Costa Rican Government Forgets The Day Venezuela Rescued Them

In 1978, Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez sent two Venezuelan Air Force planes to support Costa Rica’s constitutional government after Nicaragua’s attacks.

Page 17 of the Spanish newspaper ABC on Nicaragua’s attacks on Costa Rica, and the defense by Panama and Venezuela in 1978 (ABC archives).

Spanish – We are going to narrate this story in parts:

On 12th March 1948, the last armed conflict in Costa Rica’s history broke out. The National Liberation Army (ELN) rebelled against the government of President Teodoro Picado after accusing him of electoral fraud.

The leader was Jose Figueres Ferrer. For 44 days, the liberation forces battled against the government and its communist allies. At the moment of highest tension, President Picado asked Anastasio Somoza for help, which led to an intervention by the Nicaraguan army in Costa Rican territory.

Finally, on 19th April 1948, Figueres won the war and Picado was overthrown. The Founding Board of the Second Republic was formed, and it governed for 18 months.

This story led to the episode that would mark the identity of Costa Rica in the future: the abolition of the army on 1st December 1948. The official story (the one that those who win always tell) says that Figueres found the military to be old and disorganized. So, he eliminated it. However, the more suspicious minds insist that the abolition was due to the fear of a military coup like the one Figueres’ predecessor had to confront.

At that time, Figueres had support: a year earlier, Costa Rica had signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), which guaranteed that the allies would defend the territory in the event of a foreign attack.

Years passed, and on 12th September 1978, the attack occurred. After the rise of the Sandinista Front against Anastasio Somoza, a Nicaraguan plane entered Costa Rican territory and machine-gunned several cars.

According to the following day’s print edition of El Pais in Spain, “the Costa Rican Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched a formal protest against the Nicaraguan government and threatened to appeal to inter-American defense treaties to safeguard its security.”


Cover of “El Pais” in Spain, 13th September 1978.

Two governments came to the rescue of the defenseless country: Venezuela and Panama. El Pais reported the following on 16th September:

Venezuela and Panama have agreed to help Costa Rica in the event of further border incidents with Nicaragua, similar to the one that occurred last Tuesday when Nicaraguan planes violated Costa Rican airspace and machine-gunned two patrols killing two Costa Rican police officers, injuring two others, and taking a Civil Guard captain hostage.

Thus, Venezuelan Air Force transport planes and Panamanian National Guard helicopters arrived in San Jose.

Both in Caracas and Panama City, the official explanation for dispatching the aircraft was that they and their corresponding crews were carrying out “training” missions and that landing on Costa Rican soil was proof of “friendship and goodwill.” Caracas’ diplomatic sources interpret the initiative of Carlos Andres Perez and Omar Torrijos as a gesture intended to warn the president of Nicaragua, Anastasio Somoza, that Costa Rica would not be defenseless against new border aggression although it did not have armed forces.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Simon Alberto Consalvi traveled quite unexpectedly on Thursday afternoon to San Jose and immediately met with President Rodrigo Carazo. The Venezuelan official, who would probably have coordinated the joint strategy at the meeting of the permanent council of the Organization of American States in Costa Rica, was expected to return to Caracas at noon. The organization was to convene a special meeting of foreign ministers to examine the case of Nicaragua.

Thus, in 1978, Costa Rica considered that an air military incursion that resulted in two casualties, two people injured, and one held hostage was sufficient reason to invoke article 8 of TIAR, which provides for military aid from the signatory countries. The help arrived without the treaty having to be activated, but Costa Rica did not reject that aid.

Years passed. A criminal regime that has concentrated the world’s most dangerous terrorist forces in its territory brought Venezuela down on its knees by appropriating its army and provoking the exodus of five million people (equivalent to the entire population of Costa Rica).

However, when Venezuela turned to the Organization of American States on 11th September 2019, to request the invocation of TIAR, the Costa Rican government of Carlos Alvarado proposed an amendment to eliminate the section on military aid in the treaty, that same aid that protected his country in the years of intense Nicaraguan attacks.

The cycles of history are peculiar. One would think that when one friend reaches out to another, that friend would be there to support him in difficult times. It seems that Alvarado’s government has forgotten the gestures of the past and decided to obstruct Venezuela’s only chance of regaining its freedom.

Be assured, dear readers, this story had a good ending: Costa Rica’s motion was rejected. TIAR has been activated.

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