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

1313. Subject: General Somoza Asks for a Chance.

I lunched alone with General Somoza today at his invitation. His purposes were evidently try feel me out as to our general attitude toward him and forthcoming administration and give me his views on events since Jan 22, his poor public relations in US, intransigence of opposition and Communist menace. Following are few highlights. Memo of conversation follows by pouch.2
Somoza said he deeply disturbed about attitude American press toward himself and family. He had tried help correspondents get well rounded view Nicaragua, but they persisted in lambasting his family as cruel dynasty. Made specific reference Newsweek article (Managua 1293)3 and hoped Department could somehow teach them some history. I remarked that he indeed has public relations problem, that adverse press image will die hard and then only if deeds are eventually persuasive to impartial observers.
Though he did not once suggest Aguero and other opposition leaders are Communists, Somoza said Aguero hoped by abortive coup attempt Jan 22 to bring about intervention. Communists used him in attempt implement detailed plot destroy capital. Aguero was mistaken in thinking he had support US and others in hemisphere, but on January 23 manner Gran Hotel evacuation arranged inevitably helped encourage him and Pedro Joaquin Chamorro to further excesses. Street fracas January 25 proved this and gave excuse for jailing Chamorro. On this score I told General that if he critical our part evacuation as encouraging Agueristas, he might like know we receiving criticism from other side too. He admitted he understood but some others did not.
Somoza went on at length and kept doubling back to theme that conservatives are incorrigible in sniping at GON and free election in which will of people demonstrated. Fundamentally what they were doing was running down their own country in eyes of outside world, and this would hurt them as much as the liberals, by affecting investment climate and business. I said that many people now are over-excited, expressed hope tempers would calm and spoke of virtues of concept of compromise which vital to practice democracy here or anywhere else. Somoza said rich conservatives are not going to like him because he is going to make them pay their taxes and thus prove to world that Nicaragua loyal member Alliance for Progress. Nicaragua has tremendous possibilities which will be realized if he is given a chance.
Comment: Above brief summary gives impression much more give and take our conversation than actually occurred. In true Somoza style he did most of talking in rich and confident detail, and my few remarks were interjected to take advantage his cordial and apparently receptive attitude. Chiefly I tried give impression friendly listener who hopes Nicaragua will continue thrive in every way. Underneath surface General Somoza seemed wary and alert for any indications our pre-campaign and pre-election personal relationship had changed. As usual he tried hard make good impression, without showing much if any humility, and yet seemed to be seeking almost desperately the understanding of his best friends the Americans.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 15–1 NIC. Confidential. Repeated to USCINCSO, Guatemala, San Salvador, San José, Tegucigalpa, and Panama.
  2. Forwarded as an enclosure to airgram A–220 from Managua, February 18. (Ibid.)
  3. In telegram 1293 from Managua, February 11, the Embassy reported that recent press accounts had stung the Nicaraguan Government, including a Newsweek article in which an Embassy officer allegedly admitted: “we got the wrong number in 1932”, when the elder Somoza was elevated to head the National Guard, “and to this day we’re trying to live it down.” (Ibid.)
  4. On February 15 the Embassy reported that Somoza planned to visit the United States in March. (Telegram 1312 from Managua; ibid., POL 7 NIC) The Department instructed the Embassy to discourage the visit, “since persons he might expect to see in Department will be out of the country.” (Telegram 138358 to Managua, February 16; ibid.) The Department also recommended against a White House appointment, arguing that “the President and other United States officials concerned with Latin American affairs are so involved in Summit preparations” that an appointment “would not be appropriate.” (Memorandum from Read to Rostow, March 14; ibid.) The President met Somoza at the White House for a half hour on April 6 and introduced him to Rusk and McNamara before a Cabinet meeting. (Johnson Library, President’s Daily Diary) The Department later explained that the meeting had been arranged “on very short notice when President found he had few minutes available to receive Somoza unofficially and informally.” (Telegram 171222 to Managua, April 7; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 NIC)