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

No. 829

Sir: Referring to my despatches Nos. 803, 808, and 810, of April 12, 16, and 23, respectively,64 regarding the political situation here and specifically with reference to the possibility of General Somoza succeeding to the Presidency, I now have the honor to report on the attitude of officials, here and elsewhere, whose respective points of view may have a bearing, of more or less importance, on the general situation here. Through the courtesy and cooperation of my colleagues at San José and San Salvador, I had the opportunity of discussing with officials in those capitals, the problems confronting diplomatic representatives here. For the sake of succinctness I shall briefly give the views, as expressed to me, of the officials of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico, even though certain of the interviews, at which these views were expressed, have already been reported to the Department. Views of Nicaraguans are also given.

1. Costa Rica.

(a) Dr. Raul Gurdián, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Gurdián, in a conversation on April 17, substantially reported by Mr. Sack65 in his despatch No. 694, of April 25, 1935,62 outlined [Page 856] the present policy of Costa Rica of not meddling in the political affairs of other Central American countries; of not giving assistance to one country as against another; and of not furnishing material aid to a constituted government against a faction seeking to overthrow it. This last mentioned course of procedure I took to refer specifically to Nicaragua, it being in answer to a remark I had made of rumors current in Nicaragua to the effect that in case of trouble the Governments of El Salvador and Costa Rica would furnish arms to the Nicaraguan Government. He stated specifically that no request for arms or ammunition covering such a contingency had been received. Dr. Gurdián stated that if violence were used by General Somoza in reaching the Presidency it was not certain what action would be taken as the Government of Costa Rica is definitely opposed to the taking over of a government by force. He added, however, that it is the earnest desire of Costa Rica to maintain the closest relations with Nicaragua and that the government of Nicaragua, no matter how constituted, would be the body with which the Costa Rican Government would desire to deal on the friendliest terms. My interpretation of Dr. Gurdián’s attitude may be summarized as follows: desire for peace with and in Nicaragua; refusal to take sides in Nicaraguan politics; and desire to deal only with the constituted authorities.

(b) There is no Costa Rican diplomatic representative in Managua.

2. El Salvador.

(a) General Maximiliano Martínez, President of the Republic.

President Martínez in his conversation with Dr. Corrigan67 and myself on May 2 said that he hoped there would be peace in Nicaragua; that he had given no instructions to the Salvadoran Minister in Managua with respect to using his influence to have General Somoza ousted as Jefe Director of the Guardia Nacional; and that he agreed with me as to the wisdom of the diplomatic corps refraining from action which might be interpreted as meddling in Nicaraguan political matters. He evinced genuine friendliness for President Sacasa.

(b) Dr. Miguel Angel Araujo, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Dr. Araujo showed keen interest in existing conditions in Nicaragua, particularly with respect to the forthcoming elections, but expressed no preference as to candidates; he expressed agreement with me that the diplomatic corps in Nicaragua should not permit itself to be used as a tool in order to perform those functions which are properly attributable to the Nicaraguan Government. I frankly stated that pressure had been brought on me to persuade Somoza to leave the Guardia but that I had refused to be a party to such a plan.

(c) Dr. Arturo Ramón Avila, Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs.

[Page 857]

My conversations with Dr. Avila were substantially the same as those with Dr. Araujo.…

(d) Dr. César V. Miranda, Minister of El Salvador in Managua.

This … individual, an old friend of the Sacasas … has suggested and insinuated to me, respectively, that as Dean, I convoke the diplomatic corps in order to support the Government in its dealings with the Guardia and that I bring about, with the support of the Minister of El Salvador, the resignation of Somoza as Jefe Director of the Guardia. Dr. Miranda has likewise intimated that his government would look with favor upon Somoza’s being eliminated from his present post. (For this reason I endeavored to draw out President Martínez and Messrs. Araujo and Avila, in paragraphs a, b, c, supra.) General Somoza, in his conversation with me on the night of April 24 regarding the proposed execution of Lieutenant Cuadra (my telegram No. 29, April 25—5 p.m.) said that he knew that Dr. Miranda was plotting against him: that he (Miranda) had recently told the Honorary Consul of El Salvador (Dr. Mariano Argüello Vargas, generally considered to be friendly to Generals Moncada and Somoza) when they were both at Corinto, in reply to a question as to how he felt about Somoza: “There is no use worrying about him. He will soon be out.”

(e) My general impression of the Salvadoran attitude, both official and public, is that it is hostile to Somoza, perhaps chiefly because of the Sandino affair and secondarily because Dr. and Mrs. Sacasa enjoy great popularity in El Salvador. While Dr. Miranda may have acted, in his insinuations against Somoza, without written instructions from his government, I gathered the impression that the elimination of Somoza would not be distasteful to the Government of El Salvador, which, in accordance with correct international procedure, would not normally be expected to express an official opinion in the matter.

