95. Telegram From the Embassy in Nicaragua to the Department of State1

1286. Subject: Significance of Somoza’s Election for US.

General Somoza’s election is now a reality, two weeks after the heavy suppression of the opposition leadership’s attempt provoke intervention and/or forestall election and overthrow government. Review of what this all means in terms US policy and tactics, short and long term, seems desirable soon as possible, because of its potential effect network our relationships, including our aid programs. Small and large decisions on many aspects US-Nicaraguan relationships cannot long be postponed. My evaluations and suggestions set forth herein are supplement to commentary we have provided as developments occurred. Department’s views from its vantage point will be most helpful.
Depending somewhat on how GON handle Pedro Joaquin Chamorro2 and other prisoners, and whether GON exercises retaliation on Aguero and other opposition leaders still at large (other than severe election drubbing), events of Jan 22–23 and subsequent preelection period may be allowed fairly quickly and smoothly recede into history as just another in series of foolish opposition attempts overthrow Somoza-controlled regimes by violence with accompanying bloody, heavy-handed, somewhat confused methods employed by GON restore order and keep constitutional forms in operation. Aguero’s move on Jan 22 and course GON followed during Jan 22–Feb 4 period have unquestionably added to Nicaraguan pot large residue bitterness which would not otherwise be there now, but in long-run I wonder if period will not widely be regarded, here and in outside world, merely as additional hard evidence firm Somoza determination maintain control Nicaragua by any means, and advance proof of many people’s fears and expectations of character of General Somoza’s forthcoming administration.
Somoza’s election last Sunday had of course long been accepted as inevitable by all observers and probably by almost all Nicaraguans (Aguero’s attempt make holding of election impossible is good indication his own expectation). We still maintain belief that Somoza would have won in fairest and most honest election because of liberal party’s traditional power base plus organization, program, hard work and money. Nevertheless, many pro-Somoza election irregularities have been proved by our own observation on election day, tending to confirm opposition charges of hundreds more. Creeping processing (if that is the most expressive word) of election returns can only indicate further Somoza machine manipulation in order show the world a landslide victory. Aguero’s antics Jan 22 and later probably contributed to diminishing his vote, because they led to GON control measures which prohibited opposition build up to civic campaign climax and also perhaps because the outbreak of violence drove some oppositionists to abstain or even to vote for Somoza as leader party of “peace, order and progress.” My own preliminary guess is that Luis Somoza has been author, producer and director of show that has been played last few weeks, with his candidate-brother and other liberal leaders more or less willing go along with his tactics. His objects may have included keep control, maintain conservative party as principal and traditional opposition rival to Liberal Party, let Aguero destroy himself for future PCT leadership, martyrize Pedro Joaquin Chamorro temporarily so that he can knock off Aguero when he gets out of jail (although Aguero will presumably still be strong enough so that both will go down fighting), and let a relatively moderate opposition leadership emerge which will safely represent the other half or so of the elite. In meantime internal struggle for power within PCT might help give new president some breathing-spell and chance get administration off to relatively unhampered start.
It is no news that an administration headed by General Somoza will add elements of instability, tension and probable violence to the Nicaraguan scene which were not present during the later years of Luis Somoza’s presidency nor the Schick–Guerrero interregnum. Although he bore the family name and was his father’s direct heir, Luis Somoza loosened the reins and largely because of his personal qualities and achievements gained some measure of opposition acceptance. Nicaragua flourished and breathed even more freely during the past four years. The problem inherent in General Somoza’s presidency, made somewhat more insoluble by recent events, is that the opposition will never give him the benefit of the doubt. He has intelligence and might even show some statesmanship if left alone and given a chance. Strong probability, however, is that he will not be and the troubles which are likely to come will be just those suited to bring out the worst in his personality. He will have some problems getting and [Page 221] keeping an able group of collaborators, even if he tries. As far as the non-Communist opposition is concerned, there will probably be five years of varying degrees of grumbling, lashing out in anger, subversive plotting, uneasiness and unrest leading to sporadic outbreaks of violence of one kind or another, etc., with some Communist potential waiting in wings take advantage of any turmoil which might be produced. All this is notwithstanding General Somoza’s plus factors: a majority of “the people” who are hoping he will help Nicaragua advance in peace, a prosperous but basically fragile economic and fiscal outlook, and guidance and assistance of his brother and some trained and able government servants.
Inevitable problem for us is how to live with this situation and move toward our objectives. To exemplify just one set of problems on the horizon, Somoza and his administration are going to come to us with fresh economic assistance ideas, and some will no doubt be good ones worthy of our support. If we continue to do business as usual in this field of our endeavors we will have to face the stings of an obstreperous group of oppositionists, probably a minority, it is true, but still one which is quite capable of loudly berating us with the old charges that the US is thus helping Somozas line their pockets and stay in power. I think that with luck, a Somoza who was not being too obvious in taking advantage of us and with a lot of fervent persuasion we could eventually turn away such charges locally. I am not as qualified to estimate chances in the US of successfully braving press comment to effect that we again “embracing militarist dictators” and so on. I would hope that we can somehow find it possible to work constructively and safely with the Somoza administration, building on what we have already accomplished in the economic assistance area. There are several other segments of our bilateral relationships which can be similarly or more troublesome.
I have no bright ideas or solutions, supposing as I do that we shall have to wait a little longer to see how things go. I do urge however that we receive as soon as possible an indication of the Department’s current views on “Somozaland.” Foregoing are preliminary comments re implications for US relationships with Nicaragua of recent developments. We hope to come up later with some specific suggestions re US stance.3
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 14 NIC. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 1138 from Managua, January 26, the Embassy reported that Chamorro had been arrested without a warrant, an apparent violation of the Gran Hotel agreement that held that “constitutional and ordinary legal procedures would remain in force since state of siege not imposed.” (Ibid., POL 23–9 NIC) In a meeting with Ambassador Brown on January 31, former President Luis Somoza explained: “We decided after Gran Hotel evacuation that we ought pick up at least one big one. Pedro Joaquin gave us our chance when he organized street disorder which took place subsequently.” Somoza denied that Chamorro had been seriously mistreated, although “guard did shove him around with his rifle butt.” (Telegram 1220 from Managua, February 1; ibid., POL 23–8 NIC)
  3. In telegram 139655 to Managua, February 17, the Department suggested a careful review of military and economic assistance programs “to ensure that they continue to conform with basic U.S. strategy of encouraging and supporting sound economic, social and political development of country, including progressive evolution of representative democracy.” (Ibid., POL 1 US)