Nicaraguan Post Office addresses its biggest headache Officials name streets, put numbers on buildings

November 15, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Never mind that he was raised here %% and is now general manager of the Nicaraguan Post Office. Just like the other 1.5 million residents of this city whose streets have no names and no numbers, Jose Ernesto Gonzalez often has trouble finding his way around town. %%

%% "In Managua, everybody gets lost all the time, even mailmen, firemen and the police, because the way we figure out addresses is so chaotic and illogical," Gonzalez said. "Every time I go out, I have problems; so imagine how hard it must be for tourists or someone from the countryside."

But now, breaking with a tradition that has built up over nearly 25 years, the Nicaraguan Post Office intends to remedy that situation with a conventional system of addresses.

Under a plan to go into effect before the end of the year, the capital is to abandon the current practice of stating addresses in relation to real or imaginary local landmarks, and the city will be divided into quadrants, giving each street, house, and business a number of its own.

Somewhere else, that might be a simple technical matter. But in a country whose recent history has been dominated by conflict and confusion, even so modest a reform "promises a great political and social transformation that will radically change the life of Nicaraguans," Gonzalez said.

For most of its existence, Managua had a normal system of addresses, and older people can still recall downtown thoroughfares such as Seventh Avenue or Fourth Street. But all of that changed after the devastating earthquake in December 1972 that leveled the capital's central district and dispersed most of the population to undeveloped areas on the outskirts of the city.

After that disaster, new neighborhoods and streets sprang up randomly, with virtually no zoning or supervision. As a result, formal addresses have come to be defined neither by numbers nor street names, but in relation to the nearest landmark, as in: "From El Carmen Church, a block toward the National Stadium" or "Across from Los Ranchos Restaurant."

Furthermore, though some of the original guideposts still exist, many others have vanished.

Nicaraguan authorities have come to view the system as an impediment to economic growth, tourism, and modernization in general. Gonzalez recalled that when he took his job in January, 30 percent of all mail was being delayed because of difficulties in figuring out addresses.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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