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

No. 770

Sir: Referring to my strictly confidential despatch No. 758 of March 8, 1935,40 on the general political situation and to my telegram No. 12, [Page 843] of today,40a I have the honor to report that last evening the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Doctor Leonardo Argüello (who it must be remembered has definite and open aspirations to the Presidency), inquired of me as to what our attitude would be should President Sacasa’s successor come into office illegally. I replied that insofar as I knew, the Department’s policy with regard to non-recognition of governments coming into power through violence was the same as that expressed in the treaties of 192341 to which Nicaragua, Guatemala and Honduras are still parties. The Minister countered my remark by saying that he did not merely wish to refer to governments coming into power through a coup d’etat but to governments which might come into power “illegally”. When Dr. Argüello said to me that the attitude of the United States was always of great importance on such matters, I made the suggestion that our present policy is not to interfere in Nicaraguan political matters and that the intervention is a thing of the past.

Making it evident that I was speaking for myself only and not necessarily for my government, I stated that in my opinion the term “illegally” might easily be susceptible to misinterpretation and that it would seem the duty of the competent Nicaraguan authorities, and not for a foreign power, to interpret the illegality of a matter affecting the constitution of Nicaragua.

Should I have gone further than the Department desires, it will still be possible for me to correct my statements to Doctor Argüello, I having made it clear to him that I was not speaking on behalf of the Department. I felt, however, that it was necessary to make some reply to the Minister’s question and as I had already intended to make certain recommendations to the Department on our policy in the case of a contingency which probably will arise prior to the scheduled elections in 1936, I felt it would not be inconsistent to speak to Doctor Argüello as I did.

From many friends close to General Somoza42 I am informed that he is definitely determined to be the next President. The Government organ La Noticia, probably as a ballon d’essai, published a list of Senators and Deputies who, so the newspaper stated, had been interviewed as to how they would vote on the calling of a constitutional convention. According to the paper the Deputies voted 23 to 18, and the Senators, 17 to 6, against the calling of the convention. While no mention is made in the article, a copy of which is enclosed, herewith,43 [Page 844] as to the reasons for the calling of a convention, it is general knowledge that it would be for the purpose of amending Articles 105 and 141 of the constitution44 to permit General Somoza to be the next President. Indicative of the inaccuracy of the report published in La Noticia is the information which comes to me from a reliable American source, that at least one of the deputies (C. Lacayo Vivas), was not approached by anyone as to his vote which, so it is reported, he would in any case give in favor of the convocation of a constitutional convention.

Today I received an oral report from Mr. H. D. Scott, Manager of the Bragman’s Bluff Lumber Company at Puerto Cabezas, a reliable American citizen who has lived in Central America for many years, regarding a conversation which he had this afternoon with General Somoza. According to Mr. Scott, General Somoza gave him a verbal account of an understanding which he had reached with President Sacasa,45 substantially as follows:

General Somoza definitely promises not to fire a shot against the Loma, except in the case of the resignation of President Sacasa. (I take this to mean that Somoza is willing to use force against anybody who tried to force the President to resign—ABL). The President would like to have Somoza succeed him. Somoza, however, does not wish the President to support his candidacy, merely remain neutral. The President wishes Somoza to submit to the people of the country through a plebiscite the question of changing the constitution (presumably articles 105 and 141—ABL), to permit him to be legally a candidate to the Presidency. Somoza claims that the La Noticia article reflects only the editor’s wishes and is not accurate.

My comment on the foregoing is that even though the President may have such an understanding with Somoza, the President’s immediate advisers are believed to be hostile towards Somoza.…The proposition to submit to a plebiscite the question of constitutional amendments rather than to have the matter brought up in Congress as provided for in the constitution (article 160) would manifestly give the Government a patent opportunity of preventing the passage of the amendments, through its proven effective control of the electoral machinery. Somoza, on the other hand, through a show of force, as was done in connection with the López amnesty project,46 would probably be able to control the Congress.

[Page 845]

On March 13, in the course of a dinner given by General and Mrs. Somoza in honor of the retiring Mexican Minister and Mrs. Herrera de Huerta, Mrs. Somoza asked me if I would give her husband “some good advice” in connection with his future. She said that her husband did not know what to do and that she would be grateful if I should talk to him. I said that the only advice I could give was not to do anything rash and not to resort to violence. Mrs. Somoza replied that there was no question of resorting to violence but that it might be necessary to “make some changes”. I did not pursue the matter further, nor do I expect to do so unless the Department instructs me.

