63. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Nicaragua1

5019. Subject: Nicaragua at the Crossroads: The National Dialogue. Refs: (A) Managua 4908;2 (B) Managua A–109,3 (C) State 249215.4

Summary: The political debate in Nicaragua continues to revolve around the idea of a “national dialogue” to seek a solution to the problems that are leading to political violence. A five-member commission composed of the Archbishop of Managua, two other bishops, the President of INDE (an organization of businessmen promoting national development) and the legal advisor to the Catholic Church, has been set up to mediate. The dialogue has been strongly supported by opposition political parties and several private sector organizations, but the government response has been to throw up roadblocks. Continued FSLN attacks are possible with some corollary strikes or mass demonstrations also possible, especially if the dialogue concept fails.5 End summary.

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1. The political debate in Nicaragua continues to revolve around the idea of a “national dialogue” involving the participation of the government, all political opposition elements, the Catholic Church, and the private sector, to seek solution to the problems that are causing political violence in Nicaragua. The idea of a “national dialogue” was originally proposed by the Archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo in his Oct 18 statement (ref A) and elicited strong support from opposition political parties and organizations, and several private sector organizations. During the last week, the Archbishop held consultations with many political and business leaders.

2. The opposition political parties and organizations have strongly supported the dialogue concept. Representatives of the different opposition groups have been meeting in order to hammer out common positions. The leadership of the Union of Democratic Liberation (UDEL) has stated that its objective is President Somoza’s resignation and implementation of their five-point program (ref B). The officially-recognized Conservative Party (PCN) has also called for a dialogue, but has not agreed on an agenda. Some conservatives have stated that the PCN must demand Somoza’s resignation, but PCN President Rene Sandino indicated to EmbOff Oct 22 that the party might be satisfied with “removal of corrupt officials.”

3. In a statement issued Oct 23 the national directorate of the Liberal Party, rejected any “unconstitutional” solution and accused the Conservative Party of violating the political pacts (most recently the Somoza-Aguero pact of 1972 that gave the PCN an increased minority share in the government) and its responsibility to maintain peace in Nicaragua. In an interview published Oct 25 in Novedades, Edgard Solano Luna, President Somoza’s private secretary, stated that there should be a dialogue between the two legally-recognized parties (liberal and conservative) but that there cannot be a dialogue with terrorists.

4. A key factor in the pressure being brought to bear on President Somoza is the private sector which in the past has generally either supported or acquiesced in the status quo. Private sector attitudes are important not only because their attitudes can significantly affect the economic climate but also because it is a testing ground of the Somoza regime’s ability to use its economic might to influence or control this sector. On Oct 22 the Nicaraguan Development Institute (INDE), an association of 500 businessmen and enterprises, some of which are very large, joined the archbishop’s call for a “national dialogue” to “re-establish the bases of democracy, peace, the full respect for human rights, and confidence in (the country’s) institutions, without which there cannot be development or social justice.” Similar pronouncements were issued by the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber of Industry, and the Chamber of Construction during the last few days. [Page 180] These positions were taken despite the fact Somoza family business interests are represented in these chambers.

5. On Oct 26 it was announced that a commission composed of Archbishop Obando y Bravo, Manuel Salazar, Bishop of Leon and President of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference, Pablo Vega, Bishop of Juigalpa and Vice-President of the Episcopal Conference, Alfonso Robelo, President of INDE, and Felix Guandique, legal advisor to the Catholic Church, would coordinate the dialogue.

6. Comment: In spite of the unprecedented pressures being exerted by the Catholic Church, the political opposition and the private sector, the national dialogue faces formidable obstacles, such as the problem of the participation of the National Sandinist Liberation Front (FSLN), whose recent attacks provided the initial catalyst for the call to a dialogue. The liberals have explicitly rejected participation by the FSLN, while some oppositionists believe that no meaningful solution to the problem of political violence in Nicaragua can be found without FSLN participation. UDEL strategists believe that indirect FLSN participation can be arranged, possibly through quote the Twelve unquote (ref C), should the FSLN agree to participate. A more basic problem is that of Somoza’s tenure. The more militant elements in the opposition insist that the national dialogue should be a vehicle for obtaining Somoza’s resignation. Somoza, however, would be extremely unlikely to agree to his own political demise unless far greater pressure than now seems possible is brought to bear on him. The most likely outcomes of the present situation are then:

(A) A refusal by Somoza to participate in a dialogue with all sectors. Although this would involve heavy political costs, Somoza might find it a preferable alternative to appearing to negotiate under pressure.

(B) Participation in a dialogue with preparedness to make minor concessions (such as removal of some of the most unpopular officials) that might satisfy some critics. This would have the advantage of permitting Somoza to argue that he has satisfied demands for change while leaving his personal power intact. A variation of these two possible responses would be for Somoza to make a Cabinet shakeup while still refusing to dialogue.

7. These outcomes, however, would be unacceptable to the FSLN and the more militant elements in the political opposition. The probable result would be continued FSLN attacks to the extent that it maintains the capability to do so. Udelistas and conservative activists argue the possibility of mounting mass demonstrations and strikes. The critical factors are likely to be the ability of the FSLN to continue attacks against the GN and GON and private sector concern which could become translated into serious economic instability. Although it appears to be a remote possibility at present, escalated, sustained violence could [Page 181] result in a return to the state of siege and/or the erosion of Somoza’s traditional pillars of support.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770398–0476. Confidential. Sent for information to Caracas, Guatemala, Mexico City, Panama City, San José, San Salvador, and Tegucigalpa.
  2. In telegram 4908 from Managua, October 25, the Embassy reported on Obando y Bravo’s October 18 statement calling for a “constructive dialogue” to address the violent situation in Nicaragua. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770392–0523)
  3. In airgram A–109 from Managua, September 2, the Embassy reported that La Prensa had published the UDEL program. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P770149–0652)
  4. In telegram 249215 to Managua, October 17, the Department reported on a document given to Shelton by William Brown of the Washington Office on Latin America. The Department noted: “Twelve nationally prominent Nicaraguans declared jointly last night that there cannot be any permanent solution to the escalating armed conflict which now threatens to envelop all of Nicaragua without the participation of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770381–0934) For more information about the Group of 12, see Document 85.
  5. In telegram 4887 from Managua, October 21, the Embassy reported that “details of recent FSLN attacks are not entirely clear but it now appears that a series of probably partially coordinated attacks by revolutionaries on National Guard forces began on October 12 in the north shortly followed by an attack in the south and continued on the 17th at Masaya near Managua.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770388–0402) In telegram 4881 from Managua, October 21, the Embassy reported that “non-Communists are participating with FSLN elements in recent attacks on the National Guard (GN).” The Embassy also noted: “This new anti-Somoza violence and the 12’s document (reftel) calling for participation of the FSLN in a solution to Nicaragua’s political problems has caused the various opposition political parties and factions to restudy their positions vis-à-vis the FSLN.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770388–0187; for the reftel, see footnote 4 above)