“I said that the only way we could begin the process of putting the house together again was for him to go,” Mr. Pezzullo told The New York Times in 1981. “He then played the role of the injured party, that history had played him a bad turn. But eventually he went.”
The Sandinistas seized power less than a month after Mr. Pezzullo arrived, and they remain one of the country’s leading political factions. Somoza was assassinated in 1980 by Argentine revolutionaries near his home in Paraguay.
“Faced with the inevitability of change here,” Mr. Pezzullo said in Managua, the capital, in 1981, “we began to build a relationship with the new regime without agonizing too much about what the future would bring.”
The new envoy symbolically abandoned the ambassador’s home, a palatial, white hilltop emblem of Washington’s dominion over Nicaragua. He chose more modest quarters.
Appointed by President Jimmy Carter to advance his administration’s human rights agenda, Mr. Pezzullo worked with the United States special envoy William D. Bowdler to win the respect of the Sandinistas by accepting the political reality of their military and political success.
He repeatedly went to Washington to lobby the administration and Congress for American humanitarian and economic support for the new government — aid that could provide leverage over the Sandinistas. But as the Sandinistas emulated Cuba’s agenda in advancing a regional socialist revolution against authoritarian governments, his arguments were greeted with growing skepticism in Congress.
“Our problem with the revolution is not that it wants to bring change to a society that sorely needs change,” Mr. Pezzullo was quoted as cautioning Sandinista leaders. “But if that policy parallels Cuban policy, this is going to be very difficult for us to accept.”
After being retained for several months by the incoming Reagan administration, he was recalled to Washington in 1981 after the White House accused the Sandinistas of smuggling arms from the Soviet bloc to leftist guerrillas in nearby El Salvador and of terrorizing dissident Nicaraguans.
On leaving Managua, Mr. Pezzullo drew praise from the revolutionary junta.
“Pezzullo has been the best U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua in this century,”…