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The night Managua died

When Eduardo Chamorro visited Haiti nine days after the earthquake, it all looked horribly, heart-breakingly familiar: the precarious heaps of rubble, the bodies strewn about like broken dolls, the faces dazed with fear and incomprehension.

"It was total desolation," the Nicaraguan architect says quietly. "It looked like no hope -- the pessimism, the dust, the corpses. It looked like 1972 Managua, multiplied by 10."

No country in the hemisphere has been as transfixed by the harrowing images of Haitian death and destruction as Nicaragua, which suffered its own cataclysmic earthquake in 1972. And no country knows better that the aftermath could be even more terrible than the quake itself if relief and reconstruction efforts are mishandled.

"Our country suffered two civil wars, a decade of Marxist dictatorship and political instability that continues to this day," says Chamorro, echoing a widely shared sentiment in Nicaragua. "And you can trace it all back to the Managua earthquake of 1972."

Like Haiti in 2010, Nicaragua in 1972 was a poor and politically polarized country; like Haiti, it suffered overwhelming loss of life and property when the quake struck; and like Haiti, it found itself awash in international aid to help rebuild.

But Nicaragua squandered the world's generosity in an orgy of government corruption and political power plays. Swollen by national outrage, what had been a tiny, almost ludicrous insurgency in the far reaches of the country's jungles turned into a full-scale revolution that toppled the government and was quickly followed by a counterrevolution. Read my full story on Managua's 1972 quake and the lessons it holds for Haiti in Sunday's Miami Herald.


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