Nicaragua Finally Emerging As A Top Retirement Choice?
Nicaragua, too long overshadowed by her picaresque president, is perhaps, finally, emerging as a top retirement and vacation hotspot.
When the dust settled in Managua after decades of battles between the FSLN (Sandinistas) and the remnants of the Somoza dynasty, Nicaragua was in a dire state. An earthquake in 1972 leveled much of the capital, and this city has only recently enjoyed any restoration. The earthquake, accompanied by the siphoning off of great amounts of aid money and other treasure looted by the departing Somoza regime, left the victors with an empty wallet and few sponsors. Faced with the armed might and massive amounts of foreign aid given to the Contras by the Reagan administration, the Sandinistas welcomed the help offered by the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela. It was that or give up on the revolution that started with the assassination, in 1934, of Augusto Cesar Sandino, their iconic martyr.
Sandino, labeled a “bandit” by the United States for fighting a guerilla war against U.S. Marines between 1927 and 1933, was assassinated on the orders of General Anastasio Somoza Garcia, who seized power two years later. Nicaragua became a Somoza family fiefdom for the next 40 years.
León, one-time capital of Nicaragua and long-standing liberal city, is recognized as the epicenter of the revolt against Somoza’s control. The unrest, a result of decades of presidential looting, peaked with the assassination of General Somoza in a restaurant in the city of León, in 1956, by a poet disguised as a waiter.
Somoza’s sons, Luis, followed by his namesake Anastasio (“Tacho”), went on to drive the country over a cliff. Following their diversion of foreign aid, and after the 6.3 quake in ‘72, underground political groups coalesced and organized into the Frente Sandinista Liberación Nacional (FSLN). The university students of León took up the banner of the fallen martyr, Sandino. Armed with makeshift weapons, Molotov cocktails, and one battered armored vehicle, the FSLN withstood the onslaught of the regime’s National Guard. Their fight continued until the signing of the accords in 1993.
Today, the image of an insouciant Sandino adorns many a T-shirt, coffee cup, and even a city wall. Neither Hollywood nor Madison Avenue could have created a better brand than this murdered martyr, an Indiana Jones in a floppy hat with a crossover gun belt and the raised eyebrow of a hopeful but skeptical patriot.
In the wake of decades of war, devastation, and political fighting, the people of this country are tired. They’ve watched their neighboring countries grow, progress, and finally obtain a measure of peace and stability, and, today, the Nicaraguans are more than ready for their share of the good life. Give them a decent wage, a chance to educate their children, and something more than the ever-present gallo pinto (rice and beans), and perhaps the Nicas would stop resenting the Ticos, the Costa Ricans next-door.
Their semi-permanent President Daniel Ortega Saavedra is again (still?) in office. Yes, perhaps he has paid groups to spray graffiti on Managua’s walls proclaiming “Viva Daniel.” But perhaps, as well, Danny isn’t all bad. Multinational corporations have voted and taken up office space in the capital, and some roads, finally, are being repaired. Bottom line, the country is working, more tourists are coming, new and favorable residency laws for retirees are in place, and the sun is shining (though Ortega can’t really take credit for that last one).
More important, beyond its politics, Nicaragua is a beautiful, historic land, with Caribbean villages named after their pirate founders and the footprints of where a family stepped in volcanic mud some 6,000 years ago. There are cloud forests, coffee farms, and miles of unnamed beaches. There’s art, culture, and theater.
The Nicaraguans also stage some of the world’s best fiestas, fueled by one of the world’s best rums (Flor de Caña, produced at Chichigalpa near León, a personal favorite).
Nicaragua remains a frontier, a land for pioneers in search of opportunity and a new way of life. Increasingly, it’s also an appealing place for the would-be low-maintenance retiree. Nicaragua has opened its heart to those bold enough to overlook its past, ignore its headline-grabbing president, and embrace all that this country has to offer. Some 5,000 expats have already voted with their feet, half of them from the United States. There’s plenty of room for more. The door is open, the welcome mat is out, and, important, the cost of living here can be irresistibly affordable.
Where, specifically, might the would-be retiree consider settling in this beautiful, affordable, and misunderstood country?
More later in the week…
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