By DON BOHNING
Herald Staff Writer
It was 26 years ago that Nicaragua last saw a natural disaster that rivals
surpasses the devastation the country is enduring from the watery remnants of
The Great Managua Earthquake of Dec. 23, 1972, claimed up to 10,000 lives,
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
they will be as far-reaching as the 1972 earthquake.
From a disaster standpoint, said Mark Schneider, deputy administrator for
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
is no easier to deal with than the other.''
The 1972 earthquake, Schneider noted, ``destroyed the center of the entire
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,
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  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
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
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.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald