270. Staff Notes Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Nicaragua.]

Nicaragua: State of Siege to End

President Somoza, having effectively neutralized the Sandinist guerrillas, plans to lift the two-year state of siege shortly. Somoza will be giving up little if any of his political control in a move that he probably hopes will improve his country’s image abroad.

The state of siege was imposed in December 1974 when the Sandinist National Liberation Front (FSLN) took several prominent Nicaraguans hostage and forced President Somoza to release imprisoned compatriots and fly them to Cuba. Since then, an aggressive counter-insurgency campaign has led to the death of its national leader, Carlos Fonseca Amador, and the capture of several other prominent leaders.

Interrogation of these leaders and subsequent investigations have yielded indictments against 111 members and collaborators, of whom 36 are being held. The 75 still at large will be tried in absentia. The military trials are expected to end by mid-January at the latest.

The state of siege has had several benefits for Somoza. It has allowed him to submit suspected terrorists and supporters to military rather than civilian courts. In addition, the censorship provisions have enabled him to muzzle principal opposition leader Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, owner of the major daily La Prensa. By shutting off this opposi[Page 723]tion outlet, he has prevented dissemination of any criticism by the Congress—infrequent though it has been. Also, the censorship has cut off publicity for Chamorro’s anti-Somoza political coalition, the Union of Democratic Liberation, thereby contributing to its general ineffectiveness.

As the terrorist threat has receded, so has the justification for the state of siege. The FSLN has been all but destroyed. It is completely on the defensive and is beset by internal divisions. For the moment, it appears to have adopted a strategy of protracted struggle which, for all practical purposes, means a long period of minimum activities.

Somoza probably also hopes that lifting the state of siege will improve the image of his government. Domestic church groups have criticized him for military excesses under the state of siege and Nicaragua has been a target of international human rights groups.

The lifting of the state of siege is unlikely to have major domestic impact. While Chamorro and other opponents will be permitted to resume their criticism of the Somoza government, there is no real prospect for change in the tradition of political and economic control that the Somoza family has exercised for 40 years.

  1. Summary: The CIA noted that the terrorist threat in Nicaragua had receded and that Somoza planned to lift the state of siege that had been in effect since December 1974.

    Source: Central Intelligence Agency, FOIA Electronic Reading Room. Secret. All brackets are in the original except those indicating text omitted by the editors. In telegram 5858 from Managua, December 22, the Embassy reported that Somoza had made the first public announcement that the end of the state of siege was imminent; he stated at a press conference that the state of siege would be lifted upon the conclusion of an ongoing trial of FSLN members, which was expected to end in January 1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D760470–0555) Martial law was not lifted until September 1977. (Telegram 4320 from Managua to the Department, September 19, 1977; ibid., D770340–0240)