The Minister in Nicaragua (Lane) to the Secretary of State
[Received 11:35 p.m.]
29. My telegram 28, April 22, 10 p.m. We visited the President yesterday at Momotombo. He indicated, although he did not so specifically state, that he would not approve the court-martial verdict: (a) by stating that if Cuadra alone were responsible, he must be mad, (b) by stating that if plot were general in character, it would be foolish to eliminate the person of Cuadra as he would be a valuable source of information, and (c) by referring to Articles XXIV, LXIII, LXIV and CXXII of the Constitution.
Just before I left Momotombo, President and Federico Sacasa56 urged me to use my influence on Somoza not to take any rash action, and stated that execution of Cuadra would be unconstitutional and would be an act of open rebellion on the part of Somoza. I told them that I had already counselled Somoza against taking any violent action (see last paragraph of my despatch No. 810 of April 23,57 and other previous despatches), but would be glad to make further suggestion in the interest of peace. (The President told me that the situation is critical and that strong movement in Guardia in favor of execution has rendered his position most difficult. The finca where the President is staying, allegedly only for a week, has been equipped with an electric light plant, water pumping system, telegraph and telephone lines over a 15 mile stretch, a guard of over 50 men, cannon pointed toward the lake, and large quantities of food and fuel supplies. The fact that the finca is virtually inaccessible except from Lake Managua and by one narrow road from La Paz, indicates the defensive nature of the temporary residence.)
On returning to Managua last night I invited General Somoza to visit me, stating that I had just returned from El Diamante, at Momotombo.
Somoza said that Cuadra would be executed the same night and showed me a petition to him signed by many officers of the Guardia, [Page 852] requesting that the court-martial verdict with respect to Cuadra, be carried out; that the non-punishment of offenses in the Guardia is undermining discipline; and promising their support. (After reading the petition, I mentioned to Somoza that if such a petition was published abroad it would be ridiculous, as the reputation abroad for discipline in the Guardia has suffered principally because those responsible for the assassination of Sandino had not been punished.)
While emphasizing that I was not endeavoring to interpret the constitution, I stated that I understood from the President and Don Federico, that capital punishment under such circumstances as this was outlawed by the constitution. Somoza replied that the regulations of the Guardia provide for capital punishment. I countered that the constitution is the highest law in the country. I likewise pointed out that the proposed execution of Cuadra, contrary to the President’s wishes, would be an act of rebellion, the very offense for which Somoza was intending to execute Cuadra. I said to Somoza that I do not wish to give advice on purely internal affairs in Nicaragua unless my advice might avert civil war, but that if he went ahead in this matter as he said he intended, I foresaw the probability of armed revolt. Furthermore, he would put himself in the wrong in the United States and elsewhere: 1, because of his action being unconstitutional, and, 2, because of his act being without the sanction of his superior officer. Somoza advanced the argument that the execution of Cuadra would preserve peace; that he could no longer control his officers, and that inaction would now bring about not only his own fall, and the fall of the President, but the destruction of Nicaragua as well. I said that nobody could prophesy what would happen, but, appealing to his pride, stated that if he were wise he would do well to have his record clear, not only with respect to constitutionality, but with respect to his obedience to the President as well. (Somoza started then to tell me of many of the President’s unconstitutional actions which I dismissed by saying that his charges were not relevant to the present case.) I pointed out to Somoza that if he could show by compliance with the President’s wishes in this case that he were completely loyal and subservient to him, despite great pressure brought upon him by his fellow officers, he would effectively answer one of the most often expressed criticisms against him that he was not carrying out the President’s wishes.
Finally Somoza promised not to execute the death sentence on Cuadra, at least until he conferred personally with the President.
While making it clear throughout the conversation that I was speaking to him personally as a friend, I intimated to him that violent action on his part would be distasteful to this country. I have gone further in this case than at any moment since the situation arising [Page 853] as a result of Sandino’s death, but having in mind the Department’s instruction number 78 of May 21, 1934,58 I consider that my good offices on behalf of peace and the constituted authorities was justified and necessary.
I complied with the President’s request of last evening as an evidence of good will. I feel, however, that this Legation should not be used any further to pull his chestnuts out of the fire. I fear that should we be further drawn into what is doubtless the most serious situation since the killing of Sandino, we will be faced with complications which may seriously embarrass our Government. (The wife of Lieutenant Lopez called at the Legation this afternoon, saying that she understood that she must obtain support of the American Minister in order to assist her husband, who she feared would now be executed. She was told here that her information regarding my possible support was inexact.)
In a separate telegram I am requesting the Department’s authorization to proceed to San Salvador on April 27, to remain until May first. This short absence would be an evidence of my refusal to become further involved in a purely local situation, and the fact that I am returning in 4 days should serve to eradicate any possible impression that I am “running away” during a critical period. Nevertheless, my absence for a few days should serve to emphasize that the Legation does not desire to play a prominent and determining part in this situation. Minister for Foreign Affairs has just advised me that he concurs in my view.