Thursday 1 June 2023

Kennedy arrived in Costa Rica 60 years ago

'He shook hands with all of us,' recalls a pensioner.

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QCOSTARCA (La Nacion) It was Monday, March 18, 60 years ago. José Bolaños Arquin was 10 years old and played soccer with a dozen children in a lot next to the National Park, in San José, where today the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) – Supreme Court of Elections – is located.

The Telles family with President John F. Kennedy, during his visit to Costa Rica in 1963. Courtesy: US Embassy / La Nacion (Rafael Pacheco Granados)

That day is unforgettable, so much so that it is still fresh in his memory when some policemen approached them and asked them to step aside. They weren’t told why, but they soon found out.

“Minutes later, two helicopters landed and in one of them was (U.S.) President John F. Kennedy, who greeted us when he got out and walked towards the Presidential Palace to meet with (Costa Rica) President Francisco José Orlich Bolmarcich (1962-1966).

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“About two hours passed when we saw Kennedy leave the meeting. He walked along the sidewalk of the park (with very little supervision, since those were other times), crossed Paseo de las Damas, shook hands with all of us, said goodbye and went up some steps to board the helicopter again”.

Kennedy was in Costa Rica to participate in a meeting with the leaders of Central America and Panama at the Teatro Nacional (National Theater). Eight months later, on November 22, he would be assassinated.

Read more: CIA Feared Kennedy Would Be Assassinated in Costa Rica

John F. Kennedy leaving the residence of the United States ambassador, in San José. Photo: US Embassy/ La Nacion

Raymond Telles was the United States ambassador to Costa Rica. Currently, his daughter, Cynthia Telles, holds the same position.

Read more: Cynthia A. Telles: the US ambassador who learned Spanish ‘a la tica’

She, like Don José Bolaños, was 10 years old and told La Nación that her father was a close friend of Kennedy’s. That’s why he begged him to travel to Costa Rica.

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Finally, the ambassador got the yes, but on the condition that he had to gather all the presidents of Central America.

“My dad got it done in a day and the Kennedy team agreed.

“I remember that I was in the Embassy residence and my mother had told me not to go out because the helicopter was about to arrive and to be careful that nothing would happen to me. I couldn’t wait, I opened the door and when I see the helicopter land and the president comes out. That was the most incredible moment for a 10-year-old girl back then.

“My dad came out to greet him, they entered the house, and I remember that they had already brought him his rocking chair from Washington because he had back problems. Here in Costa Rica, they made him a set of furniture with mahogany wood for the room where she was going to stay. Kennedy stayed with us for three days,” explained the ambassador.

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Her father took the president to various places such as the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolitan Cathedral) because San José Day was celebrated on March 19. They even went to mass.

In addition, Kennedy toured the Paseo Colón, attended the meeting with the Central American rulers, and shared with young people from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR) – University of Costa Rica.

Read more: John F. Kennedy Visiting Costa Rica’s Teatro Nacional

Curiosities of John F. Kennedy’s visit to Costa Rica, according to Ambassador Cynthia Telles

The historic photo of Kennedy’s visit to the country is when he enters the National Theater, in downtown San José, on a dark day due to the ash spewed by the eruption of the Irazú volcano, which began on March 14.

The author of the image was Francisco Coto.

“On March 18, 1963, I was sitting comfortably on the steps at the entrance of the National Theater, armed with my camera to capture that unique moment, which was the entry of U.S. President John F. Kennedy into the building as part of his unforgettable visit. to Costa Rica,” he recounted in an interview with La Nacion in 2013.

This is a historical photo of John F. Kennedy entering the National Theater for a meeting with Central American leaders. It was a dark day because of the ash from the Irazú volcano. Photo: Francisco Coto

Half a century later and, now 88, Coto once again had an American president in front of his lens to immortalize his visit to the country: Barack Obama, who visited Costa Rica in May 2013.

The day Kennedy arrived he was received in La Sabana, in front of a large crowd, where he affirmed that Costa Rica was “one of the places touched by that sea where hope shines.” He also said: “Here, a constant and courageous people have established a progressive democracy, which serves as an example to the hemisphere.”

A curious fact is that on March 20, 1963, the U.S. president was the only one who remembered that Costa Rica was celebrating the Battle of Santa Rosa in 1856, from which the national hero Juan Santamaría emerged. In that speech, loaded with historical content, he linked the filibusters of yesterday with the Soviets of his present and called for their end.

He did so by inaugurating the INVU housing project called El Bosque, in San Sebastián (now Colonia Kennedy).

Interesting tidbits:

  • Five days before his arrival, the Irazú volcano became active and the ash was invading a large part of the country, mainly the Central Valley; a natural phenomenon that lasted for 19 months and had a strong impact on the national economy.
  • According to several national media that reported on Kennedy’s arrival, the wind patterns had changed and the ash from Irazú directly affected San José.
  • Kennedy landed at El Coco airport, as it was called at the time (today Juan Santamaría); then, by helicopter, at La Sabana airport.
  • From Washington, John F. Kennedy had to bring his rocking chair because of his back problems.
  • The transfer to the National Theater, where the activity with the leaders was organized, was carried out by car along Paseo Colón, where thousands of people welcomed him and cheered him on the way from La Sabana to the Presidential House, La Nacion reported in that time.

“Viva Costa Rica!”, as Kennedy said goodbye

On March 21, 1963, before 4:30 pm, the presidents of Central America began to arrive at the El Coco airport (now Juan Santamaría).

At 5:10 pm The helicopters carrying the President of the United States are seen, who received a thunderous ovation from the public and walked to his plane and waved goodbye.

A crowd came to the Paseo Colón to greet President John F. Kennedy on March 18, 1963. Photo: US Embassy. (La Nacion archives)

Article translated and adapted from La Nacion. Read the original article here.

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