344. Telegram 1485 From the Embassy in Venezuela to the Department of State1

1485. Subject: President Perez’ Views on Nicaragua

1. Following a social reception evening of February 12 at which all were present, President Perez invited the Ambassador, and McNeil to join him and Foreign Minister Consalvi at La Casona for a late night cognac to discuss Nicaraguan situation. In the two-hour conversation which ensured Perez made another deeply-felt exposition on the situation which he clearly intended be conveyed to the highest levels of the USG. His main points were:

(A) With the growing crisis in Nicaragua, Perez said he had thought that the U.S. would take some initiative in implementation of President Carter’s human rights policy, when nothing happened Perez said he took the initiative in writing the January 31 letter to President Carter2 which he intended as an urgent consultation. Since he did not receive an answer from the President,3 Perez said he decided to take some [Page 984] initiatives alone and instructed Machin to place the matter of the IAHRC on the OAS agenda; he also, the President said, persuaded the the CTV to call for a labor union boycott on oil and other shipments to Nicaragua.

(B) Somoza is an astute and Machiavellian fedual lord; he will not willingly give up any power or end the dynasty, either now or in 1981. He cannot simply be “talked” into real negotiation with the opposition; he can only be forced into it; otherwise, he will stall until it is too late.

(C) Unless some prompt measures are taken to force Somoza into negotiating the demise of the Somoza dynasty, the radicalization of the situation will be assured, the middle class will be chewed up in the middle and extremists of one sort or another will impose an armed solution.

(D) The Sandinistas are stronger than people think; Castro is assisting in very discreet and quiet but significant ways. The Sandinistas are divided into two groups; one an extreme wing which believes armed rebellion is the only route, and a second group which is prepared to accept middle class, private-sector association, although they do not ideologically agree with it. The private-sector, middle class, professional and business groups are beginning to support the Sandinistas in the same way that the middle class supported Castro. The situation, Perez said, is very similar to the Batista period, and if we are not careful the same thing will happen in Nicaragua. If things do not move to solution, the Sandinistas will begin to really press, and the National Guard will not resist them for too long, but will cut and run.

(E) To do nothing now will reinforce frustration, convince Somoza he can ride it out and hoodwink the Americans, push the middle class civic leaders into the Sandinista camp and give the latter respectability, and insure a radical “solution” abetted by Castro.

(F) Perez said he accepted the idea of negotiating a transition. But he repeated that Somoza will do this only if he is convinced the U.S. will not support his continuance in power and that he has no alternative. The fact that he is ill should help this idea, because he may be willing to face the necessity of negotiating an orderly “withdrawal” of the Somozas (preserving the family from ruin) before he drops dead.

(G) Perez said he proposes that the U.S. and Venezuela join in leading an international effort to put pressure on Somoza. What he suggested were steps to make clear to Somoza that he has no choice but to negotiate with the opposition and then explicit suggestions to him to undertake those negotiations. As to the first “demonstration” steps, Perez suggested that economic pressure be placed on Somoza and, secondly, that the U.S. undertake a criminal investigation in the U.S. of the alleged implication of Pedro Ramos in the Chamorro assassination. Doing the latter would, Perez said, be a clear signal to Somoza— [Page 985] and to all Nicaraguans. Absent action by the U.S. authorities against Ramos, the far left in Nicaragua will assert the U.S. is helping cover up the crime.

(H) Noting that Somoza was reported in the press as preparing to buy major quantities of arms in Spain, Perez said he intended to call in the Spanish Ambassador and Spanish Economic Minister who is currently in Caracas to press them not to sell arms to Nicaragua. He asked that we also ask the Spanish to refrain from selling arms to Nicaragua.

2. For the most part we listened while Perez explained in more detail than in his earlier exposition (Caracas 1204)4 his assessment of the Nicaraguan situation, his analysis of the Sandinistas and his views of the strategy to be followed. He was clearly interested in our explanation of our quiet parallel approaches to Somoza and his Ambassador in Washington stressing the need for (A) an early IAHRC visit; (B) the initiation of a dialogue between Somoza and the opposition and (C) avoiding reprisals. He recognized that the U.S. genuinely hoped for the emergence of a democratic solution in Nicaragua, but felt that our quote hesitation unquote would inadvertently contribute to a breakdown in which we might be faced with the Hobson’s choice of intervention or acquiescing in a return to rightest repression or, more likely, the emergence of a Castro-like phenomena.

3. In response to our questions about the apparently differing perceptions of the level of repression in Nicaragua, Perez agreed that the National Guard may have largely avoided flagrant incidents, although he insisted that the level of Guard violence in smaller towns was considerably higher than we seemed to recognize. Perez said that the repression was high, however, in the sense of legal harrassment and pressure. e.g., cutting off telex and telephone service to Chamorro’s paper and family, and the use of economic levers and pressure against opponents. In this, Perez emphasized, Somoza was cynically shrewd and adamant.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780066-0633. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information immediate to Managua.
  2. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America, footnote 3, Document 68.
  3. For Carter’s February 17 response and the USG deliberations over Perez’s letter, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America, Documents 69 and 71.
  4. Dated February 6. During a February 5 discussion about the OAS role in Nicaragua, Vaky reported that Perez “said Somozas would never agree to give up real power and would not sincerely permit democratization which meant giving up power; democratization was possible only if Somozas left and they would leave only under international pressure.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780055-0470)