69. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter1


  • Response to Venezuelan President Perez’s Letter

President Perez has written you a rather dramatic letter urging you to join with him in the O.A.S. to help end what he calls “the ferocious repression” unleashed by General Somoza against his own people.2 His Ambassador to the O.A.S. last week demanded that Nicaragua invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate abuses in Nicaragua.3 The Nicaraguan Ambassador was vehement in denouncing the Venezuelan.

Perez’s letter raised extremely difficult questions for the USG about the kind of role we should play in Nicaraguan and implicitly in all Central American politics. Historically, the U.S. has been deeply involved in the politics of the region for two reasons: We feared instability and political chaos might result from our not being involved; and secondly, all sides have sought our active support.

In the current political crisis in Nicaragua, both Somoza and most of the opposition groups have sought our active involvement and endorsement just as they have done in the past. The question which State and NSC wrestled with during the last week—and the reason a response was delayed—was whether the USG should play its historical role of organizing the internal politics of the country, or whether the pledge of non-intervention, which you made at the O.A.S. last April, meant that we should consider a more neutral role.4 After much debate within the Department, Cy and Warren Christopher concluded that your pledge of non-intervention meant that we should not be drawn [Page 199] into the internal debate or political maneuvering in Nicaragua; instead we should make strong and general statements of support for democratization in Nicaragua and all countries. I strongly concur in their recommendation, and the letter at Tab A reflects that view.5

Perez views Somoza like he viewed Rafael Trujillo or Perez Jimenez, the Venezuelan dictator of the 1950’s who imprisoned and exiled Perez. He is passionately interested in political change in Nicaragua, and is reported to be funding the rebels. But I believe he will respond positively to your explanation of non-intervention as the reason for our more cautious approach simply because the principle of non-intervention is one the Latin Americans—especially Perez—have tried hard to teach the U.S.

The letter at Tab A takes the U.S. down the path of non-intervention which I believe will reap important benefits for the U.S. in the long-term.


That you send the letter at Tab A.6


Perez’s letter of January 31 was received by cable the next day. When the Department had not produced a draft by February 6th, my staff did, but I asked him to get clearance from State, where the issues raised by Perez generated a difficult but long debate. We finally received a recommended draft in the afternoon of February 15th.7 A few additional changes by NSC were cleared by State and Fallows.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 1–4/78. Confidential. Sent for action.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 68.
  3. In telegram 1485 from Caracas, February 13, Vaky reported on a February 12 conversation with Perez during which Perez said that he “thought that the U.S. would take some initiative in implementation of President Carter’s human rights policy” in Nicaragua. Vaky continued: “When nothing happened Perez said he took the initiative in writing the January 31 letter to President Carter which he intended as an urgent consultation.” In the absence of a U.S. response, Perez “instructed Machin to place the matter of the IAHRC on the OAS agenda.” Brzezinski wrote to Pastor at the top of the page: “RP Where is the letter?” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 1–4/78)
  4. See footnote 6, Document 4.
  5. Attached but not printed. For the text of Carter’s letter to Perez, see Document 71.
  6. Carter approved the recommendation. Brzezinski added the following notation next to the recommendation: “You might add a hand-written P.S. on how much you value his counsel and that you look forward to the visit to Caracas.”
  7. Under a February 15 covering memorandum, Christopher sent the draft response to Brzezinski. (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of the Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Lot 81D113, Box 9, Memoranda to the White House—1978)