262. Airgram A–12 From the Embassy in Nicaragua to the Department of State1


  • P.J. Chamorro Alleges Torture in Letter to Ambassador


  • Managua 699

Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, publisher of La Prensa (the country’s largest newspaper—circulation 60,000) and president of the Union of Democratic Liberation (UDEL), recently spent a night in a cell at police headquarters in Managua (Managua 699). The day after he was released from custody, he came to the Embassy chancery with a letter for the Ambassador which included a sworn statement (see enclosures) about alleged incidents of torture which he deduced had occurred [Page 703] during his night in jail. Although Chamorro did not actually see torture performed, other sights, sounds and conversations with fellow cellmates suggested it rather strongly.

In his letter, Chamorro also asked whether AID funds were used for jail construction in Managua. The Ambassador replied that no funds were supplied for such purposes under the Public Safety program terminated 20 months ago.

Comment: Chamorro was not an eyewitness to the alleged incidents of torture. In fact, all alleged incidents of torture brought to the Embassy’s attention are based on second or third-hand reports.

There may, indeed, be physical abuse of prisoners in Nicaragua. But it is important to note that there is insufficient evidence of a GON policy of systematic or widespread physical violence directed against prisoners. It is, of course, extremely difficult to evaluate the accuracy and truthfulness of reports of interested parties. Nevertheless, the Embassy continues to be alert to evidence of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

Chamorro’s keen interest in bringing the alleged torture incident to the Embassy’s attention reflects not only the traditional dependent/paternalistic nature which often characterizes our relations here, but also the relatively recent local discovery of the USG’s concern about human rights. Publicity given to this concern by the media plus the curiosity registered by Embassy officers in private interviews appear to be making both Opposition and Government forces aware of us as a collector or protector in this field. To a great extent as a response to the Embassy’s interest, the Nicaragua Conservative Party (PCN/P) and UDEL (as well as the Communists) have established human rights committees, attempting to collect and disseminate as much information and details on violations as is possible. Although we are receiving more and better information on human rights violations than ever before, it is sometimes difficult to judge whether this is because such violations are increasing, or merely because more people are collecting it with the object of apprising us. While this phenomenon is welcome to the extent that intelligence collection on this subject is especially difficult, implicit in the minds of those who convey the information to us is the hope or expectation that we will somehow act on it. Although ever mindful of congressional and other interest in this subject and anxious to comply with instructions, we must now also be alert to the possible risk we run of being nudged from our position as spectators on the sideline and onto the field of play as a result of our continual and demonstrated concern.

  1. Summary: Opposition leader Pedro Joaquín Chammoro visited the Embassy and presented allegations that torture was taking place at Managua police headquarters. The Embassy commented that it had no conclusive evidence of systematic violence against prisoners but that Chamorro’s visit reflected an increasing awareness among Somoza’s opponents of U.S. concern over human rights issues.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P760060–0104. Confidential. Attached but not published are a letter from Chamorro to Theberge and a statement by Chamorro on his observations as a detainee at the Managua police headquarters. According to telegram 699 from Managua, February 12, Chamorro had been arrested for disobeying a summons in a slander case. (Ibid., D760054–0134) In telegram 762 from Managua, February 17, the Embassy reported that Chamorro’s visit to the Embassy on February 13, after his release from jail, “was something of a symbolic watershed in his relationship with the U.S., tacitly confirming his judgment that the American Embassy is no longer aligned exclusively with the regime;” the gesture thus represented “a not inconsiderable success in the Embassy’s six-month old effort to project a more even-handed image.” (Ibid., D760059–0915)