With the recent revelation that Mark Felt, ex-deputy director of the FBI, was the famous source “Deep Throat” that helped reporters of The Washington Post reveal the truth and pull back the curtain of the Watergate case, and causing the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974, it reminded me of an episode that involved the Watergate scandal and … Costa Rica.
Watergate exploded in the middle of 1972, creating complication and agony for the Nixon Administration in 1973 and 1974. Washington burned, while, in Costa Rica, President Jose Figueres [Don Pepe] observed the unraveling of events at the heart of a worldwide political power.
One day, Don Pepe called one of his close friends, who was a great connoisseur of American politics, and asked him to please travel to Washington with a message, some advice, for the besieged President of the United States. The messenger, whose name I am not authorized to reveal, was astonished when he heard the message that Don Pepe wanted delivered to Nixon: “It is time to come clean,” that is, he should say what he knows and be done with it.
That is to say, the president of tiny Costa Rica commanded him to tell the president of the most powerful country in the world that, in the midst of the scandal, it would be preferable to reveal the whole truth rather than continuing to perjure himself, because in the end, to deny and be proven a liar would be far worse than to admit his faults and errors now.
This mission, set in motion by the order of Don Pepe, had to remain unknown, even to the Chancellery and the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington. It was a secret mission, and in preparing for his assignment, the messenger struggled with his doubts and his fears.
On the one hand, he was being asked to intervene in the internal affairs of the United States, and the “gringos” might take offense. On the other hand, advising the Nixon White House that it should “come clean” and that Nixon was better off confessing now than regretting it later was tantamount to saying that he was guilty (as in the end he was).
And, in addition, how was he to translate the term, “Desembuche” [come clean]? After making contact in Washington, the messenger traveled to and was received at the White House by General Alexander Haig, then Nixon’s chief of staff. In fact, Haig was in command for all practical matters, while Nixon concentrated on confronting the scandal.
The presidential messenger was led by Haig through the corridors of America’s Presidential Mansion. When passing by one room, Don Pepe’s emissary looked toward his right and saw Nixon, unshaven for several days, standing with his hands on the edge of a table piled high with papers. Nixon looked to his left and shot a glance at the messenger, who continued down the corridor.
Sitting in the privacy of his office, Haig listened to what the messenger had been commanded to say by Don Pepe, although in far more diplomatic terms. But more or less these same words, this message serves as a lesson today: Come clean, tell all, and admit your errors and faults, because otherwise the political costs can be fatal. Nixon never did come clean … and a short time later was obliged to resign. If we look below the surface of Watergate, this is the secret it reveals.