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

621. NSC for Robert Pastor—Dept please pass. Subject: Demarche to President Somoza. Ref: State 030739.2

Summary: Amb presented points reftel to Somoza during two-hour luncheon meeting. Somoza indicated only IAHRC visit issue gave him trouble. He said he had no intention of taking reprisals against opposition and he was considering the possibility of a commission to investigate the Chamorro assassination. Somoza said what we wanted was not new to him and gave the impression he might proceed on our agenda at his own pace. He could be stalling for time but the issue of reprisals should be an early test of his intentions. End summary

Somoza in his office, the “bunker,” on Feb 7, the President indicated his pleasure that his government has emerged victorious from the FSLN attacks, the national work stoppage movement and the municipal elections.3 The Ambassador said perhaps he had emerged from these challenges but that the USG was very concerned with the current situation, as Somoza should already be aware. The President said he knew of our concern, but he thought that we were in basic agreement.

2. Amb stated that perhaps Somoza was not fully cognizant of our position and presented a written outline prepared from reftel. Somoza reviewed the points and said all of the issues were “in the mill” except for the issue of the IAHRC visit. He said he had a problem with that because of the pressure being mounted on him by Venezuela. He referred to Amb Machin’s agitating. He said he was no fool, that he was not going to let himself be embarrassed or screwed.

3. Amb said there were two ways to take our points: either as an imposition; or a constructive suggestion for a program for democratization which could lead to his and Nicaragua’s success. Somoza’s reaction was that he understood our position and he would think about it but insisted that he feared that we might be taking away all his cards. Amb [Page 192] responded that we were not trying to do that; we were trying to help him as a friend, not trying to take advantage of him. Amb said that it was essential that the President decide what he wants to do: go out as a leader who has provided for democratic transfer of power or leave office as a dictator. The U.S. was willing to help if it was the former.

4. The Amb explained the basic problem was the increased potential for violence now. He observed that the Somozas, during periods of relaxed rule have taken advantage of the opposition’s tendency to become radicalized by their having an excuse to repress them. What is needed in Nicaragua is true reform to allow for democratic participation and avoid escalating conflict. Somoza indicated that the opposition would never moderate itself; Ambassador responded that it was necessary to give it a chance. Somoza indicated that he might have problems with the official opposition Conservative Party because allowing more parties would hurt them and they know it. He later acknowledged that it could hurt the liberals also because they might split in such a situation. Amb indicated that there was a vicious circle of lack of trust, i.e., the opposition would not trust him because they had lost out in negotiating with him in the past.

5. Amb explained that if Somoza accepted our points we would be willing to contact the opposition and try to persuade them to respond constructively. The U.S. was also prepared to use its influence on neighboring countries to help control the problem. Somoza indicated that the guerrilla problem from Costa Rica was serious. Amb said we cannot move further to help on this without concessions from the GON. Somoza acknowledged the need for this.

6. Somoza referred to the new legitimization of the FSLN. Amb said previously it had been isolated but with the new militancy of the political opposition and the private sector the revolutionaries were gaining respectability. Somoza agreed, and said that there was a problem with growing respectability of the Communists.

7. On the recommendation for a commission for the Chamorro assassination investigation, Somoza said he was interested but that he was unsure of the legal authority for such a body. He indicated that he would like U.S. participation in nominating “third parties” to the investigation.

8. On other points Somoza indicated some of the changes would need constitutional change which would require time; it was not achievable immediately.

9. Amb ended meeting saying that our position should not be considered a threat but that Somoza should know that there would be some temptation within the US to support elements antagonistic to him if he does not act responsibly. Somoza repeated his desire for US [Page 193] support and his belief that our withdrawal of support has led to the current crisis.

10. Comment: Somoza did appear to believe he has overcome the most serious hurdle he has ever faced and will be looking to the next couple of weeks to confirm that success. It is clear he also is concerned with the potential for further violence. At the same time Somoza continues to show dynastic tendencies and insists that the polarization in Nicaragua makes his situation difficult. He is not just concerned about losing control now but also the fact that he and his family could permanently lose out to anti-Somoza forces. In this situation he is apparently nervous that the U.S. could pull the rug out from under him. This would explain his accommodating attitude. He does not want to alienate the U.S. and appears to want to be able to use the U.S. with the opposition. It is important to remember that Somoza’s response to the demarche probably seeks to keep the U.S. off his back at this delicate moment, not necessarily any fundamental acceptance of our position. Somoza may also believe that if the situation should deteriorate and the U.S. were to be confronted with a choice between him and the FSLN (or him and chaos), that we would choose ultimately to back him.4

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780057–1104. Secret; Eyes Only; Niact Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information to Caracas.
  2. See Document 66.
  3. In telegram 577 from Managua, February 6, the Embassy reported: “The two-week general work stoppage and the attendant turmoil, the FSLN guerrilla attacks in Rivas and Granada of Feb 2/3, and the opposition conservative party’s (PCN) call for the postponement of the municipal elections did not deter the government from holding the elections on Feb 5 as scheduled.” The telegram also noted that Embassy officers reported that voter participation was “extremely light or non-existent.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780056–0558)
  4. In telegram 739 from Managua, February 14, the Embassy reported that Somoza had assured Solaun on February 11 that “no Somoza would be President or head of the Guardia” after 1981. The telegram also noted that Somoza “clearly is unwilling to surrender unconditionally to pressures from the opposition or the U.S. and, if backed into a corner, will fight for his survival. The primary immediate problems are to obtain some movement now on specific changes and to establish effective regime-opposition communication. Somoza would like the U.S. to perform that role and then act as guarantor of his good faith by protecting him from excesses of the opposition. The Embassy will be careful not to go beyond encouraging developments as opposed to attempting to control Nicaraguan political processes.” (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of the Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Box 17, Human Rights—Nicaragua I)