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

3330. Subject: Meeting with Somoza—July 21. Ref: A) State 1834512 B) Managua 33113 C) Managua 3125.4

Summary. Pursuant to Department’s instructions, Ambassador met with Somoza and delivered President Carter’s letter to him. The Ambassador stressed the confidential nature of the letter and Somoza said he understood that the letter was “personal” in nature. He expressed continued interest in a public statement from the USG. Somoza’s answer will be passed to the President through the Embassy when ready. Somoza then discussed the previous day’s incident at the Intercontinental Hotel citing it as proof of the “international” nature of the conspiracy against him. Somoza also told the Ambassador that upon consultation with his Cabinet, he had decided that ratification of the American Conference [Convention] on Human Rights should be postponed until after the visit of the IAHRC to Nicaragua. Somoza said that he had decided there was no need to reimpose a state of siege.5 End summary.

1. On the same day that instructions (ref A) were received, the Ambassador made an appointment for 6:00 p.m. with President Somoza. This meeting had to be postponed because of the rocket attack on the headquarters of the National Guard (ref B). At 8:30 a.m. on July 21, the Ambassador met for 20 minutes with the President. The Ambassador delivered President Carter’s letter to Somoza and read to him the following statement:

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2. Begin quote. I am under strict instructions to observe that the letter is a confidential communication between President Carter and you, and neither the text or the existence of the correspondence should be disclosed. If you have any response which you would like to transmit to President Carter in a confidential channel, I am at your disposal. Since he signed the letter, President Carter has become aware of recent incidents and violence and has instructed me to express his deep concern over these incidents and his continued strong hope that there will be no reversal of the positive direction which you indicated you would take. End quote.

3. Somoza read the letter and observed that it was basically the statement communicated earlier by the Ambassador (ref C). Somoza asked if the idea of not having the letter published came from Embassy staff and whether the USG would make a statement along the lines that Somoza had suggested (ref C). Somoza said there was a need to calm the opposition and that the opposition was using the wave of human rights push “to the hilt.” The Ambassador replied that the instructions to treat the letter as confidential came from Washington. Somoza said that he understood that this was a personal letter and that he will answer it and would inform the Ambassador when the reply was ready.6

4. Somoza then said that the previous day’s attack on the headquarters of the National Guard indicated the “international” nature of the insurrection. The rockets used were only solo in arsenals and this meant they were of foreign origin. He expressed his belief that similar rockets were also used in the February 1978 attack on Rivas.7 The violence would end, he said, only when the Communists decided to stop using it. Somoza mentioned that he had had conversation with Alan Riding of the New York Times and was very concerned because even Riding recognized that the traditional opposition has no control over events. Somoza stated that he would “have to find out who is the ghost behind all of this”.

5. Somoza reported that he had signed the American Convention on Human Rights and that ratification was pending by the Nicaraguan Congress. However, he had decided that this ratification should be postponed until after the proposed visit of the IAHRC to Nicaragua. The Cabinet, he said, had advised him against ratification now because the convention also included the formation of a court and due to the [Page 219] current situation, Nicaragua would probably be attacked before the court if it submitted to its jurisdiction. The court could be controlled by a political clique, he added. Somoza said that the Cabinet had also discussed the reimposition of the state of siege [garble] all members of the Cabinet and he had agreed that the problem of violence was limited to three cities—Jinotepe, Esteli and Leon—where there had been infiltration of outsiders and systematic agitation. He did not see the [garble] to siege condition on the entire country when the problems were confined to such a few locations.

6. Somoza asked the Ambassador of his views of the situation in the context of the one-day national work stoppage. Ambassador responded that his impression was that among businessmen the notion of the need for a compromise between the extremes was gaining strength, and that some businessmen seemed concerned by the open emergence and strength of Sandinista groups. The Ambassador felt that this conciliatory movement among businessmen had not yet acquired sufficient support. Perhaps, he suggested, in Somoza’s contacts with business groups in the near future, he might wish to take the initiative and inform them of his desire to compromise and find a peaceful solution to Nicaragua’s problem.

7. The Ambassador raised the Chamorro assassination noting that clearly this brutal and senseless act had been the significant event in unleashing the current wave of violence. The Ambassador suggested that a more rapid treatment of the case might calm passions and serve as an indication of the GON’s credibility. Somoza told the Ambassador about the formation of a new commission which could even draw on foreign experts in the course of its investigation (septel) to clarify events.8 As far as he was concerned, Somoza stated, he had come to his conclusions on the case already. The Ambassador replied that apparently the material actors have been apprehended but the question of the intellectual authors remained open. Somoza replied that Pena could, of course, implicate anyone but that he believed enough evidence already existed implication Pedro Ramos (U.S. citizen) as the intellectual author. He added that Chamorro had attacked Ramos not only for his blood plasma business, but had also been preparing to attack Ramos’ import business as well. Ramos, Somoza said the assassination had occured and Somoza agreed.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 5–7/78. Confidential; Immediate. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. In telegram 183451 to Managua, July 20, the Department noted Solaun’s concerns about delivering Carter’s letter to Somoza and instructed Solaun to proceed with the delivery and inform Somoza of Carter’s “deep concern” about the recent violence in Nicaragua. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P780187–2569)
  3. In telegram 3311 from Managua, July 21, the Embassy reported that unidentified persons had launched rockets from a room in the Intercontinental Hotel toward the National Guard headquarters. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P780300–0687)
  4. See Document 76.
  5. In telegram 3229 from Managua, July 18, the Embassy reported Solaun’s July 15 meeting with Somoza during which Somoza “raised his concern about the state of public order in Nicaragua and indicated that he is under some pressure to re-impose a state of siege.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780295–0415)
  6. Somoza’s letter replying to Carter was dated July 25. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, President’s Correspondence with Foreign Leaders File, Box 14, Nicaragua, President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, 8/77–8/78)
  7. Alan Riding, “Push Against Somoza Joined By Guerrillas,” New York Times, February 4, 1978, p. 2.
  8. In telegram 3333 from Managua, July 21, the Embassy recounted news reports that Somoza had “named a special commission of ‛jurists of recognized merit’ to analyze the state of the investigation into the assassination” of Chamorro and noted that there was “no indication as to whether the members named to the commission were consulted in advance regarding their willingness to serve on such a commission.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780301–0137)