The Ambassador in Nicaragua ( Whelan ) to the Department of State 1

No. 430


  • Policy Toward Nicaragua

In view of possible adjustments of our policy toward Latin America, this Embassy wonders if the time is not appropriate to invite the Department’s attention to the strategic importance of the Republic of Nicaragua, not only in relation to Hemispheric Defense but also in relation to the spread of Communism from Guatemala.

President Somoza previously informed this Embassy unofficially that he would like to have Nicaragua considered for Military Grant aid under the Mutual Security Act and that he would like Military Training Missions for the Nicaraguan National Guard and the Air Force. The request for the Air Mission was finally transmitted through official channels and a Mission will arrive in April. He has not asked officially for military aid or a mission to train the National Guard because he has heard from some source that we would refuse the request.

Whatever may have been the reason for the Department’s disinclination to consider military aid for Nicaragua, the Embassy believes it was based upon conditions which no longer exist. This country has undergone an almost complete transformation within the last ten years. One has but to read the report of the Mission of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to get a picture of the tremendous changes in the economy of the country and the almost boundless opportunities for its future development. The general political situation (which will shortly be reviewed in a report from this Embassy) is stable for the first time during this century. Despite the widespread impression to the contrary, Somoza is not a dictator in the true sense of the word. Somoza’s political enemies have joined him. Most of them have grown old and feeble. The Embassy knows of no one who could successfully challenge his political position.

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It seems to have been customary in some quarters to have attacked Somoza’s character. The Embassy agrees that he appears to have an insatiable thirst for money and a considerable love of power. Nevertheless, the Embassy believes in his expressions of friendship for the United States. During the last war he virtually offered to turn this country over to us. He says (and we believe him), he would do so again. He has consistently instructed his delegates to United Nations Assemblies to cast their votes in support of the policy of the United States. He once offered his services in combatting the spread of communism from Guatemala but cancelled his plans when he learned they were unacceptable to us. He has repeatedly said that he would do exactly as we say, and we know of nothing in his record that shows any inclination to fail us in international matters. It is probably true that he admires Latin America’s “strong men”—including, for that matter, Peron—but he recognizes that his country’s real ties are with the United States.

He said in a press interview in New York some months ago, in reply to questions about political conditions in this hemisphere, “we are tied to the United States, if it should fail, obviously we will all fail.”

He has said that while he wished to do what we wanted him to do, he has frequently had difficulty in learning our opinions because we have been evasive. In the Embassy’s opinion Somoza talks straight and likes straight talk. In our efforts to help in the development of the country (inter-American highway or Point IV), Somoza has consistently matched our financial contributions or has exceeded them. Yet he has complained that we have not required other countries to match dollar for dollar in development programs. The Embassy recognizes considerable truth to his statement that we have done more for our enemies than for our friends. The Embassy also believes that in some respects we have not accepted the friendship he has proffered us, and we have not taken full advantage of his willingness to be helpful.

Fear has been expressed in the past that if Nicaragua had stronger military forces, Somoza might use them against Figueres in Costa Rica, for whom he seems to have unrelenting hatred. While Somoza thinks that as of now Figueres will be elected President of Costa Rica and that that country will then become another Guatemala, he has said many times that we need not fear that he will take any action without consultation and approval.

In fact, the Embassy does not believe military aid would have to be so large as to make his forces a threat to neighboring states. It is believed that such a force might actually be a comfort to El Salvador and Honduras where there is current fear of communist infiltration from Guatemala. There have recently been talks between leaders of military forces in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras and we understand [Page 1377] these conversations explored the possibility of presenting a common front in the event of trouble with Guatemala. Somoza has frequently proposed a meeting of the Presidents of the Central American states or of the countries of the Caribbean area (see my despatch 416 of March 3, 1953),2 and he firmly believes that such a meeting would lead to the creation of an active anti-communist bloque. He would wish to be guided by the United States in calling such a meeting and would solicit our advice as to matters to be discussed.

Nothing has been said to encourage the President to indulge in wishful thinking, but it is certain that he would request through official channels military aid and a Training Mission (either or both) if he thought the request would be received favorably.

We believe that his ideas about calling a meeting of Presidents and his wishes for a Military Mission and of Military Grant aid are worthy of consideration and further exploratory conversations.

Thomas E. Whelan
  1. Drafted by Rolland Welch, First Secretary of the Embassy in Nicaragua.
  2. Not printed (720.001/3–353).