Building in Nicaragua – Eucalyptus Plantation Politics

The house progresses rapidly. It’s amazing how quickly the eucalyptus posts can be assembled into home shape.
Our nine supporting pillars were bought, cut, delivered, and cemented into place within four days.

For the rest of the roof structure we needed thinner diameter eucalyptus and drove a few Kms down the main highway towards Chinandega to an enormous eucalyptus plantation totaling 300 – 600 acres depending on whom you asked. The jefe wasn’t around despite the fact that he said he’d be there at 9am. We waited from 9:30am to about 11am before we finally heard a motorbike roaring up through the quiet. Off stepped a very smiley guy in a long sleeve, pink, buttoned up shirt, fancy leather shoes, and a dark black dyed hairdo.

waiting for the jefe...

Our main man Orlando had already walked through the plantation and marked the trees he needed so as soon as the jefe showed up the chainsaw went to work. Mr. jefe asked if we’d seen the hilltop and then hardly waiting for an answer started leading us upwards. When we reached the base of the rocky summit he said, “It’s a race” and charged up the steep trail at full speed. He won of course, there was no room to pass him on the trail, and when he got to the top triumphant he asked how old we were then revealed that he was 50 and the secret to health was drinking a lot of fresh natural juice daily – that and his relationship with Dios.

Mountain top with the jefe

“I’m a Christian,” he said, then waited for us to also profess our love for Christ. “Oh yes, of course we are too,” I replied. I figured it was the best answer but it did not stop him from preaching a bit. I suppose it was appropriate to hear a little sermon on the mount, so I nodded and smiled and enjoyed the view. From the top you could see the distant city of Chinandega and the outer reef at Asseradores, with a multitude of soft-looking eucalyptus treetops below, slow dancing with the breeze.

the view from the top

After the Christ talk he explained his plan to eventually build a hotel for tourists up there, starting with a big rancho and swimming pool. He was just waiting for his kids to finish their university training and for a little more capital to get it started. That led to the political discussion.

First religion, then politics. It’s interesting to get the opinions of relatively wealthy educated Nicaraguans on the topic of Daniel Ortega. He said he’d fought with the Sandinistas during the war in the 80s, but after Daniel took power he disagreed with the policies and began supporting the other side. I asked him about the upcoming November elections. (Nicaraguan presidents get 5-year terms and are allowed to hold office more than once but not sequentially. Daniel used creative tactics to change the constitution allowing presidents back to back terms, and is now running for the top office again. The people will decide November 6th.)

Like most other educated people I’ve polled he said that Daniel will win fairly or steal the election (as he stole the mayoral offices elections in 2009), and will remain president for another five years regardless. He told me that while he doesn’t agree with those tactics, he doesn’t mind Daniel. “All politicians are corrupt,” he said, “Daniel is no different. But Daniel gives roofs to the poor, fixes the roads, builds schools, and supports hospitals. He has done more good work in the last five years than any of the presidents before him. When he was a young man with no money he took land from the rich. Now he is a rich man with a lot of rich friends. He knows that Nicaragua needs business and foreign investment in order to improve. He’s not redistributing land anymore. Nicaragua is a good place to do business.”

With that we cruised back down to tree level, paid him 4,040 Cords (about $184 US) and gave 800 Cords ($36 US) to the big truck driver who would deliver the wood to the construction site. So, about a week into construction with all the materials for the main structure pillars and roof beams we’ve spent 10,038 Codobas or about $456 US (not counting labor).

making sure it's level

our man Orlando has the most awesome mustache!

a careful machete pass as the roof takes shape

And then we went surfing right out front…

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13 Responses to Building in Nicaragua – Eucalyptus Plantation Politics

  1. steve says:

    This is such a great Nicaragua story. Typical experience for a half day that so many down there wouldn’t take the time to write about.

  2. Tom Hundley says:

    Nice Story Holly. Look forward to seeing your home completed.

  3. Mary says:

    Hiya. I’m excited to hear about your building adventure. I’m looking into building techniques for a small cottage we hope to build in 2012 in SJDS. I’ll be following your progress. Thanks for blogging about it!

