The second interview was conducted with a Cuban engineer who has been living in Nicaragua for the last 7 years and has been working as a college professor at a private Nicaraguan university. He has lived in the United States for a few years, among other places, and was consequently able to give a very down-to-earth view of Nicaragua. All interviews with him are in English.
Where you here during the Managua earthquake of '72?
Oh yea, I was here--it was terrible!
Where exactly were you at the time?
I was in my house, sleeping, and all of the sudden... well, the first trembles were weak, really, but the stronger trembles... In my bedroom, facing my bed, was a closet. And on top of the closet were some small pieces of furniture like night tables because my sister was getting married on the thirty-first of December and the earthquake was the twenty-third so she was getting married in 8 days and she didn't have any place to stick the furniture so she stuck it up on top of my closet. And the tables were jolting from one side of the closet to the other. It was terrible-a terrifying experience!
So what happened to your house--was it destroyed?
No, it wasn't destroyed because it was a relatively new house, it was made in '71, and it had been correctly built. The problem in Managua during the earthquake was that most of the houses were ancient. They were made of mud and another cheap substance called "sacate." When they built houses, they made a wood frame and then filled in the gaps with the mixture called "taquesal." So there weren't any columns, there weren't any girders, so when the ground started shaking the walls crumbled and all that was left was a big pile of dirt. So that was the biggest problem-the type of construction that was used in Nicaragua.
Then before the earthquake most Nicaraguans were prosperous and happy?
Yes, that's true because during the 60s Nicaragua was experiencing lots of growth and we were considered the bread basket of Central America and we had an excellent agricultural system. But the earthquake came to cut... and what Nicaraguans say that President Somoza took advantage of the earthquake to enrich himself even more. The thing is that there was a lot of international aid but it all didn't go to the Nicaraguan people. The problem was that the infrastructure was destroyed, the buildings were destroyed, the businesses were buried and the people robbed what they could from the destroyed buildings. I personally saw people running away with new televisions, refrigerators, beds-the people went to steal the shops that were in ruins and there was no control or protection of the businesses because there was no organization in the country that was prepared to handle an emergency like that. And so now the center of Managua is completely undermined by the fault and there is a great risk involved with building in that area.