The Miami Herald
November 9, 1998
American aid worker expelled by Nicaragua

             By GLENN GARVIN
             Herald Staff Writer

             TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- An American woman was expelled from
             Nicaragua on Saturday after an e-mail message she wrote strongly criticizing
             President Arnoldo Aleman's hurricane relief efforts was circulated on the Internet.

             Julie Noble, who works for a Washington company that has had contracts
             administering U.S. aid to Nicaragua, left Managua for her mother's home in West
             Palm Beach after Aleman threatened to bring criminal charges against her, she told
             The Herald.

             ``He said I had 48 hours to get out of the country,'' Noble said, describing a
             meeting she had with Aleman after being summoned to his office Thursday. ``He
             said that it was against Nicaraguan law to say anything that was not true about the
             government, and that if I did not leave, he would bring charges against me.''

             Nicaraguan officials confirmed the expulsion of Noble, who they said was living
             illegally in Nicaragua. But they also agreed that the e-mail message infuriated them.

             ``We were afraid it was going to endanger international aid to Nicaragua, aid that
             we need very badly after the hurricane,'' presidential spokesman Gilberto Wong
             said. ``It was a bunch of lies and insults against the president.

             ``It said that the president was drunk on his visit to [the hurricane-stricken city of]
             Leon last Monday. That's completely untrue. It said he was going to try to block
             importation of donated rice, because that would compete with his business. That's
             completely untrue. The president has no rice business. He's a coffee farmer.''

             `A single paragraph'

             Noble refused to discuss the contents of the e-mail message in detail. She would
             say only that it repeated complaints she had seen in the Managua news media
             about Aleman's handling of aid for victims of Hurricane Mitch.

             ``It was a single paragraph that just repeated some of the things that had been on
             TV here,'' she said. ``President Aleman said they were not true, and I'd just as
             soon not keep repeating them. If they're not true, they shouldn't be repeated, and if
             they are true, everybody will know anyway as time passes.''

             She added that it was a mistake to have included that material in the e-mail
             message. ``It wasn't smart of me to put it in there,'' she said. ``I apologized to the
             president, and I told him I never intended to do anything that would hurt him. I
             asked him not to kick me out. But he had already made up his mind.''

             Noble said she sent the e-mail message Tuesday to a friend in the United States
             who was asking questions about how to forward hurricane donations to
             Nicaragua. Her friend forwarded copies to a large number of other potential
             donors. One of them, in turn, sent it to a brother of Aleman in Wisconsin, who
             faxed it to the president.

             Accusations about misuse of disaster-relief aid are touchy in Nicaragua, where
             similar allegations against the regime of Anastasio Somoza in the wake of a 1972
             earthquake played a huge role in the government's collapse.

             Government concerned

             The subject has become even more delicate since Hurricane Mitch pounded
             Nicaragua, killing about 3,500 people and doing hundreds of millions of dollars
             worth of damage. Rebuilding the country without extensive foreign aid will be
             impossible, Nicaraguan officials say, and they feared that Noble's accusations
             would reverberate endlessly on the Internet and hurt their efforts to get help.

             Noble, 56, is a longtime resident of Central America who works for the Academy
             for Educational Development. She moved to Nicaragua six years ago when the
             company got a contract from the U.S. Agency for International Development to
             help train government officials and private aid workers in management and
             fund-raising techniques.

             But Nicaraguan officials said her visa was no longer valid after the AID contract
             expired in June. And, they added, she and her husband Brian were illegally running
             a furniture business. ``Basically, she was here illegally, and it was perfectly proper
             to expel her,'' Wong said.

             Noble told The Herald that she never intended to hurt relief efforts. ``I really care
             about Nicaragua,'' she said. ``I spent six years there, and I really wanted to stay
             and help. . . . I hope nothing bad comes out of this.''

             Her husband, however, was less charitable. Reached at their Managua home,
             where he was packing up to join his wife later in the week, Brian Noble warned a
             reporter: ``You're on a line that's probably being tapped by the government right
             now.'' He added: ``You can't say anything negative or critical about the
             government in Nicaragua. It's dangerous.''


                               Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald