108. Memorandum From the Officer in Charge of Nicaraguan Affairs (Wollam) to the Director of the Office of Middle American Affairs (Neal)1


  • Nicaragua: Possible Trouble Spots


Luis Somoza has been made the constitutional president for the remainder of his father’s term (until May, 1957). He was nominated as the official candidate of the Liberal Party for the elections of next February. He ostensibly has the support of his brother, Anastasio, Jr. (Tachito), who has the backing of the armed forces. On the surface it would appear that there is a good chance for the orderly continuation of the Somoza regime under Luis, who has promised to work for “national conciliation.” There are, however, some possibilities of trouble which can not be overlooked, despite the apparently smooth transition that has taken place so far. Some of these are listed below:

1. Opposition to Somoza Family

Long prior to the assassination it was clear that there was considerable opposition to the renomination of General Somoza. This came not only from the Conservatives and the Independent Liberals, but also from elements of the Liberal Party itself. The extent of this opposition within the ostensible support of Somoza is an unknown factor. There is, however, a feeling in some circles that it is time for a change, and that some one outside the immediate family should be president. These persons feel that a “compromise” candidate will enable the Somoza family to retain its holdings while providing a transition away from the 20-year rule of the late president. These persons feel that if this is not done the Somozas will be turned out by force. The course of events has indicated that a part of their thinking has been correct as has been demonstrated by the assassination.

It would seem logical that this feeling would have grown rather than diminished with the death of Tacho. Luis Somoza has been nominated for the Presidency, however, and it is doubtful that under the circumstances any one in Nicaragua could overtly oppose the nomination of Luis at this moment. Guillermo Sevilla Sacasa, Luis [Page 224] Manuel DeBayle, Luis Mena-Solorzano, and various others with personal ambitions might be expected to work covertly against Luis.

2. Conservative Opposition

The Conservatives have been divided on methods and approach to the problem of Somoza. The recent developments should, if anything, bring them closer together as there is more of a chance to recover power and authority. Increased resentment by the Conservatives will probably depend considerably on how the Somoza boys handle the opposition in their investigations. Too vigorous reprisal measures might serve only to consolidate the opposition.

The radical fringe of the opposition, under Colonel Gomez Flores might well redouble its efforts to start trouble in Nicaragua. Colonel Gomez Flores has been attempting to mount a revolutionary attack for years. Recent developments might make this easier in combination with the other possibilities discussed. Failure to obtain a change in the government through the death of the president, might cause an intensification of the efforts to eliminate the young Somozas.

3. Support of the Armed Forces

At present it is usually said that Colonel Tachito Somoza has inherited the support of the lower-ranking Guardia officers and the troops. There are many older officers, at least, who are reported to resent Tachito, who himself estimated one year ago that 50% of the Guardia might be against him. It is possible that the non-flying Tachito is also resented by the Air Force which he assumed command of recently “to avoid any dissension.” There have been rumors of a military junta prepared to take over the government. Doubts have been suggested concerning the loyalty of Colonel Camilo Gonzalez, commander of the presidential guard, Colonel Francisco Gaitan, Minister of War, General Régoberto Reyes and other senior officers. It is impossible to estimate the extent of the anti-Somoza feeling within the Armed Forces, but the continuing flow of rumors over a long period would indicate that there is some, and they cannot be disregarded.

4. Somoza Family Fortunes

There is no comprehensive information with regard to the value of Somoza family holdings. In one form or another the late President was said to have owned nearly ten per cent of the cultivated land in Nicaragua plus dozens of other lucrative enterprises. Guesses have put the family fortunes up to $50,000,000. and they could be more or less. Some of the land and other enterprises were allegedly acquired by pressure of various types. On the other hand Somoza is [Page 225] supposed to have numerous minority partners, including some of the political opposition who might hope to hold what they have.

Wealth in this proportion might well attract the attention of (1) Persons who might wish to nationalize all or parts of it in retaliation for real or fancied offenses, or (2) Opportunists seeing a chance to make financial killings if the Somoza boys are chased out of Nicaragua. Members of the family and in-laws might disagree over division of the estate, which would cause political repercussion. There is no concrete information as to what part the Somoza wealth might play in any developments, but the stakes are obviously high for any place, much less Nicaragua.

5. Family Feuding

Critics of the Somoza family claim there is little possibility of Luis and Tachito getting along together for any length of time. A split between the two would fracture the government, and would probably result in both being ousted. Others claim that the Somoza financial interests force the boys to stick together to save the family fortunes.

General Comment

The nature of the late rule of General Somoza makes actual feelings most difficult to assess. It could be assumed, however, that barring a rapid change in orientation by Luis Somoza, the same extremists responsible for his father’s assassination will be out after him.

Despite the present appearances of calm, there are potential trouble spots which may become more apparent when the initial shock of the President’s assassination wears off a bit, and when many persons fully realize that the old master is no longer present.

The current situation practically forced the Liberal Party to nominate Luis for the presidency. This might set off the various anti-Somoza forces, unless Luis and Tachito both exercise a degree of political know-how and local statesmanship which up to now has not been expected of them. It is thought that use of force and severe reprisals will only aggravate the situation.

The key to the situation may well be the anti-Somoza feeling within the Liberal Party. If there is a strong feeling of this nature, it might be expected that there will be a strong revival of the Independent Liberals or some other Liberal rump group. If there is any degree of political freedom the Independents might be expected to nominate their own candidate in opposition to Luis. This might take a different interpretation of constitutional provisions, which have previously required 20,000 signatures for a new party. It is also possible that the personal aspirations of many scrambling for the [Page 226] power will prevent any unified action. There could also possibly be a Conservative-Independent alliance under these circumstances. The next two months should bring indications one way or the other.

U.S. Interest

Most groups in Nicaragua are believed friendly toward the United States. It is possible of course that some of the much-publicized friendliness was merely that of the regime rather than any deep-seated popular feeling. Essential opposition friendliness has been somewhat tempered by the belief of many that the United States was “supporting” the Somoza regime. The demonstrations with regard to the medical aid to Somoza may have increased the bitterness of those who were already bitter, and might be used to convince some of those who were more or less on the line that the United States is against them. Most opposition leaders of repute are said to understand our position, but this may not apply to the masses.

This would, therefore, seem to be a crucial period in our relations with Nicaragua. If the U.S. gives the appearance of supporting Luis Somoza, it will be taken as a sign that we are continuing to deny opposition aspirations. This could well cause a deterioration in the feeling toward us in many groups both in Nicaragua and elsewhere. It would be a convenient basis for communist propaganda.

On the other hand, if we do not give the appearance of wholehearted support to Luis we might lose in some circles. More important is the fact that any appearance that we are lukewarm or indifferent may well encourage opposition elements. Especially in view of revived canal interest, we must endeavor to keep on friendly terms with all concerned.

It is not believed that there is any major communist problem in Nicaragua at the present time. Communists are, however, most adept at taking advantage of difficulties of any type. The possible exception is the “Leftwing-Conservative” radical groups of Colonel Manuel Gomez Flores, which may include communists and about which there is considerable suspicion. This is only a small fringe, however.

With either the optimistic view that Luis Somoza will be able to consolidate his position, or the pessimistic one that he is in for trouble from one or more of the sensitive spots mentioned, there are, I believe, three general policies which can be followed:

Careful non-intervention with a sufficient, carefully-conceived build-up to get this across prior to elections. Luis Somoza might follow his announced policy of conciliation successfully or retain sufficient force to keep going indefinitely; there could be a [Page 227] complete change. A policy of non-intervention is always subject to misinterpretation.
Calculated support for Luis Somoza on the basis that Luis will get himself elected anyway and the Guardia will stave off trouble indefinitely. This might delay any reaction, but it would probably build up resentment in the long run and further complicate our future problems.
Disguised intervention to the extent that we use our influence to try to mold Luis and Tachito; to persuade them to hold real elections with the hope of an orderly transition from the Somoza regime before something causes it to collapse anyway. Carried a bit farther, it might be considered wise to persuade the Somozas not to be candidates, for their own health and prosperity and for our own interest in filling the vacuum as soon as possible.

Any government following the long reign of Somoza will have difficulties and will cause problems. Luis is a known friendly factor, but it is not thought that we have anything to fear from any of the established groups. The main objective should be the ability to continue friendly cooperation with any reasonable government and receive the same.

For these reasons it is believed that a careful policy of non-intervention would be preferable in the long run. Within the policy of non-intervention it might be desirable to have a slight and gradual increase in emphasis to be accomplished slowly as a normal pre-election operation. There cannot be any abruptness in this process, but there should be a carefully-conceived re-emphasis of the fact that the United States has nothing to do or say with regard to the choice of candidates or election of officials.

In any case, it is thought that we should examine the whole problem of present and future relations with Nicaragua.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 717.00/10–1056. Confidential. Also sent to Sowash.
  2. In a memorandum to Wollam, October 16, Rubottom wrote: “I believe that we should adopt the first of the alternatives you discuss, namely ‘careful non-intervention.’ This should enable us to continue friendly cooperation with any reasonable government, our main objective as you observe. In carrying out such a policy of nonintervention we must of course be most careful not to cause the Somoza brothers to interpret our position as a reversal of what they may feel, with some reason, was a policy of support for their father, since this could be interpreted as intervention in itself. We should continue to watch developments carefully and subject them to frequent scrutiny and analysis, being prepared to meet changing conditions with considerable flexibility as required.” (Ibid., 717.00/10–1656)