353. Telegram From the Embassy in Venezuela to the Department of State and the Embassy in Nicaragua1

11451. Subject: Meeting With President Perez Following his Talk With Tunnerman. Ref: Caracas 114442

1. (S–Entire Text).

2. Summary: President Perez invited me to La Casona Wednesday morning to give me a read out of his discussion with Tunnerman last night. He said it looked bad. Tunnerman is deeply distrustful of the U.S. Government’s purpose and is convinced that Somoza has no intention of leaving Nicaragua under any circumstances. Tunnerman claimed to be authorized by the FAO to tell Perez that Perez’ credibility was being eroded by his continuing support for this delaying tactic. Perez defended his policy to Tunnerman but is persuaded that if Somoza does not publicly declare that he will leave Nicaragua if the plebiscite goes against him, that the FAO cannot talk directly with the PLN. The President said he doubts that the FAO can hold on much longer unless Somoza so declares himself. Perez also believes the OAS, for the sake of credibility, must discuss the IAHRC report and make a pronouncement on it. He wants to press for that soon. I told him that I would report his views to the Department and be back to him soon. End summary.

3. President Perez informed me late last night that he wanted me at La Casona, his residence, at 8:30 this morning to give me a briefing of his talk with Tunnerman (see reftel). Perez says it looks bad. Tunnerman is very negative about the U.S., distrusts our motives and believes that this distrust is increasing among the FAO. Tunnerman said that Perez is doing serious damage to his own reputation by continuing to support the delaying tactics of the U.S. Tunnerman, as an example, said that the OAS has not even addressed the deplorable conditions found by the IAHRC and is thereby discredited. Tunnerman claimed that he was authorized to speak for Robelo and the FAO about the increasing distrust of U.S. intentions and, particularly, the view of the FAO that Somoza has no intention of leaving Nicaragua.

[Page 1023]

4. Perez said he rebutted many of Tunnerman’s arguments. But he counseled that the U.S. should know the chronic deep distrust that persists among Latin American intellectuals and politicians alike of U.S. policies is becoming critical in the case of Nicaragua. Perez told Tunnerman that he has been, all along, extremely skeptical about the mediation effort and has had little faith in its outcome. Perez said, however, that he does have abiding faith in President Carter’s desire to change U.S. policy toward Latin America and, in the case of Nicaragua, to bring about the beginning of a democratic process. Perez told Tunnerman that over the past 40 years bureaucratic and political supporters of Somoza have become deeply ingrained in the U.S. system. They make it difficult for firm U.S. Presidential action.

5. Tunnerman said that the Americans had been given until November 21 to bring about a solution for the departure of Somoza and they had failed. He asked how much longer can Nicaraguans accept these delaying tactics. Perez rebutted (based on our earlier conversation) that President Carter and the U.S. Government, as respecters of democracy, had to respond to Somoza’s offer of a plebiscite. Therefore, the new extended time frame was based on the desire to see whether a genuine plebiscite could be agreed to. He, Perez, said that, with all his skepticism he accepts the reasons for President Carter’s decision.

6. Tunnerman and Perez then apparently engaged in some discussion of the current situation in Nicaragua. Perez said he was well prepared to discuss these issues. Tunnerman alleged that Perez had proposed a constituent assembly and gave the background of Nicaraguan distrust of such proposals by Somoza. Perez said that I had briefed him on that and that Pallais-Debayle had alleged this was Perez’ idea. Perez repeated to Tunnerman what he had told me last night that he had never proposed a constituent assembly and favored amending the existing constitution. Tunnerman charged that the Americans are too trustful of Somoza’s plebiscite offer. Perez said he was able to respond with the graphic description I had given him (reftel) of the transparent ballots and the “La Magnifica” card that Somoza’s thugs gave to those who voted “correctly”. Tunnerman was impressed by the depth of our distrust of the Nicaraguan election process and our awareness of it. Tunnerman said “they told you about the ‘transparent’ ballots?” Moreover, CAP was able to give Tunnerman our sense of the need for large scale foreign civilian involvement to keep the electoral process honest.