3. Guatemala.

(a) Dr. Rodolfo Gálvez Molina, Minister Resident of Guatemala in Managua.

Dr. Gálvez, in a talk with me on March 22 (reported in my despatch No. 781, of March 22,68 a copy of which was furnished the Legation at Guatemala), said that in view of the agreement entered into between Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala (immediately prior to the Central American Conference of 193469) to support the Treaty of Peace and Amity of 1923 as among themselves, any efforts which might be made by interested parties to bring about the denunciation of the Treaty on the part of Guatemala, would be to no avail. He added that [Page 858] President Ubico did not intend to be drawn into local Nicaraguan politics. Dr. Gálvez, who has been playing an unobtrusive role here, has expressed to me his agreement with the position I have endeavored to assume—of not being used to perform functions of the Nicaraguan Government.

4. Honduras.

(a) Dr. Justo Gómez Osornio, Honduran Chargé d’Affaires, has not discussed with me the situation under reference. I have not felt it advisable, in the absence of instructions to the contrary, to ascertain his point of view, which might not necessarily reflect that of his government.

5. Mexico.

(a) Dr. Octavio Réyes Spíndola, Chargé d’Affaires of Mexico in Managua.

On April 29, Dr. Réyes Spíndola spoke to me substantially as follows:

The relations between President Sacasa and General Somoza must be improved. The United States and Mexico diplomatic representatives should cooperate to bring this about. The Government—and specifically Doña María de Sacasa, Federico Sacasa, and Crisanto Sacasa—is doing all in its power to bring about the overthrow of Somoza. The Cuadra plot was engineered by the group advising the President. Somoza should continue as Jefe Director of the Guardia, but should be told that he cannot be President, as his candidacy would be contrary to the constitution. It would be most unfortunate for the prestige of the United States in Latin America if Somoza, known to have been responsible for the death of Sandino,—a hero in Latin America, yet a mortal enemy of the United States,—was to become President. It would be said that the United States had put him in power as a reward for having killed Sandino. What did Arthur Lane, not the American Minister, think of Somoza as a possible presidential candidate?

I replied, in all sincerity to Dr. Réyes Spíndola, that I had formed no opinion regarding availability or non-availability of Presidential candidates and did not expect to do so. I said that the United States does not intend to choose the next President of Nicaragua: that, subsequent to the intervention, we had taken no part in the elections; and that I had gone so far as to absent myself from the country during the recent congressional elections of October 1934. I endeavored to make it clear that my personal opinion is that the Diplomatic Corps should not be drawn into the situation between the President and Somoza; that I, as dean, did not intend to convoke the corps for that purpose, even though one of our colleagues (the Minister of El Salvador) had already approached me to that end; that if anything [Page 859] untoward, resulting in the loss of life, should eventuate following any concerted action on the part of the corps, we should be blamed individually and collectively, and the Government of the United States in particular; and that the criticism of what I had tried to do to help in the Sandino situation was still too fresh in my mind to be caught again. “Once bitten, twice shy.”

In a later conversation with the Mexican Chargé d’Affaires on May 7, he said that he had received instructions from his government, “To observe; to report; but not to meddle.” He added that he would not be a party to having Somoza eliminated from the Guardia; and wished to cooperate with me in bringing Sacasa and Somoza together. Emphasizing the confidential nature of my remarks, I spoke somewhat as follows:

“I have been trying since February a year ago to bring the two together and while I believe I succeeded at one time in improving the relations between the two men, I have since realized that there is such a bitter feeling towards Somoza among certain elements close to the President that little headway can be made. If there is anything you can do, go ahead by all means.”

Dr. Réyes Spíndola said to me that on that very day, May 7, he had received the newly appointed Nicaraguan Chargé d’Affaires to Mexico, General José María Zelaya C., nephew of ex-President Zelaya, who had said that his instructions were to do everything possible to persuade the Mexican Government not to recognize Somoza in the event that he reached the Presidency.

(b) It will be noted that Dr. Réyes Spíndola’s attitude seems to have substantially changed in the interval between April 29 and May 7. It remains to be seen whether General Zelaya will be able to persuade the Mexican Government to instruct its representative here to cooperate with those in the Government, who with General Zelaya, are frankly desirous of the complete elimination of Somoza from the Nicaraguan political picture.

6. Nicaragua.

(a) President Sacasa.

