253. Letter From the Chief of the Political Section of the Embassy in Nicaragua (Sutton) to the Country Officer for Nicaragua (Gowen)1

Dear George:

Your worst apprehensions about the timetable for the ambassadorial change may be coming to pass. You will have heard by this time that the Government plans to hold a grand “homenage” for the Ambassador on July 23. Immediately after it was announced we heard rumors that what Somoza had in mind was a mass, outdoor, eminently political rally with compulsory attendance by government employees, commandeering of GN and Urban Planning vehicles, etc. National District Minister Valle Olivares, however, told us today that present plans have it being held in the Palacio Nacional, at night, with about 1,500 invited guests. If true, we can breathe a sigh of relief; but many of us still fear that it may balloon into something gargantuan.

The slippage on his departure based on the assurances that were given to Ambassador Ryan were fairly predictable and I think that he will try to delay even further. When Jack Barton was in the U.S. last [Page 676] week on R&R, he spoke with Jim Cheek by phone, who said he had been told by Theberge that although his target date was August 1, Ambassador Shelton had asked that he not come until after the August Fair on August 10. Meanwhile, the Ambassador has been minimizing the importance of Mr. Theberge’s children being in school when it opens on August 11.

The extra time afforded to Shelton here seems to have been used to create a climate of invidiousness for Mr. Theberge. The Ambassador’s theme—underlined by the plans for the testimonial—is that he is the only friend that Somoza has in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and is predicting that his successor’s expected cooler attitude toward Somoza will impel him to change his unabashed pro-American orientation. This gloomy piece of news is reflected in the attitudes of the more reactionary and unsophisticated Somocistas, especially, but not exclusively, Guardia officers. Because of this, the regime will be much more suspicious of Mr. Theberge than it ought to be and will be extremely sensitive to his every word and action initially, expecting that the Shelton prophesy will be fulfilled. Our Monday evening group feels very strongly that Mr. Theberge should attempt to get here as soon as possible and be fairly callous toward Shelton’s pleadings for more time.

As predicted, Mr. Theberge will arrive to find the representation coffers raided. The Ambassador spent $1,800 for the Fourth of July extravaganza (where half the people could not even get a drink) as compared to less than $1,100 last year. Since the Embassy is only allotted $1,475 per quarter, we will be in miserable shape for the next four months unless the special circumstances are recognized and the fund is replenished.

Finally, attached is a memo I wrote making a pitch to elicit moderate words from Somoza on the canal treaty during his visits to the Deep South. The Ambassador expressed his reluctance to bring it up with Somoza last week, maintaining that Somoza was satisfied with recent congressional actions because he believes that any U.S. concessions on the canal would jeopardize Nicaraguan interests. I don’t know whether or not he brought it up with Somoza before his departure for Louisiana on July 7.

With best personal wishes,


Gerald M. Sutton
  1. Summary: Sutton noted that outgoing Ambassador Shelton was prolonging his stay in Nicaragua for as long as possible and presenting himself as Somoza’s only friend in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, thereby creating difficulties for his successor.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1975, ARA/CEN, Nicaragua 1975 Subject Files, Chrons: Memos, 1975, Lot 78D69. Secret. The July 3 memorandum from Sutton to Shelton was not attached, but is ibid., POL 1–2, Basic Policies and Guidelines (Briefing Papers), N–1975. In a February 28 conversation with Kissinger, Ford suggested replacing Shelton. (Memorandum of conversation, February 28; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 9, February 28, 1975—Ford, Kissinger) An undated briefing memorandum to Ford for a May 2 meeting with Sevilla Sacasa noted that the Nicaraguan Ambassador might request the retention of Shelton, who had been severely criticized in the U.S. press for being too friendly with Somoza. (Ibid., NSC Latin American Affairs Staff Files, Box 5, Nicaragua—Political, Military) James Theberge was appointed to succeed Shelton on July 11.