349. Telegram From the Embassy in Venezuela to the Department of State1

9609. Subject: Nicaragua: Conversation With President Perez

1. Summary: During breakfast with President Perez, I listened to his entire tale of woe about his relations with the USG over Nicaragua. The President proposed a secret agreement between the US-Venezuela-Colombia-Panama to have a peacekeeping force on standby should chaos develop in Nicaragua. He also explained in some detail his assurances from Fidel that Cuba would not actively involve itself there. To several probes from me he denied that any evidence could be adduced that Venezuela is assisting the Sandinista movement or intervening in any way. He said he would be preparing a letter to President Carter in the next few days explaining again his belief that “delaying is not deciding” and that time is on the side of Somoza.2 End summary.

2. In a two-hour breakfast at La Casona on October 11, I found the President as eloquent, friendly and energetic as ever. He is ending up his presidency strongly convinced that he leaves a more vital Venezuela than when he took over. Speaking candidly about the end of his administration, he is clearly not, as some have suggested, ignoring the fact that his presidency is coming to an end. On the contrary, he is trying to wrap up a number of initiatives, including Somoza before he leaves office in March. He was as friendly as he has always been with me and we talked about some of the changes he had noted in Venezuela over my five years of absence.

3. The conversation passed quickly to the subject of Nicaragua. The President related the entire history of his relations with Somoza and Nicaragua from the time of his exile in Costa Rica and spoke in considerable detail about the various events, as he saw them, since the death of Chamorro, including the visit of President Carter,3 his many talks with Torrijos, his long day on Orchila with Somoza, his profound disappointment to learn, after that meeting, of President Carter’s letter [Page 1010] to Somoza4 and his increasing disappointment with the “naive and delaying” policy of the U.S. Perez is obsessed with this problem as everyone knows, but he said to me on my departure that he wants to clear it up before he leaves office. He believes he alone: can deliver Venezuela’s support; can influence the major external actors, particularly Fidel and Torrijos, but including the U.S., and, more importantly, that he can be an important actor in influencing the direction of events within Nicaragua. His ego is involved, not to mention his entire sense of history.

4. Between his orations on the role he perceives himself as having played, he did permit me opportunities to explain U.S. policy. I conveyed to him in some detail the information provided me through other channels about evidence of recent Sandinista involvement with the Cubans.5 (Thanks for that information by the way). I went over in general terms the status of the Mediation Group’s negotiations in Nicaragua. I went over with him an elaborate chart provided me by ARA of the Frente Amplio Opositor (FAO) NTO demonstrate the scope of the opposition. He assured me that he had had contact with virtually all of the elements we had listed as represented in the FAO. I assured him that our policy was not to try to delay until 1981. Our policy was to work through the Mediation Group to develop a consensus within the FAO and within Nicaragua on how best to organize a peaceful transition from the Somoza government. I told him that the FAO, including a representative of the Group of 12 as a major spokesman, was clearly seeing some benefit from these discussions. Some lifting of censorship had already been achieved and they were continuing to talk. It seemed to me unfortunate for anyone outside Nicaragua to be more aggressive and anxious than the FAO itself. I said that even if Somoza’s decision to lift the censorship was a tactic to divide the FAO we are continuing to try to work toward a lifting of the state of siege and other relaxations of constitutional restraints. I explained that we realized the task was extremely difficult but so far it had proceeded better than we had expected. I said that we saw broad support developing for a change in Somoza’s government, that Somoza seemed uncertain and that we need time and the support of the Venezuelan Government.

5. At several stages in the conversation I brought the subject back to Cuban involvement. Perez described assurances he had received [Page 1011] from Fidel that Fidel would no longer involve himself with arms or direct support for the Sandinistas. Perez said he had summoned the Colombian writer, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, to discuss Fidel’s strategy. Perez gave Garcia Marquez a precise message to take to Fidel describing the conditions that Fidel should agree to with regard to Nicaragua. Perez did not give me those specifics nor did he describe what Venezuela agreed to as a quid pro quo. He did say, however, that he has Fidel’s word that Cuba will not involve itself in the support of the Sandinistas, either with arms or forces. Perez said these were assurances not unlike those he extracted from Fidel on Panama. He said he believes Fidel will keep his word in this case and he is basing his policy on that belief. I said his trust of Castro has, therefore, become a critical factor in Venezuela’s strategy and we could not share that trust. I also said that many Sandinistas were already formed ideologically and do not need Fidel’s support. I then said forcefully that it is curious that CAP would take the word of Fidel, for whom he has little respect, and reject the word of President Carter with whom he has close relations. He smarted, then smiled saying there is a difference between accepting the word of a friend and alerting him to naive policies, the latter being what he considers he is doing with regard to President Carter. He said he does not doubt the President’s commitment or intentions, but questions seriously the USG’s strategy.