  4. tortuga says:

    I like it-you’re on it like bluebonnet!

  5. So you are getting oceanfront property? How much has it cost you so far, and can you get Internet access there?

    Always wondering about the cheapest way to live on the ocean/bay front …


    • hollybeck27 says:

      hi david,
      it isn’t actually oceanfront, but it is oceanview and walking distance to the beach. internet access is not as easy as in the states but im online right now! woo hoo!
      email me if you are interested in more info on property down here.

  6. Bill Chance says:

    I went to high school in Nicaragua back in the early 70’s – I love your stories of your experiences there now. In so many ways it has changed – but it the most basic sense everything is still the same.

    Keep up the great writing, I can’t wait to hear the reast of the story.

  7. Henry Mitchell says:

    Unfortunately, our experience has been that Daniel is not good for business–alot of our middle class friends are having difficulty (more than typical) getting and keeping work/jobs. If you want to invest in a large project, you have to pay to play, so to speak, or the Sandinista prosecutors and judiciary will slowly litigate you into nothing.

    Our close friend is being shaken down for his beef processing business, another is a lawyer whose int’l. clientele has declined to fiinish or establish projects there. If you are a young person, with an education, forget about it, unless you are Sandinista. Our doctor friend who works for the Health Service is pressed to show up at political rallies.

    None of this will end well, just as it never does in similar situations. Dont’ be misled by a glib Nica talking business like this. For every one of him, there are a dozen more of the opposite view. As a Gringo, you probably aren’t going to lose your house to the Sandinistas, unless it’s choice property, but it is depressing to see the worsening of society here. God bless our Nica friends. Only a minority voted for Ortega, or approve of him. And yes, he will steal the next round of elections as he controls the election commission now. They count the votes.

    • hollybeck27 says:

      Hi Henry,
      It’s good to get your opinion and hear the other side of the story. I recently had cocktails with a wealthy, US-educated, very intelligent and articulate member of the upper class. He is married to a relative of Eduardo Montealegre. I’m always interested in what people think about Ortega, particularly smart, wealthy Nicas. His opinion surprised me. He said that he actually thinks that having the Sandinistas in power is good for Nicaragua if only because when they weren’t in power they did everything they could to stop progress. They are such a powerful force that when they refuse to work together with the other side, nothing gets done (kind of like the divide between republicans and democrats in the US). Now that they are in power, they can actually make improvements to infrastructure. The roads are better, the schools are improving, health care is free, etc. Obviously, they are corrupt. There are a lot of stories of “shake downs” and that is unfortunate, but the general consensus that i’ve heard is that whoever is president is going to be doing that. They are all corrupt.
      This guy I had drinks with said that most of his peers disagree with his opinion, but he explained the reason for that is that they lost power and money when the sandinistas came to power because they then installed their friends in those high-powered well-paying positions, so it is understandable that they wouldn’t be happy about being displaced.
      I don’t know exactly where the truth lies, but I appreciate everyone’s opinion.
      Thanks for sharing!

  8. Lucia says:

    Your eucalyptus home will be eaten by termites before you can say “eucalyptus”

    • hollybeck27 says:

      hi lucia,
      we hope not. we have been staying in a cabana with eucalyptus posts that were built 2 years ago and so far haven’t had any trouble with termites. fingers crossed!

      • Jacek says:

        I think that termites will avoid eucalyptus tree posts for as long as you covered the posts in the ground with concrete. I would think that when posts have direct contact with dirt, termites would eventually attack the wood as the oil loses strength in the ground with time.

  9. Slim W. says:

    Nicaraguans deserve the government they’re getting if they put up with Ortega.

    “When he was a young man with no money he took land from the rich. Now he is a rich man with a lot of rich friends. He knows that Nicaragua needs business and foreign investment in order to improve. He’s not redistributing land anymore. Nicaragua is a good place to do business.””

    This says everything about “the revolution.” It not about the rich, it’s about “who” is rich. Good luck with your business down there.

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