267. Telegram 3900 From the Embassy in Nicaragua to the Department of State1

3900. Subject: FMS Transactions with GON: M–16s and M–60s. Ref: (A) Managua 3794 (B) State 189779 (C) State 251114 (D) Managua 3798.

1. Embassy has taken note of the Department’s position in reftel concerning the deferral and final approval of sale of M–16 rifles and M–60 machine guns to Nicaragua.

2. Embassy wishes to point out that Ambassador has made two strong démarches to President Somoza on human rights issue since July 21. Although, as indicated reftel (D), Somoza did not seem to be on top of issue nor did he commit himself to take any affirmative action on the question, it is worthy of note that the entire issue of human rights [Page 716] has been quiescent here recently. In past several weeks no reports or complaints have been forthcoming nor has the Embassy received either correspondence or visitors on human rights issue. This could indicate an easing off of repressive measures by the GON or it could be merely coincidental. There seems to be little doubt, however, that the message of our concern has been received by the GON. Yesterday’s (August 17) Novedades, the pro-government daily, published the entire text in Spanish of Time magazine’s August 16 cover story on “Torture as an instrument of state policy.”

3. With reference to the above-mentioned démarches to President Somoza, it must be recognized that there are strictly circumscribed limits to diplomatic pressures designed to change internal policies of sovereign governments on human rights or other issues. Our judgment is that further diplomatic pressure at this time (i.e., prolonged delay in approving FMS transactions for the major part of the desired weaponry) will prove counterproductive. The result will likely be: (A) GON purchases of desired arms supplies from Belgium, Germany, Israel or other countries; (B) A decreased receptivity of GON to our position on human rights and (C) A serious weakening of our traditional cooperative bilateral relations with Nicaragua. None of these probable outcomes is in the U.S. interest.

4. Furthermore, U.S. threat not to sell small arms, such as M–16s and M–60 machine guns, unless GON accommodates its internal policies to our liking is an empty one, since some 25–30 countries around the world manufacture and export the desired arms. In the past, the GON has purchased Belgium 5–56 mm cal. assault rifles and Israeli Arava aircraft, and has adequate funds to make third-party purchases at any time. Last month, the GON discussed the purchase of machine guns, assault rifles, grenade launchers, and other equipment with representatives of Heckler & Koch, GMBH, a German supplier. An Israeli military sales representative is currently visiting Managua with regard to a possible purchase of portable radios. As we know, U.S. equipment usually is preferred but is not indispensable.

5. Finally, as noted in reftel (A), President Somoza has been told that Department has approved in principle sale of M–16s. In view of this fact, a posture of prolonged delay in approval of FMS transactions will be interpreted as tantamount to a rejection of that request, and will place extremely serious and unnecessary strain on our bilateral relations and push the GON to other competitive suppliers. This in turn will weaken the close U.S. MILGP–GN working relations which puts us in a position to urge moderation on the GN and the GON in the counterinsurgency campaign. Our future leverage would be seriously undermined if we take action now to punish the GON for acts that we [Page 717] disapprove while the human rights situation still appears to be less than critical.

  1. Summary: The Embassy recommended that a proposed sale of M–16 rifles to Nicaragua not be delayed, noting that deferral of the transfer would diminish U.S. influence and weaken bilateral relations. The Embassy added that the Nicaraguan Government appeared to have received the message that the U.S. Government was concerned about human rights.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760317–0881. Confidential. Telegram 3794 from Managua is dated August 12. (Ibid., D760310–1298) Telegram 25114 to Damascus is dated October 8. (Ibid., D760381–0203) Telegram 3798 from Managua is Document 266. In telegram 3342 from Managua, July 13, the Embassy reported that the purchase of the rifles was to standardize the National Guard’s equipment and to counter an arms build-up in Honduras. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760270–0170) In telegrams 189779 and 206945 to Managua, July 31 and August 19, the Department responded that the interests of the United States and Nicaragua would best be served by temporarily deferring the sale, that it preferred to wait until the conclusion of congressional hearings on human rights before proceeding, and that “the delay should not be interpreted as a ‘threat’ or ‘pressure.’” (Both ibid., D760295–0972 and D760319–0587) In telegram 3985 from Managua, August 24, the Embassy concurred in the deferral. (Ibid., D760323–0878)