6. I said that during the next few days while negotiations are beginning to take hold, the U.S., together with other mediators, is conveying a rather clear [position] to the opposition about our intentions. We hope that no violence will take place in Nicaragua during this crucial phase. I read from San Jose 42806 a quote from Eden Pastora (Commandante Cero) that the FSLN now had “bazookas and 60 and 80 millimeter mortars, anti-tank missiles and 50 caliber machine guns.” I said that this statement suggested the intention and capability of the Sandinistas to attack in the near future. Should such an attack take place, it would clearly do grave damage to our efforts to bring about a peaceful transition and most likely result in an even more savage retaliation from the National Guard than we witnessed only a month ago. Equally serious would be Somoza’s reaction and the reaction of other Latin American governments. I said that Somoza’s tactic of accusing Venezuela and Panama of promoting intervention, accompanied with his presumed allegation that it was Venezuela and Panama that had supplied the Sandinistas with weapons would, in the minds of many Latin American governments, justify Somoza’s claim that he had been attacked from abroad. At a time when sympathy for Somoza is [Page 1012] wavering everywhere, it would be a grave mistake for that to take place. Perez quickly assured me that under no circumstances could any demonstration be made that Venezuela had supplied arms or assistance to the Sandnistas. I said, looking him in the eye, that I hoped that was the case. He did not look back.

7. I asked the President what influence he felt he had over the Sandinistas and particularly over Pastora. At first he said he had no influence whatsoever. It is clearly a determined group that had become more radicalized over time, but he was sure Pastora was not a communist. I asked if they would listen to Perez. He said, of course they would, and he was in contact with them, but he could not influence them one way or the other on attacking Nicaragua. I used the analogy of Africa and said that the problem we were facing in Rhodesia and even Namibia was that the opposition in those areas probably was less likely to agree to negotiating a solution because of the availability of Cuban and Soviet troops. The transfer of arms and the offer of more arms plus the political backing of larger powers clearly tended to discourage negotiations. I said that supplying arms to the Sandinistas and the encouragement they received from Venezuela and others might make it even more difficult to find agreement within the left for our mediation effort. I noted that Ramirez, nonetheless, seemed to be negotiating seriously as a representative of the Group of 12. Perez again reacted forcefully and said he understood that argument well, yet what amazed him was that the Sandinistas had not used force already and that they had waited so long since the last attack. I found this a non-sequiter and told him so.

8. The President said he has learned that Somoza has contracted with a Venezuelan exile to kill him and that Nicaragua was planning an attack on Perez personally. The President said if that should happen, Venezuela would attack Nicaragua immediately and take care of the matter unilaterally. I said it seemed unlikely to me that Somoza would be so stupid. I said to the President that I could never tell when he made such statements whether he was simply trying to provoke the US or whether he was really serious. He smiled. Getting my point, he referred to the exchange of letters several weeks ago with President Carter.7 In some pulling back from his earlier remarks he indicated that it was only after the exchange of letters and his fury that he learned that Torrijos had indeed been up to something. I told the President that I thought that he, of all people, could work closely with the USG to achieve our common ends but that provocations of this type were [Page 1013] not helpful, that our process involved some degree of patience, and that we, as much as he, needed to avoid the use of military force.

9. The one seemingly serious proposal the President had to offer was that a secret pact should be reached between the U.S., Venezuela, Colombia and Panama, possibly including Guatemala, to join in a peacekeeping force to be used in Nicaragua in case of complete breakdown of order or a large scale act of genocide by Somoza and the National Guard. Perez said that, except for the National Guard, Somoza is completely without power or support within his country, that what will happen is either a [garble] National Guard last ditch effort against the Nicaraguan people or the murder of Somoza, either of which could lead to chaos within the country. What responsible governments need to do is to agree to restore order after one of these two events and have the force ready to do it. I said that I did not know what his responsibilities were to his Congress, but I thought it unlikely that President Carter could enter into such agreement without the approval of Congress nor could he undertake such an effort without Congressional agreement either formal or informal. I said, moreover, that I thought such a force would not receive the support of most of the countries of Latin American or the OAS. The President’s immediate reaction was that they meant nothing to him. Then he changed his arguments and said that, under the right conditions, most of the countries of Latin America except for Brazil, Chile and Uruguay would probably come to support such action if were seen as a humane act.

10. The President had another appointment and asked that we continue the conversation later. He said he would be preparing a letter for President Carter laying out some of his views at a later time. This cable is already too long but I have given the main points and some of the flavor of his sense of frustration over the slow pace of the evolution of U.S. policy and U.S. actions with regard to Somoza. We will be sending a separate cable in the next few days analyzing CAP’s political strategy and psychological state and we will try to have some recommendations on how to manage this matter here over the coming weeks.8

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850101-1925. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Not found. In telegram 9674 from Caracas, October 14, Luers reported that he told Lauria that he “thought it was probably not desirable to have a letter written on this subject to President Carter at this stage. Lauria agreed that for the time being it would be best to deal more informally.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850101-1933)
  3. See Documents 345 and 346.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 347.
  5. Presumably a reference to telegram 256058 to Caracas, October 7, in which Vaky advised Luers to raise with Perez “accounts of sizeable Venezuelan covert aid in arms for Sandinistas.” (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, Roger Channel, Caracas, 1963–79)
  6. Dated October 6. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780409-0885)
  7. Presumably a reference to Document 348.
  8. In telegram 9689 from Caracas, October 14, the Embassy wrote: “Perez is obsessed with forcing Somoza to leave power by March 1979 when Perez’ presidential term ends. His tactics keep changing in response to internal and external developments.” The Embassy recommended that the USG should “provide Perez personally with information to convince him that our efforts in Nicaragua are serious,” “continue to work closely with his advisors keeping them informed so that they can exercise some influence over him,” and “continue to provide Perez with any believable information we have on Cuban involvement in Nicaragua.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850101-1937)