817.00/7939: Telegram

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

57. My 48, February 14, 5 p.m. Last night, February 21, about 11 o’clock machine gun fire was heard near the Legation residence. [Page 530] On entering town to investigate we observed that house of Salvatierra, Minister of Agriculture, where Sandino has been staying, had apparently been attacked, a wounded man lying on sidewalk immediately in front and a detachment of about ten Guardia men being stationed across the street. The captain of the detachment informed me that Sandino’s men had fired upon Guardia which had replied in kind. Proceeding to Legation office we telephoned to President who requested me to confer with him.

From what he and others in the Presidential quarters told me I understand that Sandino, his father, Salvatierra and General Estrada left the Presidency about 10:30 and on approaching entrance to Campo de Marte car was stopped and taken with occupants to nearby military prison whence Generals Sandino and Estrada were removed. (While President and General Somoza tell me that they are unaware of what happened to Sandino, I have reason to believe that Sandino has been killed.)

The President having told me that he was unable to reach Somoza by telephone he asked me whether I would endeavor to persuade him to come to the Presidency. I agreed. I found Somoza in his home apparently unwilling to go because of possibility that violence might be done to him. On my offering to take him with me in my car he consented to accompany me. At the President’s invitation I was present when he interviewed Somoza who professed ignorance of what had happened and said that he had been attending a concert all evening. [Omission?] it having developed then that Salvatierra and Sandino’s father were in jail, and at the request of both the President and Somoza I took them from the jail to the Legation office (Somoza told me that he could not guarantee their lives as far as the Guardia was concerned). From here they telephoned the President who requested that they proceed to the Presidency under the protection of the Legation car. This protection was accorded.

I was informed that orders had been issued by General Somoza to the Guardia to concentrate on Wiwili with a view to bringing about the surrender of the arms of Sandinistas and in case this were impossible to exterminate them. Also that Conservative military leaders be imprisoned (Somoza later told the President in my presence that order regarding Conservatives would be countermanded immediately, the President having argued that there was no proof against that Party which would necessitate such action).

Yesterday morning I received Somoza who had telephoned that he wished to see me urgently on an important matter. He informs me that President had exchanged letters with Sandino implying that Guardia should be reorganized within 6 months; also that General Portocarrero, former Sandinista candidate for President, had been [Page 531] chosen as delegate of Government in Provinces of Esteli, Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, and Matagalpa. Somoza, who appeared unusually excited, stated that Portocarrero’s appointment was an insult to the Guardia as it would put the Guardia under the control of Sandino. I advised him to be calm and suggested that I confer with Calderón Ramirez to ascertain the real situation. (Somoza told me that he wanted to proceed immediately against Sandino and that if I would merely wink my eye he would “lock him up”. Again I advised caution and suggested to him the possible consequences of any violent action such as civil war.)

Yesterday afternoon I saw Calderón who said that Portocarrero although once a Sandino enthusiast was now very loyal to the Government and was, in his opinion, the best selection for the position of delegate. I repeated this message to Somoza at 6 o’clock and was told by him that he would not “start anything” without prior consultation with me. Somoza appeared even more nervous than in the morning and was conferring with three Guardia officers (one of whom I recognized outside of Salvatierra’s house afterwards) when I entered his home. He said that, while he accepted Calderón’s estimation of Portocarrero, the Guardia would be furious at the “insult” and that things had reached a point where he could no longer control the Guardia. As I left him he again said that nothing would be done without consulting first with me.

The President told me that the action of the Guardia is nothing short of revolt and that he is uncertain whether he can depend on Guardia support.

Tense feeling is evident in Presidential circles. Furthermore, from being present at interviews last night between Sacasa and Somoza I gather that former has little control over the latter. On the other hand I am told by one of his relatives [omission?] has sacrificed respect of his men for popularity and that therefore discipline is at a low ebb.

Apparent lack of discipline and organization in Guardia and probable reprisals on the part of Sandino’s followers render the situation serious. Apparent general lack of confidence in Government is not a healthy sign.

  1. Telegram in three sections.