During an interview with the President on May 13, he referred to the trip which Somoza is now making to the east coast of Nicaragua; to the unfairness of it, insofar as other presidential candidates are concerned, who are obeying the executive decree prohibiting such activities until six months prior to the next presidential elections, while Somoza, because he is Jefe Director and has the armed forces under him, defies it; to the unconstitutionality of Somoza’s candidacy; to the Treaty of 1923; and to the necessity of Somoza bearing in mind the results which his candidacy would have on the United States, because of the creation of the Guardia by the United States. [Page 860] He said that if Somoza would only be content to be Jefe Director and act as “elector” to guarantee “fair” elections and put his weight on the side of the “best candidate”, he would be conferring a favor not only on himself but on the country as well! (The quotation marks are mine. A. B. L.) The President said that the “academicos” (those officers in the Guardia who are graduates of the military academy) were “noting” Somoza’s present political trip and that undoubtedly they would make additional trouble in the future because of it. In reply to my question as to what, in his opinion, the outcome would be, the President said, in the indefinite manner which he sometimes employs:

“Some action will have to be taken one of these days. The question is that Somoza is barred by family reasons, by his military status, and by the Treaty of 1923. We shall see.”

(b) Dr. Luis Manuel De Bayle, brother-in-law of General Somoza and hence nephew of President Sacasa; and now acting as political mentor to Somoza, at the same time acting in a medical capacity in the Guardia Nacional.

Dr. De Bayle called on me on the morning of May 6 (to invite me to a dinner to be given the following evening in honor of Dr. Daniel M. Molloy of the Rockefeller Foundation) and, after thanking me for the advice I had given to General Somoza on the night of April 24, he enquired whether it was true that I was working for the elimination of Somoza from the Guardia. (Dr. De Bayle said that all arrangements had been made to execute Lieutenant Cuadra and three unnamed non-commissioned members of the Guardia at 6 a.m., on April 25; that the priest had already received their confessions; but that, following my talk with the General, the orders were revoked and rebellion, which the execution would have created, had been averted.) I replied that he should know me better than to ask such a question; that I would not be a party to the proposal that Somoza be dismissed; and that my principal preoccupation is that no violence be used. Dr. De Bayle said that he could promise that there would be no violence on the part of General Somoza. As he arose with what seemed to me a feeling of relief, I stated that I did not wish him or anybody else to think that because of my not using my influence against Somoza, I am favoring his political campaign; that such a supposition would be entirely false. Dr. De Bayle said that both he and General Somoza understood that I could not be in favor of or against any candidate.

(c) Señor Lisímaco Lacayo Solorzano, Chief of Protocol.

Although of negligible importance politically or otherwise, Señor Lacayo is, because of his official position, in constant close relationship [Page 861] with the President and Minister for Foreign Affairs. For this reason his statements may reflect the opinions of Dr. Sacasa and Dr. Argüello. On May 10 Lacayo asked me what I thought of Somoza’s candidacy. When I smiled, but failed to answer, he endeavored to obtain my views by adopting the time-worn technique previously employed by Dr. Réyes Spíndola (see p. 6 supra).

“I am not asking the Minister, I am asking Mr. Lane.”

When I told Mr. Lacayo that I could not discuss the candidacy of General Somoza or of anybody else, among other reasons because I had no opinions regarding any candidacy, he said that the election of Somoza would be indicative of our having put him in the presidency, and that as Somoza had killed Sandino, the enemy of the United States, all Latin America would say that we had given the presidency to Somoza as a reward. (The argument advanced is similar enough to that of the Mexican Chargé dAffaires as to warrant attention.) Señor Lacayo added that if General Somoza would but wait until the 1940 election there would be no objection to his candidacy; on the other hand he would be acclaimed by all. The discussion was terminated by my saying that both the President and the Minister for Foreign Affairs knew my views which were that we were not supporting nor opposing any candidate.

7. Conclusion.

It is evident to me that the Mexican and Salvadoran representatives are hopeful that we may take some action, perhaps of an informal and private character, which would prevent Somoza from reaching the Presidency in succession to Dr. Sacasa. I am prepared to admit that the United States’ prestige may suffer in Latin America temporarily should Somoza become president, for the reasons given by Messrs. Réyes Spíndola and Lacayo; on the other hand the same argument against us could be fully as well advanced in 1940. It seems to me that the most important point for this Legation to observe in connection with the coming elections is “Hands Off”, although such a policy would not seem inconsistent with the friendly giving of advice, in case the situation should warrant, that the constitutional forms, whatever they may be, should be observed and that under no condition should violence be resorted to.

I should deeply appreciate any instructions or comments which the Department may wish to give me on the situation as outlined above.

Respectfully yours,

Arthur Bliss Lane
  1. Nos. 803 and 810 not printed.
  2. Leo R. Sack, Minister in Costa Rica.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Frank P. Corrigan, Minister in El Salvador.
  5. Not printed.
  6. See Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. iv, pp. 423 ff.