Frontlines

Pity the poor little rich man

William Lowther August 20 1979
Frontlines

Pity the poor little rich man

William Lowther August 20 1979

Pity the poor little rich man

Frontlines

Anastasio most of Somoza the next plans few to months spend sailing through the Caribbean aboard his floating fortress, a luxury yacht that bristles with cannon. He is safer there than anywhere else, and his every whim can still be catered to. Thus the disappointments, the worries and the woes of being overthrown last month as a despot, as president of Nicaragua, are at least being suffered in comfort.

But his comfort is not complete, after the publicity excited by a recent report on his vast fortune. Earlier this year President Jimmy Carter asked the Central Intelligence Agency for a report on Somoza’s wealth—so well concealed that it took a spy agency to dig up the facts. The top-secret document the CIA produced (later leaked by a bureaucrat who said it made him “sick”) estimated that the family’s financial holdings, largely controlled by Somoza, totalled $900 million.

Somoza claims that he “left behind and lost” $80 million of his fortune in Nicaragua. That figure may be exaggerated, but any way you look at it, although Somoza is out of office he certainly isn’t out of cash. And for that reason alone there are very few leaders in Central and South America who feel they have said a final adios to Anastasio. His financial interests will keep him as a figure of influence in the Latin theatre. Not only that, but there are sinister reports that his son Tachito is organizing an army in Honduras while his former top military aide Major Pablo Emilio—known as Commandante Bravo—is trying to raise a 7,000-man army in the United States.

As for the claim that he is worth nearly $1 billion Somoza retorts: “This is part of the myth to get the masses to hate the Somozas.” According to the CIA report, his wealth is shrouded in multitiered corporations registered in such places as the Dutch Antilles, the Virgin Islands and Europe; in trust funds for his children; in hardto-trace land holdings in the U.S., Canada and Europe; in banking interests and insurance companies.

“Somoza has used modern methods, corporate interlocks and such, to spread his money around the world,” said one knowledgeable source. “The new government might want to try to seize his money and property abroad but that will not be possible, he has protected himself too well. Nothing can be directly traced to him. For example, his house in Miami is owned by a corporation from the Virgin Islands. He may live there and control the property but strictly, legally, he does not personally own it.”

Somoza does, however, stand to lose his better known holdings in Nicaragua: a number of hotels including the famed Intercontinental; the Nicaraguan airline Lanica of which he was chief shareholder; the national shipping line which he founded; hundreds of thousands of acres of crop and cattle land as well as huge herds of beef cattle and the giant slaughterhouse Productos Carnic, which last year shipped $50 million worth of beef to the U.S. alone.

Somoza bled his country dry. He was ruthless in granting government contracts to his own companies. After the disastrous earthquake of 1972 that killed 10,000 and wrecked the economy,

he pocketed millions of dollars of relief aid that poured into Nicaragua from abroad. He acted as though he had a right to do so and even now cannot see that he did any wrong.

He is a man of extremes. With family and friends he is generous and compassionate. From his own vast pocket he continues to pay medical expenses for former members of his National Guard in American hospitals, a gesture that shows some humanitarian qualities. However, last year, in response to assassination threats against his son, he threatened to poison the entire country if anything should happen to Tachito. Indeed, a pilot who later fled Somoza’s service testified that he had flown large quantities of cyanide into Managua.

But now, Tachito’s probable fate is to help his father stay nicely balanced in the lap of luxury. “I have no doubt that Mr. Somoza will live out his life in luxury,” says a state department official. “There is plenty of evidence, and this is just another shred, that in this world there is very little justice.”

William Lowther