The Miami Herald
November 3, 1998
One disaster recalls another: 1972 earthquake's effects still felt

             By DON BOHNING
             Herald Staff Writer

             It was 26 years ago that Nicaragua last saw a natural disaster that rivals or
             surpasses the devastation the country is enduring from the watery remnants of
             Hurricane Mitch.

             The Great Managua Earthquake of Dec. 23, 1972, claimed up to 10,000 lives, left
             300,000 homeless, forever changed the character of the capital and eventually
             cost the late Nicaraguan strongman Anastasio Somoza his job. In some ways,
             Nicaragua is still recovering from the residue of that disaster.

             It's far too early to assess the long-term consequences of Mitch, but it's unlikely
             they will be as far-reaching as the 1972 earthquake.

             From a disaster standpoint, said Mark Schneider, deputy administrator for Latin
             America of the U.S. Agency for International Development, there's no preference
             whether you're dealing with an earthquake or a hurricane.

             ``They're both major disruptions and a threat to human life,'' Schneider said. ``One
             is no easier to deal with than the other.''

             The 1972 earthquake, Schneider noted, ``destroyed the center of the entire city
             and forced a redesign of development in Nicaragua. An earthquake is much more
             localized in terms of immediate impact.''

             Schneider did note that Nicaragua is ``just beginning to make an economic
             recovery from a decade of conflict'' and that Mitch's visit ``adds an enormous
             burden to the whole development problem.''

             Jorge Sapoznikow, Central America division chief for the Inter-American
             Development Bank, said a situation like this ``couldn't have happened at a worse
             time'' in Nicaragua.

             The country's economy had shown positive growth rates in recent years, including
             5 percent in 1997, and a projected 6 percent for this year before Mitch came

             As a former U.S. Embassy economics officer in Nicaragua noted, the economy
             was just recovering from the ``disastrous economic policies'' of a decade of
             Sandinista rule. ``The policy damage that the Sandinistas did was much more
             harmful than the [1972] earthquake.''

             The same official observed that those policies were made possible by Somoza's
             corruption of the earthquake reconstruction effort, which undermined his
             government and led to the Sandinista takeover in 1979.

             What Mitch's political impact will be on Nicaragua's current democratically elected
             government remains to be seen.

             But Vincent T. Gawronski, visiting professor of political science at Florida
             International University, who is studying the political impact of natural disasters,
             notes that those events ``can undermine an authoritarian regime'' more easily than a
             democracy ``because it's easier to know who's in charge and who to blame.''

             At the same time, Gawronski says, disasters and how they are dealt with ``can
             easily become more of a political issue'' in a democracy because of the
             opportunities they create that don't exist in an authoritarian regime.

             Herald Central America bureau chief Glenn Garvin contributed to this report.


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