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

3420. Subject: Military Assistance. Ref: State 197806.2

1. (S-Entire text.)

2. I believe we have to consider a more imaginative approach on military assistance than projected in reftel. I appreciate the constraints we face and recognize that we are not in a position to provide any major materiel. I already disabused Borge on that score. But we should examine possible options so we will be prepared to address the issue [Page 727] with more substance the next time it is raised from the GRN side. At the moment, I do not think it advisable to raise the subject with anyone in the GRN until we have a clearer view of what we are and are not prepared to do. Approaching moderates, such as Robelo, with issues of principal concern to the military members of this new government would be the surest way to burn him. Besides, in trying to establish his revolutionary credentials, Robelo is currently playing the hard line. Borge doesn’t have to defend his credentials.

3. Whatever the “general sense” is in Washington about Borge, we should resist forming mindsets about the new figures and currents we have to deal with here. We suffer a paucity of information and little or no personal contact with Borge and most of the other new actors on the Nicaragua scene. We must keep in mind that Borge was sent by the GRN to receive me at the airport and to request military assistance. He later repeated the request at a press conference that same evening. I have already received queries from the US press here on the subject.

4. We are dealing with the following sequence of events. Borge requested military assistance with specific interest in aircraft, helicopters, etc. He made clear that US military advisors or survey team were taboo under present conditions and he indicated that Panama and Venezuela might play a role in the military area.

5. Why the request. There are a number of possible explanations. The GRN/FSLN:

A) May be overexaggerating the Somoza counter-revolutionary threat and seeking our involvement as insurance against Somoza;

B) May believe the US military arsenal is an automat; press the right button and out tumble airplanes, and other military goodies;

C) May have been advised by Cuba to make the approach to allay our concerns about Cuban involvement and thus lull us into a sense of security;

D) May have made the request expecting a negative response and then turn to the Soviets who may be willing to supply some obsolete high profile equipment and follow on Soviets re Cuban miliary advisers.

6. Whatever the motivation, the GRN made a request. I have left it with Borge that he should consult with others in the GRN and come back to us. We have some time, and should use it constructively.

7. I believe we should consult immediately with the Panamians and the Venezuelans to see if they are willing to enter into a three-cornered military assistance arrangement along the following lines:3

[Page 728]

—The Venezuleans would offer to provide a military assistance advisory team to help in the reorganization of the Sandinista Army, Air Force, and Navy Units.

—Panama would make a similar offer to develop and train an independent police force.

—We would coordinate closely with Panama and Venezuela to identify the specific areas in which we could provide training and a modest level of non-lethal equipment. We should be thinking in terms of a 3 to 5 million dollar grant package for communications gear, vehicles or similar equipment of priority need and a $300,000 to 500,000 IMET fund for technical and command-staff training.

8. FMS credit alone will not do. This country is near bankruptcy. An offer to simply extend FMS credit would be an extremely lame contribution. We should keep the FY 79 FMS $2.5 million in reserve, however. Indeed, if we are at all serious we may have to consider painful cuts from other programs or a supplemental. Otherwise we have no cards to play and will be dealt out of this game.

9. I believe Torrijos could be induced to support such an approach. If Venezuela shows some hesitation, we might go to the Brazilians or the Mexicans. I believe Torrijos should be our first port of call on this idea, but I leave it to the judgement of the other addressees as to whether another approach would be preferable. We should move fast.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790348–1213. Secret; Niact Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to Panama City, San José, Santo Domingo, Tegucigalpa, Guatemala City, and Caracas.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 298.
  3. Brzezinski noted on an August 1 memorandum prepared in the White House that summarized Pezzullo’s reporting that he agreed with Pezzullo’s proposal. He instructed Pastor to pursue it. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 36, Nicaragua: 8/1–10/79)
  4. In telegram 5016 from Guatemala City, August 1, Ortiz commented that he could “think of few things the US could do that would more definitively enrage large sectors of Guatemalan public opinion particularly in the key military, official and private sectors than to have the US embark directly or indirectly on a grant military assistance program to the new Government of Nicaragua.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Freedom of Information/Legal, Kimmitt, Arms Transfers/Country File, Box 19, Guatemala: 3/77–11/80) In telegram 4220 from Tegucigalpa, August 2, Jaramillo informed Vaky that “any USG decision to give military assistance to Nicaragua will be most upsetting to Honduran Government no matter how we explain such assistance.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790352–0039) In telegram 4359 from San Salvador, August 2, Devine referred to the concerns expressed about providing military assistance to Nicaragua by Ortiz and Jaramillo and indicated that such concerns “are equally applicable in the case of El Salvador.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Freedom of Information/Legal, Kimmitt, Arms Transfers/Country File, Box 27, Nicaragua: 5/77–10/80) In telegram 204231 to Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, and San Salvador, August 6, the Department responded to Ortiz, Jaramillo, and Devine’s concerns and instructed them to explain to their host governments that the U.S. did not want the GRN to turn to Cuba for military assistance; no major offensive arms would be provided, as the GRN had a major need for military training; Latin American countries would be taking the lead on any assistance program; and the donation of modest amounts of communication and transportation equipment might help the United States to influence “nation building.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 36, Nicaragua: 8/1–10/79)