83. Memorandum From the Director of the Central America Office, Bureau of Inter-American Affairs (Matthews) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Vaky)1


  • Our Meeting on Nicaragua Tuesday, August 29

In considering the options, I believe there are several points we should keep in mind:

1. Our Objective—It should be to prevent damage to U.S. political (including security) and economic interests in Central America. It should not be to get rid of Somoza or to keep him in power, nor should it be to install democracy in Nicaragua, to promote social change, to disassociate, or to ingratiate ourselves with Perez, Torrijos, Paz, Kennedy or Charlie Wilson. Nicaragua per se is not very important to us. Central America is much more important.

2. Nicaragua is a Political Problem, Not a Human Rights Problem—Despite unprecedented guerrilla attacks, Somoza allows opponents who openly call for his violent overthrow and support of the Sandinistas to go about their business generally unmolested. He has not yet re-imposed a state of siege as he did after the 1974 incident2 and the press remains free and vitriolic. The National Guard, despite undoubted instances of brutality, is behaving remarkably well for a Latin American military force suffering frequent casualties.

3. The basic cause of Somoza’s difficulties is regime fatigue, just as it is with the Shah of Iran, just as it is incipiently with Trujillo. It’s not [Page 226] primarily his corruption, his human rights record, or anything else he has done. Nicaraguans are just sick and tired of the dynasty. This means the only real solution to his internal political problem is his (and his son’s) departure from power, but it also means that the people’s grievance is not so burning that they will go to any extreme to push him out. If he reimposes repression, it will work, though only over the short to medium term.

4. Somoza’s tactic is to allow anarchy to grow until the business community and middle class beg him to restore order or at least until they accept his proffered dialogue to that end. If things get out of hand, he always has the option of repression by the National Guard. He would use that option only if the situation were extreme since he realizes that could break the remnant of his relationship with us. If we break it anyway, our hostile action would seem to remove a major reason against a harsh crackdown.

5. There is a very real danger of a second Cuba here with all of its political implications. Probably not through a Sandinista takeover a la Havana in the face of a crumbling National Guard, but through the better organized Marxist-Leninist elements among the Sandinistas quickly dominating an opposition-controlled successor government in which they formed a part through superior firepower. The best way to prevent this would be to ensure that the National Guard, as an institution (purged, perhaps of its most corrupt elements), continues as Nicaragua’s military force after Somoza’s departure from power.

6. The FSLN may be more Marxist-Leninist and more Cuban-linked than we now think. Two factions are exclusively Marxist-Leninist, while the Tercerista faction, which pulled off the National Palace caper, has both Marxist-Leninist and non-Marxist elements. But who’s in charge? I’m disturbed by the oral report we got from the Agency last Friday that Pastora, the leader of the caper and of the FSLN in Costa Rica, who publicly proclaims himself a Christian and who demanded to be flown to Panama, not Cuba, travels on a Cuban passport (as do 47 other Sandinistas) and was last in Cuba in April.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor Files, Country Files, Box 33, Nicaragua: 8/78. Secret. Copies were sent to Einaudi, Welter, Graham, Winstanley, Shaw Smith, and Kreisberg. Matthews did not initial the memorandum. Vaky initialed the first page of the memorandum on August 28. For additional information about the meeting, see Document 85.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 59.