To some, "Maria" is a symbol of freedom in Nicaragua. To others she is pure Madison Avenue hype. But her new poster is kicking up a ministorm in Miami. Nicaraguan contra leaders say she is designed to symbolize "sex, Jesus Christ and the Nicaraguan contras . . . The best part was when we wet her shirt to let her sex appeal show through." Other Nicaraguan women say the poster trivializes their cause.

Scobee Memorial

Nancy Reagan told an aide that she and June Scobee held hands yesterday during a national memorial service at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. In a holding room before the service, the widow of space shuttle commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee talked about her marriage, according to Elaine Crispen, press secretary to Mrs. Reagan. Quoting Mrs. Reagan, Crispen said that Scobee told the first lady, "You know, you have the kind of marriage we had. We could tell it every time we saw you on television." Crispen said Mrs. Reagan was equally moved when Kathie Scobee, 25, told Mrs. Reagan, "I know you know what it's like to lose a father."

Rick Nelson's Crash

Toxicology tests performed on Rick Nelson's body confirm the singer had a small amount of cocaine in his system when he died in a New Year's Eve plane crash, but the tests showed no evidence that "free-basing" -- a method of cocaine use that involves heating the drug with an open flame -- caused the crash, the Dallas Times Herald reported yesterday.

Dr. Delbert Lacefield, director of forensic toxicology at the Civil Aeromedic Institute in Oklahoma City, said traces of both metabolized and unmetabolized cocaine -- as well as a compound of the painkiller Darvon -- were found in the former teen idol's blood and urine samples.

Ira Furman, a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, acknowledged that the board had received toxicological data from two labs but would not confirm the reported results. "We are investigating an aircraft accident and not life styles," he said. "We're not into voyeuristic exercises."

Nelson, his fiance' and five members of his band were killed on their way to a performance in Dallas when their smoke-filled DC-3 crashed near DeKalb, Tex. Lacefield said a small amount of cocaine also was found in the body of another passenger whom he would not identify.

Clamming Up

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), carrying a can of New England clam chowder and a bow tie, had to walk a gauntlet of Bears posters and pennants Thursday to reach the office of Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) so he could pay off a Super Bowl bet.

Kerry had promised his fellow Democrat he would wear a Simon-style bow tie for a day and treat the Illinoisan and his staff to a clam chowder meal if the Chicago Bears beat the New England Patriots last Sunday.

If the game's outcome had been reversed, Simon would have had to wear a straight tie, a la Kerry. The soup was a "downpayment" on the feast to be served next week, Kerry said.

Tumbling Down the Slopes

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton spent a lot of time tumbling Thursday, but it wasn't the type that earned her an Olympic medal. Even with coaching from former U.S. Olympic skier Suzie Chaffee, who gave Retton and actress Brooke Shields lessons on the slopes, Retton found that handstands and cartwheels in the snow came easier than trying to maneuver her skis.

Retton, Shields and Chaffee are among the celebrities who are participating in the Sun Valley Celebrity Ski Invitational, which kicks off a week of activities marking the 50th anniversary of the nation's first ski resort.

Paul Newman will be host to a Charity Auction Ball tonight to benefit the Scott Newman Foundation for drug rehabilitation.

End Notes

Producer-director Sydney Pollack, whose films include "Out of Africa," "Toosie" and "The Way We Were," yesterday was named president of the jury for the 39th Cannes Film Festival, which will be held May 8-19 . . .

Rock star John Cougar Mellencamp, a native Hoosier, was honored yesterday by the Indiana Senate in a resolution praising his music and loyalty to the state. "He's brought much positive attention to the state of Indiana and to Seymour," said Sen. Joseph V. Corcoran, a Republican who represents Seymour, Ind., Mellencamp's home town . . .

A group of Soviet scholars has given the mother of Samantha Smith a children's song written by a Russian composer in memory of the schoolgirl who took her message of peace to the Soviet Union in 1983. Samantha, her father and six other people were killed in a plane crash last summer. The Soviet delegation presented "Samantha's Smile" to Jane Smith Thursday after a banquet at the University of Southern Maine. "Our planet hears the voice of that lovely girl with a kind smile and her voice is like a tiny bell calling for peace and friendship," says one verse.