal came all
the way to destroy Rome. He had no reason to...he had nothing to do in
Africa, probably, so we had to go that distance with his elephants and
try to destroy Rome; but, we still have to praise-him.
At this particular moment, American society is entrusting its leader-
ship to what I call the "business mind" of the nation. It has an
enormous advantage from the managerial point of view...The result may
be seen by the U.S. arming the Somocistas in Honduras.
5---... ,. .