At the Fall of Somoza

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At the Fall of Somoza

By Lawrence Pezzullo and Ralph Pezzullo
University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994
336 pp. $29.95
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An unusually frank and gripping account of the last days of the Somoza dynasty's rule in Nicaragua and the Carter administrations confused, bumbling and self-defeating response to the rapidly deteriorating situation. This is very much a professional diplomat's view. Pezzullo, who was U.S. ambassador to Managua during this pivotal moment, has thinly veiled contempt for Somoza's cheering section in the U.S. Congress and the political scientists and political appointees who colonized U.S. embassies and the National Security Council and ill served their country with grand strategies, incompetent legwork and lack of resolve at critical moments. Pezzullo and his son, who collaborated with him in writing this book, have provided a fascinating and hard-hitting narrative based on long personal experience in the region, eyewitness participation in the dramatic events of these years, and extensive research and interviews.

Not all the inadequacies of crisis management described by the Pezzullos are likely to be repeated, of course. Nevertheless, this book has continuing relevance, not only because some of his interlocutors during the Somoza affair (Warren Christopher and Anthony Lake) are back in the corridors of power in Washington, but also because his staunch defense of the positions taken by some of his colleagues in the State Department at the time (Viron Pete Vaky, then Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs, in particular) demonstrates once again how much talent is lost to the U.S. government by the quiet resignations of principled individuals tired of the merry-go-round. Pezzullo, who was executive director of Catholic Relief Services when he wrote this book, is back in government service as President Clinton's special adviser on Haiti.

A large part of his story concerns the role of the Guardia Nacional and its fate as Somoza's power crumbled. His major problem was getting Somoza out while preserving some continuity in the institutions of state power. Now the issue in Haiti is getting a president back in and doing so in the face of opposition from another army that emerged, as had the Nicaraguan Guardia, from a previous U.S. occupation. Neither operation was or is easy, and Washington seems as confused over what to do with Haiti as it was in dealing with Nicaragua a decade and a half ago.

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