Former Somoza Estate Calls Tourists, but Only A Few Echos Are Heard Series: It Would Take the Equivalent of a Month's Salary for a Local Minimum-Wage Earner to Stay in Dictator Anastasio Somoza's Former Home, and Foreign Tourists Aren't Exactly Flocking Here, 2) the Resort's Sedate, Lime-Green Tropical Mansion Overlooks the Beach. PHOTOS BY HOWARD LAFRANCHI

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With its soothing coconut-palm groves, expansive beach, widely dispersed bungalows, and a sedate, lime-green tropical mansion, Nicaragua's Montelimar beach resort hardly looks like a scary place.

Still, that's what Juan Marques Morera worries about as he reviews the less-than-satisfactory occupancy figures for the one-time Somoza family estate he's managed as a sun-and-splash vacation spot since 1993.

"When someone says they're thinking about vacationing in Nicaragua," he laments, "people still become a little shaky." As a recent visit suggested, however, there's little cause for the weak knees. Despite the minor clashes that still occur sporadically between armed groups and authorities in this Central American country's mountainous north region, Nicaragua's civil war that pitted a Marxist Sandinista government against the US-supported contra insurgency has been over since 1990. After losing last October's presidential election, which turned the country back to the right with the election of former Managua Mayor Arnoldo Aleman, former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega initially responded with threats of fomenting social disorder. But recently President Aleman and Mr. Ortega shook hands over a commitment to work together for Nicaragua. Granted, the streets of Managua, the capital city, are less safe than they were a decade ago when the Sandinista military structure controlled them (on one of the last days of the election campaign an American photographer was stabbed and robbed of his equipment); and driving on the country's highways can be a bit hair-raising. Nicaragua - the poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti - has little money for road repairs, so potholes can be frequent and crateresque. On a 50-mile return trip from Matagalpa to Managua this reporter's rental car had four flat tires - an experience that left one wishing for more of the entrepreneurially spirited boys who fill Managua's potholes with whatever dirt they can find, and then hold their hand out for a few cordobas. But none of that commotion touches Montelimar, an 80-acre haven of sugar cane, coconut palms, and one long unpopulated beach. Montelimar - the origin of the name remains in doubt, with some locals claiming it refers to a bird the area's indigenous people revered, and others saying it is simply a conjunction of "monte" and "mar," (mount, where the mansion sits and sea) - is probably almost as much the exclusive get-away for Nicaragua's wealthy as it was in the days of the Somozas. On one recent weekend, families lolled in the pool or sat on the veranda of the main house, called the Casona, and shared stories of the past - under both Somoza and the Sandinistas. "Somoza robbed us, but at least he didn't let the whole government do it {as the Sandinistas did}," says Richard Downing, now a Nicaraguan-American who left the country for Miami during the Sandinista revolution and now divides his time and work between the two homes. …


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