203. Telegram From the Embassy in Nicaragua to the Department of State1

1585. Subject: (S) The Nicaraguan Atmosphere: Despair and Fear

1. (S)-Entire text

2. Summary: Political, social, and economic conditions continue in inexorable deterioration while the level of revolutionary, respressive, and criminal violence increases. There appears to be no significant lessening resolve on the part of either Somoza or the FSLN to fight to the finish, and the large body politic caught in the cross-fire is increasingly afraid. Another major FSLN offensive is widely rumored. The democratic political and private sectors are largely despondent and immobilized. This was demonstrated when the Conservative Party (PCN) backed away from its initiative to foment peaceful change through institutional reform.2 With no near-term resolution of the political situation apparent at present, opposition politicians are increasingly accepting that Somoza may succeed in lasting out his term, but they expect that to be at the cost of many further lives. End summary.

3. Signs of desperation and fear: a) The FSLN appears to be on the defensive in the propaganda attacks launched against the USG and the GOCR related to the Costa Rican “operation checkmate, and against the USG, local democratic opposition political groups and private sector leaders for an alleged “imperialist” supported coup plot which would install a civilian-military government and thereby maintain Somocismo without Somoza. There is also evidence FSLN command and control in urban areas has weakened. Local units appear to be hitting targets of opportunity for robberies and extortion, thereby, sometimes, alienating militant oppositionists. The increasing incidence of political assassinations and economic sabotage has recently drawn criticism from La Prensa and the FAO. At the same time they have never been better equipped or had so many veteran fighters.

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4. (b) The GON appears to be seriously preoccupied by current and potential U.S. sanctions and also about the deteriorating internal conditions. Evidence of this concern may be seen in the Luis Pallais trips to Washington, approaches to the Embassy by GON officials, the steps to try to improve the GN’s image or strengthen command and control over the GN, the Somoza reform initiative, and the fact that Somoza accepted, at least tentatively, to entertain the PCN reform initiative which upstaged his own.

5. (c) The moderates, whether politicians or private sector leaders, have remained hamstrung since the end of the mediation process at the beginning of the year partly for fear and partly for an inability to identify any constructive initiative. La Prensa, which is the most influential institution among democratic oppositionists appears to be suffering from schizophrenia, i.e., supporting radicals and publicizing revolutionary activities on the one hand while at the same time urging peaceful democratic change. It has been consistent only in supporting any and all enemies of Somoza. This is presently shifting slightly toward condemning what it considers excesses of revolutionaries.

6. (d) Throughout all this, the general climate has become one of fear. The campesino and the barrio resident both fear being caught between the FSLN and guardia, or being singled out as a sympathizer of one or the other. Businesses and banks, and their employees fear attacks by FSLN or common criminals; middle and upper class residents from armed robberies, and, in the case of the political activists of both sides, assassination. The Sandinistas fear the increasing presence and alertness of the better armed GN and, consequently, have chosen to concentrate on hit-and-run attacks rather than direct confrontation. The Guardia fear the hit-and-run tactics of the FSLN. As more GN are killed, the more nervous, trigger-happy, and over-reactive they become to the harm of innocent bystanders as well as the Sandinistas. As the level of violence increases, counter-action by the GN and GON leads to further human rights violations and repressive measures: this vicious circle has created an almost palpable sense of fear among Nicaraguans who see no early end to upward spiraling violence, nor any viable solution to the political situation. Even those non-PCN oppositionists that might participate in the democratic reform process fear to do so because of likely FSLN retaliation, or take a “what’s the use” attitude.

7. The reform initiative: In an almost desperate last-ditch effort in reaction to this increasingly difficult climate, the traditional opposition PCN introduced its reform initiative. The PCN came under attack from all other oppositionists for its continued participation in the regime thereby lending it an appearance of legitimacy. Although the legislative initiative would have succeeded in forcing Somoza’s hand to demon [Page 530] strate how far and how fast he might accept changes which would fundamentally affect continuation of the dynasty, the PCN succumbed to the criticism and threats and withdrew the proposal. However, most of them are not willing to leave their seats in the Congress.