7. Tunnerman alleged that Somoza is acting as though he has no intention of leaving. He is importing arms and mounting reports to assassinate Tunnerman himself. Perez said to me that he heard that arms were being shipped from Miami via Portugal to Nicaragua (a Miami Herald story).3 Perez said he had similar reports that Somoza was trying to assassinate Perez.

8. The bottom line of the discussion for Perez is that the U.S. must demonstrate very soon its intentions more clearly. First, a major breakthrough would be to get Somoza to say publicly that, if he lost the plebiscite, he would leave the country. Perez said that he thinks that, if the U.S. brings sufficient pressure, Somoza will have to state publicly that he would depart if he lost the plebiscite. In that case, the U.S. could count on Perez’ continuing support and, he thought on the FAO’s support, to continue to work with the mediators and even negotiate with the PLN. He did not know whether Tunnerman and the Group of 12 would support this, but he thought the FAO would.

9. Secondly, Perez said that the OAS (or the Organ of Consultation) must act on the IAHRC report on Nicaragua. Continued silence on that brings discredit on the U.S. and others was well as the OAS. He said sanctions must be brought against Somoza to increase the pressure. I told Perez that the history of the use of international sanctions has demonstrated that they are not effective. On the contrary, they are not only ineffective and difficult to sustain, but they very often reinforce the government in power. I said, moreover, it was virtually impossible to imagine that a two-thirds vote could be achieved in the OAS for sanctions against Somoza. Perez accepted the arguments, but said that Trujillo had been brought down by sanctions. I said it was my recollection that Trujillo was finally brought down by assassination and our purpose here was to avoid violence. Perez said that as a minimum, the OAS must address the human rights question if only to establish the credibility of the U.S., Venezuela and others who have supported human rights in the hemisphere. He reiterated his concern that the U.S. Government’s credibility is becoming eroded and he wanted to continue to see that President Carter and his Latin American policies succeed.

10. CAP said that the U.S. Government must bring maximum pressure on Somoza. He thought that if, by the 15th of December, significant movement had not been achieved, including a public declaration of Somoza, (that he would leave if he lost the plebiscite), the FAO would split up and the Sandinistas would return to violence. I said that I hoped that we could get the FAO to agree to talk directly with the PLN before that date, but that I would stress to Washington Perez’ view of the need for Somoza to declare himself publicly. I said I would [Page 1025] also report the President’s belief that the OAS must address the human rights question.

11. Comment: Perez is faced with a dilemma—how to maintain his own reputation and credibility and yet continue to support, what many are telling him, is a failing mediation effort. He wants to see concessions from Somoza such as lifting the state of siege, general amnesty and dropping of censorship. This would help Perez, as well as the mediation effort to sustain credibility. For Perez, however, as Somoza commitment to leave after the plebiscite is critical. For psychological and practical reasons, Perez would like Somoza out of Nicaragua before he leaves office in March. Perez is still with us. He is still prepared to talk to the FAO. But he is thinking increasingly about his reputation. Unless he sees some positive movement soon, he might slip from supporting our objectives in this very important effort.

12. A subjective addendum. Bill Bowdler is doing a superb job. His briefing in Panama was invaluable to me.4 There are few diplomats who have the wisdom of the Latins and tenacity of purpose to have carried us so far in this remarkable new area of international negotiations on democracy and human rights.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P780187-2339. Secret; Niact Immediate; Exdis Distribute as Nodis. Sent for information to Panama City and San Jose.
  2. Dated December 6. Luers reported that Perez was “still supportive of the mediation process” during their December 5 meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850083-2306)
  3. Danny Goodgame, “Is Miamian Selling Arms to Somoza?” [Page 1024] Miami Herald, December 4, 1978, p. 1A.
  4. Not found.