240. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Fernando Aguero Rocha, President of PCN–A and Constituent Assembly Deputy
- José Robelo, PCN–A Technical Secretary and Constituent Assembly Deputy
- James R. Cheek, Political Officer, American Embassy, Managua
- Ronald D. Godard, Political/Labor Officer, American Embassy, Managua
This was the reporting officer’s first meeting with Fernando Aguero who continues active in politics holding periodic weekend rallies of the faithful in different towns. He lives in Masaya now and has, since his ouster from the National Governing Council, resumed his [Page 656] practice as an ophthalmologist there. Still dressed in his medical whites, Aguero who maintains his office in his home received José Robelo, Mr. Cheek and myself cordially and seated us on the veranda in the inevitable rocking chairs for a pleasant conversation lasting about an hour. We were briefly interrupted by three reporters from Radio “Sport” (Robelo said this was a “Somocista” station) who taped an interview with Aguero in a separate room. Returning from the interview, he shared his comments with us.
One topic the reporters had asked about was the recently revised cedulation law. A key part of the Liberal-Conservative Pact which brought Aguero into the government last year was, at his insistence, a carefully defined procedure whereby a national identification system would be implemented which would also serve to identify legitimate voters for elections. Aguero saw the recent revision of this law, agreed to by the Conservative Party faction which took his place in the government (the PCN–P), as a complete farce. “The cedula resulting from this procedure will be meaningless,” he intoned, “just another magnifica.” (Magnifica is the popular name for a card with General Somoza’s picture given loyal Liberal Party members after they cast their vote for the Party. It is commonly used as the prerequisite cachet for getting favors from the government and Liberal politicians after the election.)
Another subject the reporters had queried Aguero about was the recent incidents in Nandaime where four National Guardsmen and four Frente Sandinista de Liberacion (FSLN) members were killed. For the youth of this country, Aguero said he responded, there is really no alternative now but violence if they want to see social and political change. He went on to say that he had viewed the Liberal-Conservative pact as a kind of escape valve for opposition/reform sentiment and now that this has been frustrated there is no pacific outlet for these forces. When asked by young people now as to what they can do to change things, it pains him to say that he really cannot recommend their acting within the system, “the way is completely blocked.” As a result, he went on, the FSLN has a very large following among young people. “You could see this in the presence of 300 students braving the downpours and National Guard harassment to attend Morales’s funeral in Diriamba” (Ricardo Morales was one of the FSLN leaders killed September 18 in Nandaime). The only chance now for change without a violent revolution, Aguero said, was through a military coup—he saw this as only a remote possibility however.
In this country, Aguero said, power is concentrated in the hands of two families—“We do not even have the good fortune of the Salvadorans when they say fourteen families run the country. Here there are the Somozas and the Chamorros . . . for whom Alfredo Pellas is currently the ‘godfather’.” For the short time he was in the government, [Page 657] Aguero said that he had really gotten a clear impression of how this monopoly of power functions. The budgets of the various ministries, for instance, are prepared by General Somoza personally. “Ministers would appear before the National Assembly committees, to discuss their budgets,” he said, “and they would find that the budgets submitted by General Somoza to the legislature bore no resemblance to the ones they had prepared.” Robelo, who served on the Assembly Finance Committee, chimed in on this subject lamenting the fact that the budgets submitted are couched in such generalities with no details on specific expenditure items that they are really meaningless. Elaborating on the subject of government abuses, Robelo also could not understand why the press, especially La Prensa, had not picked up the fact that General Somoza charges the GON 15,000 cordobas per month for use of his El Retiro home for National Emergency Committee meetings.
Aguero said the reporters had also asked him about the libel law supposedly being proposed by Liberal Party elements led by Constituent Assembly President Cornelio Hueck. Aguero said he told them that the institutions simply do not exist in Nicaragua to protect citizens from the repressive use of such a statute. “This is not the United States with its independent judiciary and respect for constitutional rights. I can see the need for libel laws in other countries and even in Nicaragua, but not under our present system.”
With regard to the Chamorro-Sacasa opposition movement, Aguero saw no point in his joining forces with it. So far as he was concerned, there was nothing to be gained in his joining a group whose sole purpose was to force Somoza from power when this was also his objective because they can accomplish this objective as well separately as united. He had little faith in the tactic of provoking a general strike, a method most often advocated by the Chamorro-Sacasa forces as a means of ousting Somoza from power.
I asked Aguero what had prompted him to enter into a pact with Somoza. He replied that he had sincerely believed that the General would be willing to permit free elections and that he would be willing to relinquish the Presidency, retaining his business interests and the command of the National Guard. He had envisioned happening in Nicaragua what had happened in Peru with Odria or in Cuba with Batista after his first term in the Presidency.
Aguero was highly critical of the plan to rebuild Managua on the same site. “There have been five earthquakes in Managua in recent history. Nature has given us two opportunities to change the capital site when Managua was completely destroyed, and we have ignored both.”
Aguero seemed in good health and although generally pessimistic about the political situation did not convey any great depression or bitterness about his current eclipse. His famous voice is in great form, and [Page 658] he continues to radiate self-confidence. Aguero mentioned that he is about to begin work on a new house near Villa Fontana, a suburb of Managua, which will put him at least geographically back into the center of political activity.
Ambassador’s Comment: General Somoza has denied emphatically to me that he receives rent for use of El Retiro for National Emergency Committee meetings. He also said that he has not charged the government, as he would in normal times, for any of the lunches or dinners given for visiting officials and experts since the earthquake.
Summary: In a conversation with Embassy officers regarding Nicaraguan politics and a recent clash between the National Guard and members of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, Conservative Party leader Fernando Agüero noted that the country’s youth increasingly saw violence as the only way to bring about change. Agüero added that the FSLN therefore had a large following.
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1970–1973, POL 12 NIC. Confidential. Drafted by Godard on September 28 and cleared by Cheek. Beneath the “Ambassador’s Comment” section of the memorandum, a notation in an unidentified hand reads: “What else would be worthy of Ambassador’s comment?” The meeting was held in Agüero’s home. In telegram 3788 from Managua, September 18, the Embassy reported that recent clashes between Nicaraguan National Guardsmen and unidentified assailants might indicate renewed activity by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). (Ibid., Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number]) In telegram 3810 from Managua, September 19, the Embassy reported on a National Guard communiqué announcing that four FSLN members had been killed in the engagements in Nandaime. (Ibid., [no film number])↩