8. The FAO: The Broad Opposition Front does not show any sign of disappearing. This is in large part because they believe in democratic change and are convinced that to join the Patriotic Front (FPN) would be to support a Marxist-dominated organization. FAO leaders realize that they will lose political relevance unless they are seen to be active. However, other than emitting communiques dissociating themselves from the GON, and criticizing the PCN and the violence of the radical left, they have yet to find a significant positive role to play in the post-mediation environment.

9. The radical left: The FPN was formed when the radical left thought the FAO would fall apart as a consequence of the unsuccessful mediation initiative. It is dominated by the semi-clandestine United People’s Movement (MPU), but includes an overlay of radicalized democratic oppositionists who lend it a public face for its propaganda activities. The MPU is virtually indistinguishable in its revolutionary objective from the FSLN which it supports. The goal of the FPN is to coordinate all opposition activities, but so far its influence appears to be largely confined to students, who have long been leftist dominated, and other radical groups which are members of the FPN. There are tensions between the radicalized democratic groups and the MPU. There already appears to have been some soul-searching and defections in the “popular” Social Christian Party Faction (PPSC). There have been some second thoughts also among the Group of Twelve. This alliance of democratic and leftist groups likely will last only as long as the democratic groups are willing to let themselves be used by the revolutionaries.

10. The private sector: The business community is divided on what strategy to follow to affect political change and even on what strategy it would like the USG to follow. Traditionally, they have been outside of politics and have benefited from the Somoza rule. They realize they are culpable, but are now faced with choosing the left which is inimical to their interest or the, by now, much hated Somoza. They and their businesses are subject to the growing wave of personal assault and robbery. Severely depressed economic conditions have created a strong fear that soon more businesses will fail and others will be forced to lay off more employees, thus contributing further to deterioration of the social situation. They point to the USG as both a cause of the deterioration and a hope for relief. Thus far, the private sector has been very timid both in pronouncements and financial support of the moderate opposition.

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11. The Church: The Catholic Church and, in particular, Archbishop Obando y Bravo have been remarkably quiet during this period of escalating violence. This may be due to the influence of a significant number of priests who also have become radicalized. Obando has no problem criticizing violence of the GON, but he has pressure on him to not criticize the FSLN. This may now be changing as seen in the Archbishop becoming actively involved in a “national reflection” movement which some of its participants believe may result in the successor initiative to the dialog movement of late 1977 and the mediation initiative.

12. USG role: The traditional pattern continues to be that all political activists look to the USG as having a major role in achieving the political resolution of the crisis. This may be seen as much in attacks on the USG by the FSLN as the approaches to the USG by the GON and various factions of the democratic opposition. The GON and the FSLN believe the USG is actively involved against their respective interests, while the democratic opposition factions believe the USG is not actively enough involved in removing Somoza and thereby eroding support for the FSLN.

13. Likely future environment: There have been persistent rumors, especially since February, that the FSLN is preparing for another major offensive similar to that of last September. This possibility has taken on increasing specificity based FSLN members being flushed out of Costa Rica into Nicaragua, and the increased level of FSLN hit-and-run activities which some observers interpret as battle seasoning. At the same time, most local observers and Emb believe that in the near-term, the GN is not likely to be defeated militarily despite the FSLN’s increasingly sophisticated weaponry and its small-scale victories, such as in El Jicaro in the northern mountains, where the small Guardia post was wiped out. Thus, the prospect is becoming more likely though not certain, that despite a continued high level of violence, Somoza may be able to hold on to power at least until the end of his term absent some unforseen event such as another heart attack or external direct intervention.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs, U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS, Luigi Einaudi Files, Lot 90D413, PRM 46 Admin. Secret. Sent for information to Guatemala City, San Salvador, Tegucigalpa, San José, and USSOUTHCOM Quarry Heights.
  2. In telegram 1233 from Managua, March 9, the Embassy reported that the Nicaraguan Conservative Party had “prepared a wide-ranging proposal for constitutional reforms.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790113–0373) In telegram 1553 from Managua, March 28, the Embassy reported that the “PCN withdrew its institutional reform proposal in the congressional session of March 27.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790147–1052)