It is disheartening, after all the efforts we have made during the past year to establish our intention of not interfering in Nicaraguan affairs and to give Nicaragua a completely free hand in working out her own destinies, to learn that the general feeling among Nicaraguans is that Doctor Sacasa’s successor to the Presidency will be chosen by the United States. I fear that the experience of the intervention is still too near and the memory too intense to enable Nicaraguans to believe in our sincerity of allowing them to hold a free Presidential election without intimations or insinuations from us as to whom we desire to have elected.

We are now faced with a problem of great difficulty. If, in answer to questions such as Doctor Argüello’s which will undoubtedly be repeated to me by other persons in the future, I should say that we will not recognize the government of any candidate who comes into the Presidency illegally, this would probably be interpreted as a desire on our part to kill Somoza’s candidacy. While I do not think that Somoza has now any intention of taking violent measures to attain his ambitions, a seeming rejection of his candidacy by us might goad him to action. If, on the other hand, we should give an affirmative answer, this would give the impression that we favor Somoza for the Presidency and would strengthen the general prevalent impression that we are still intervening in Nicaraguan affairs and are choosing Doctor Sacasa’s successor.

My recommendation would be that I be authorized to say, in reply to questions, that it is for the appropriate Nicaraguan authority (presumably the Supreme Court), to determine the legality or illegality of an election; that the Department can express no opinion in advance as to whether it will or will not recognize a given government; and that it is contrary to the Department’s general practice to answer hypothetical questions.

[Page 846]

According to the General Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923, now in force with respect to Nicaragua, El Salvador [Guatemala] and Honduras, it would seem that General Somoza, if elected, could not rightfully claim recognition from Honduras and Guatemala unless he should resign from his present “high military command” at least “six months preceeding…47 the election” (Article II, head 2, Treaty of 1923). According to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, General Somoza’s advisers have pointed out to him that should he resign from his present position, his authority will be gone, and he will no longer have at his disposal the physical forces now available. (Dr. Argüello said that this advice was given to Somoza by General Moncada48 in the presence of Dr. Cordero Reyes.)

Insofar as recognition is concerned, this possibility has presumably already been considered by General Somoza. As my colleague in Guatemala has already reported (Mr. Hanna’s despatch No. 504 of January 22, 1935),49 it appears that General Somoza has been desirous of obtaining the support of his candidacy through the intermediary of Dr. Ramírez Brown. (In considering the possibility as to whether Nicaragua, Honduras or Guatemala might denounce the present treaty so as to render it nugatory for any and all of the present adherents, I have noted that the language of Article XVIII appears to be silent on one important point: Should one party of the three remaining adherents to the treaty file its denunciation, when does such denunciation take effect?)

I understand from Mr. Scott that General Somoza, in discussing today the question of his possible recognition, remarked that General Martinez had been able to remain in power in El Salvador for some time without the recognition of the parties to the Treaty of 1923 and that consequently this matter did not worry him. (I feel convinced, however, that Somoza does not undervalue the importance of the recognition or lack of recognition on the part of the Government of the United States).

As soon as the Department has had an opportunity to consider the matter with which this despatch deals I should deeply appreciate an instruction by air mail or telegraph in answer to the recommendation contained in the first whole paragraph on page six.50

Respectfully yours,

Arthur Bliss Lane
  1. Not printed.
  2. Not printed.
  3. General Treaty of Peace and Amity signed at Washington, February 7, 1923, Conference on Central American Affairs, Washington, December 4, 1922–February 7, 1923 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1923), p. 287. See also Foreign Relations, 1923, vol. i, pp. 320 ff.; ibid., 1932, vol. v, pp. 566 ff.; ibid., 1933, vol. v, pp. 882 ff.; ibid., 1934, vol. v, pp. 526 ff.
  4. Anastasio Somoza, Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional since 1932.
  5. Not reprinted.
  6. Constitución Politico, de la República de Nicaragua, 1911 (Managua, Tip. de T. Matamoros J., n. d.), pp. 32, 47.
  7. Juan B. Saeasa, President of Nicaragua since 1933.
  8. José Antonio López Barreda, a lieutenant in the Guardia Nacional and chief of police of Managua, was tried by court martial on the charge of being the principal instigator of a fire and explosion that occurred in the Campo de Marte in Managua on September 12, 1934, and given the death penalty. This sentence was confirmed by General Somoza, but President Sacasa decided that the article of war which Lopez was found guilty of violating did not specify the death penalty, and sent the case back to General Somoza who substituted life imprisonment at hard labor. The Chamber of Deputies, making political issue of the matter, passed a bill on March 1, 1935, granting amnesty to López. This action was rescinded, however, after an announcement by Somoza that he would not release López alive.
  9. Omission indicated in the original despatch.
  10. José Maria Moncada, President of Nicaragua 1929–32.
  11. Not printed.
  12. Paragraph beginning “My recommendation would be…”, p. 845.