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

10870. Subject: Nicaraguan Mediation. Ref: State 289989, Luers/Vaky Telephone Call2

1. Summary. I explained to Foreign Minister Consalvi on the evening of November 15 our intentions to try to resolve the central issue of Somoza’s departure by seeing whether a plebiscite could be agreed to by all parties. I did this following my reading of reftel and after seeking authority and guidelines from Assistant Secretary Vaky. We must keep in close touch with Perez and his advisers during these critical phases. I drew on reftel for background and stressed to Consalvi that the U.S. and Venezuelan democracies probably had no choice but to give the plebiscite proposal a chance. I explained our full appreciation of the problems of carrying out a genuine plebiscite in Nicaragua saying the conditions we would require were based on strict international control. I stressed to Consalvi that President Perez on the eve of Venezuelan elections would be in an excellent position to defend free elections and explain their importance if he were required to should our current negotiating posture leak out. I stressed, however, that we hoped to keep this information extremely closely held. Consalvi took my explanation calmly. He stated that he did not believe the FAO would accept the plebiscite proposal. He said he would do his best to sell this to Perez and persuade him not to react too negatively, in public at least. He said he did not believe Pastora would engage in bloodshed without broad support—“he is not a loner.” He also said that this close to the Dec. 3 presidential elections, he did not believe Perez would want to take any risks. Consalvi accepted a formula I suggested for a Venezuelan public stance on the plebiscite which, if accepted by Perez, should avoid rocking the boat from this end. I called on Minister of the Presidency Lauria on November 16 in the morning to review the bidding. Lauria had been with Perez and Consalvi late last night when Consalvi explained our position to the President. The President reacted negatively but not emotionally. He characterized it as another step to give Somoza more time, but doubted that the idea would prosper with the FAO. Lauria does not think we need to do any more now with [Page 1018] Perez who will probably not have occasion to comment to the press. Perez is having a press conference on Monday, November 20 and we should give them a better read out before that time. Lauria and Consalvi, I think, will be helpful during this difficult phase and the President is preoccupied with the elections. I hope that we can keep Venezuela under control by keeping them well informed and not surprising them. End summary.

2. On learning from reftel our current policy course regarding Nicaragua, I sought immediately authority from Assistant Secretary Vaky to brief GOV. Following my long and extremely helpful secure phone conversation with Vaky I asked Foreign Minister Consalvi to come by my residence on his way to the President’s dinner for the Kuwaiti Petroleum Minister. In a half-hour conversation, I relayed our current posture drawing heavily on reftel and on my conversation with Pete Vaky.

3. Drawing on reftel I gave Consalvi some background on the “plebiscite” proposal of Somoza. I said that the USG has come to the conclusion that we must respond to Somoza’s suggestion for a plebiscite in Nicaragua, to seek a resolution on the central issue of Somoza’s departure. I said that President Carter wants to be able to assure the U.S. Congress, the U.S. people, and the world that this democratic option has been tried. In fact, as a democracy, the U.S. must do this. I added that the conditions for the plebiscite are onerous and that we have no idea whether Somoza would accept them, even if the FAO were to accept the plebiscite. In the first place, the plebiscite is to decide whether or not Somoza should leave; secondly, the plebiscite must be carried out under international auspices; and thirdly, throughout the plebiscite, the Guardia Nacional would probably have to remain in its barracks.

4. Consalvi replied that his personal and immediate reaction was that such a plebiscite would split the FAO. He said that if anyone within the FAO accepted it, it would, in effect, split the FAO. Second, he said if there is a plebiscite it must be done quickly, with a maximum of publicity and in accordance with a very strict timetable and controls.

5. I told Consalvi that President Perez must understand what is at stake and that he should not dismiss the exploration of the plebiscite proposal as another delaying tactic allowing Somoza to gain strength. It is also essential, I added, that Pastora and the FSLN not despair and go on the attack causing bloodshed. I said that my worry was how President Perez would react should the fact that we are pursuing the plebiscite option become public knowledge. I stressed that we were keeping this very closely held and I hoped that the Venezuelan Government would do likewise, but a press leak in Washington or Nicaragua was not unheard of. In such a case, I said that President Perez, on the [Page 1019] eve of Venezuela’s elections, was in an ideal situation to discuss the meaning of free elections and plebiscites. Without fully supporting the plebiscite idea, the President could discuss the importance of elections with international controls, and free press and open debate. What concerns me would be a strictly negative GOV reaction. Consalvi did not expect the president’s reactions to be too emotional and agreed that taking a positive line on elections and international controls might appeal to the President.

6. I then returned to the question of possible bloodshed by the FSLVN and Pastora, and I said to Consalvi that because of the perceived Venezuelan influence with an assistance to the Sandinistas, any bloodshed caused by the Sandinistas would carry with it a certain culpability for Venezuela. Consalvi replied, somewhat uncomfortably, that the culpability would be relative. But he took the point and added that, in his view, Pastora would not attack without the approval of the FAO and the Group of 12. He said Pastora is not a loner. Consalvi added that the key issue was to make the FAO buy the idea of the plebiscite. He added, however, that he did not believe that the FAO would accept the plebiscite and would consider it simply another trick by Somoza. Consalvi said he would try to tell the President “as coldly as I can” November 15, at a dinner at La Casona for Kuwaiti Oil Minister Ali Kalifa El Saban.

7. I reiterated to Consalvi that this was a serious proposal and not a delaying tactic, but it was an option which democracies such as the U.S. and Venezuela, for the purpose of their own integrity and for the judgment of history, should not forego. He agreed. As if to reassure me that Perez would not be too disposed to any adventures, Consalvi said that Perez has “other worries”, i.e. the election; but then he added that the latest data poll shows that the ad candidate has a lead of 5–6 percent. He observed that this is good news, but that, in any event, Perez would not want to get involved in any “problems” this close to elections. Consalvi assured me a second time that he would do the best he could in presenting this to the President, and we left it that he would let me know whether, in his estimation, it would be useful for me to discuss this personally with the President.

8. I saw Minister Lauria this morning and got read-out on Consalvi’s briefing of President Perez and Lauria late last night after the dinner. Lauria said that the President’s reaction was indeed negative but not emotional. Both Consalvi and Lauria had expected a stronger reaction. Perez saw it, however, as another means of keeping Somoza in power. Lauria said, however, that he thought it unlikely the President would have an opportunity to react publicly should a leak occur until next Monday3 when Perez has a press conference. Lauria stressed that [Page 1020] the President is completely occupied with election worries and he does not think, at least for the next two days, I need to see the President. Should, however, the FAO or Somoza react or a leak occur in the next two days, I should get back to Lauria or Consalvi prior to the President’s press conference.

9. Comment: Consalvi and Lauria are both preoccupied with electoral problems. They are also inclined to the supportive and want no problems for Perez or the ad party at this stage. I think it is essential, however, that the department keep me fully informed on these developments and on the rationale for our policy so that we can manage the situation here almost on a daily basis. I do not know to what degree Perez or his people will have contact with Pastora over our policy. But I am persuaded that Venezuela does not want an outbreak of violence in Nicaragua that could implicate them at this stage. My suggestion to Consalvi that Venezuela might share some burden for bloodshed was taken by Consalvi, but not very well. I did not repeat that line to Lauria. End comment.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850101-1995. Secret; Immediate; Exdis Distribute as Nodis. Sent for information immediate to Managua.
  2. Dated November 15. The Department provided a “summary and analysis of the mediation effort to date.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840153-2272) No record of the telephone call between Luers and Vaky was found.
  3. November 20.