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Housing, Schools : Couple Give $1 Million for Nicaragua Projects

Times Staff Writer

A liberal Los Angeles real estate developer and his wife have given $1 million to Nicaragua to provide housing for disabled war veterans and to upgrade schools, recreation facilities and public places in the capital city of Managua.

The donation by Aris and Carolyn Anagnos, of Brentwood, is “one of the largest, if not the largest, individual gift” given to Nicaragua, an embassy spokeswoman said.

The initial 26 units of single-family housing for those severely injured in Nicaragua’s civil war is being designed in part by the Topanga Canyon-based Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua.

“We Americans are guilty of a major crime against the country of Nicaragua,” Anagnos said last week, referring to U.S. support for the anti-Sandinista Contras. “We as individual citizens have to try to make up for it as best we can.”

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To Attend Ceremony

The Bush Administration has continued to impose an economic embargo against Nicaragua but humanitarian aid is exempted.

“Unless there’s a legal prohibition, we don’t have any kind of policy,” a State Department official said. “If it’s a legal thing, people have a right to do it.”

But Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), a strong supporter of the Contras, expressed reservations about Anagnos’ gift.

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“Who is going to be the guardian of these funds to provide for the homeless and the children?” Gallegly asked. “Or are they going to go into the Sandinista war chest for military purposes?”

Anagnos, friends, family members and director Stephen Kerpen of Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua are in Managua for the project’s ground-breaking ceremony today as well as the national observance of the 10th anniversary of the Sandinistas coming to power, which begins Wednesday.

About $400,000 will be spent to design and build concrete houses in the center of Managua and make them accessible to the handicapped, Kerpen said. Additional units are expected to be built in the future, he said.

The rest of the funds are earmarked to equip and expand a school for war orphans, buy desks for schools, build sports courts and provide equipment at 10 schools. An electrical system will be installed in a high school; neighborhood athletic facilities will be constructed across Managua; trees, shrubs and grass will be planted, and monuments will be built in public places around the capital, Kerpen said.

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‘Priorities Among Priorities’

Anagnos, 65, who visited Nicaragua in February, decided on the individual projects in consultation with Nicaraguan officials.

He said unemployment, fueled by the United States’ economic embargo against Nicaragua, has increased the need for recreational facilities for young men who cannot find work. Some schools are so ill-equipped that children must study standing up, he said.

Anagnos contacted Architects and Planners in Support of Nicaragua, which has been sending Americans to rural areas in Nicaragua on construction projects since 1984, to provide technical assistance in the design of the housing for the disabled. The nonprofit group also will supervise construction.

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Anagnos said the $1 million is the proceeds from the sale earlier this year of a piece of land owned by him and his wife. They have previously given smaller amounts to nonprofit organizations active in Nicaragua, which Anagnos has visited four or five times since 1985.

Anagnos, who came to the United States from Greece to attend UCLA in 1946 and stayed, is president of Real Estate Dynamics. He has been a generous campaign contributor to liberal politicians, including Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis.

He is president of the board of the Humanitarian Law Project, an organization that seeks to uphold the Geneva Convention, which protects victims and prisoners of war. He is vice president of the Hellenic American Council of Southern California, a Greek-American information and lobbying organization.

In addition, he is vice president of the Southern California chapter of Americans for Democratic Action and former president of the Southern California American Civil Liberties Union.

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