The Minister in Nicaragua ( Hanna ) to the Secretary of State

No. 262

Sir: I have the honor to report that a number of Nicaraguans have been arrested by order of the Comandancia General which is immediately subordinate to the orders of President Moncada and have been confined in the penitentiary in Managua without formal charges being made against them. These arrests have been made since the recent elections, and I understand the prisoners are all members of the Conservative Party. The general impression appears to be that these arrests were made on reports submitted by the secret agents of this Government which indicated that the prisoners were engaged in subversive activities against the Government. It has also been freely stated that some or all of them were plotting to assassinate President Moncada.

Among the first individuals to be thus arrested were General Roberto Hurtado and General Marcos Potosmi who were defeated candidates for Congress of the Conservative Party in the recent elections. General Emiliano Chamorro and Don Adolfo Diaz called upon me separately and protested against these arrests, asserting that they were arbitrary and without foundation and claiming that they were the first move in a campaign to terrorize the Conservative Party for the effect this might have on the presidential elections in 1932. [Page 701] An effort seems to have been made to implicate General Chamorro himself in the supposed conspiracy against the Government. General Anastasio Somoza, Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs, called upon me by direction of President Moncada and told me that the latter had information which indicated that General Chamorro was implicated in the conspiracy. General Somoza said he did not know the evidence on which this charge was founded. One of the Liberal newspapers of this capital had just published a letter written by an expatriated Nicaraguan in which the writer spoke of his plotting against the Government here and, in the course of his narration, stated that he understood that General Chamorro would help him when the proper moment arrived. This letter was published under great headlines announcing that General Chamorro was plotting against the Government and the same paper, on the following day, published an editorial accusing General Chamorro of such plotting. When General Chamorro mentioned this incident to me he denounced the charge as utterly absurd. I have no reason to believe that General Chamorro is opposing this Government by methods which are not legitimate and ethical. On the contrary, my dealings with General Chamorro and my information of his political and other activities indicate that he is being most circumspect in an endeavor to give this Government no just reason for criticising or persecuting him.

Generals Hurtado and Potosmi were subsequently expelled from the country together with two other Nicaraguans by the name of Vargas. The latter subjects have not been conspicuous politically but they have long been under suspicion. They lived directly across the street from the residence of the President and it seems that it has been thought for a long time that they were plotting to do the President violence. I understand that they are distant relatives of General Chamorro.

A number of other suspects, at least ten in all, have also been arrested and imprisoned without charges. They are comparatively unknown with the exception of Hernaldo Zuñiga who, I am informed, was Sub-Secretary of Gobernación under General Chamorro after the coup d’état of October, 1925, and Pablo Leal, Jr., son of a former Conservative Mayor of Managua in 1926–27.

My conversation with General Somoza referred to above was very frank. I accepted his statement that the reports reaching President Moncada placed the prisoners under suspicion but suggested that a more thorough investigation might reveal that the suspicions were illfounded and would not warrant the measures that were being adopted. With respect to General Chamorro, I told him that if I were shown conclusive evidence that General Chamorro is plotting against this Government I would spare no effort to cooperate but that all my [Page 702] dealings with General Chamorro and all my information concerning his activities indicated that General Chamorro is in no wise connected with conspiracies against the Government. I told him I fully appreciated that the Government must be vigilant in protecting itself against its enemies but that I was not convinced that it was following the best course to accomplish that end in making imprisonments and expulsions from the country on evidence which will not stand the test of publicity. I pointed out that this would cause unrest in Nicaragua and might be interpreted outside of Nicaragua in a way that would create wrong and undesirable impressions concerning conditions here and bring disrepute upon the Government. I suggested as a substitute procedure that the subjects under suspicion should be placed under the strictest surveillance to establish their innocence or guilt and to obtain evidence which would convict them in a proper legal procedure in the event they were guilty. General Somoza said that he knew from his own experience when he was in charge of the Government’s secret service that probably 80% of the reports reaching him were gross exaggerations or wholly incorrect, and he added that he feared that the President is not being protected at this time from forming wrong impressions from such reports and consequently is probably mistaken concerning the amount and seriousness of the plotting that is going on.

I also discussed this subject informally on two or three occasions with the Minister for Foreign Affairs in connection with the imprisonment of Pablo Leal. Leal’s wife appealed to me for assistance alleging her American citizenship. She submitted her certificate of marriage as Dorothy Bowlby to Pablo Leal, Jr., in Newark, New Jersey, on January 4, 1928. The Minister for Foreign Affairs told me yesterday that Leal has been released from the penitentiary.

There seems to be no doubt that President Moncada has been made to think that attempts against his life are being plotted. Reports of this nature continually come to my attention. He seldom or never leaves his residence without being accompanied by a strong detachment of Guardia Nacional in uniform and fully armed. One of the Liberal newspapers recently published an item stating that an armored automobile truck equipped with machine guns had been ordered from the United States to transport a presidential body-guard of twenty men. The Conservative newspaper La Prensa has commented editorially on this reported intention of the Government as discrediting Nicaragua, pointing out the significant fact that during the 110 years of Nicaragua’s independent existence there had been but one attempt against the life of its President.

I am informed that three of the remaining prisoners have been released from the penitentiary and that no additional arrests and imprisonments have been made since December 6, and it may be that the Government will not persist in this policy.

Respectfully yours,

Matthew E. Hanna