Gov’t investigates borderland titles

Nicaragua claims many borderland properties are owned by Ticos who bought land in the names of testaferros

The Environmental Prosecutors’ Office is investigating land titles along the southern border with Costa Rica to determine what properties are in the hands of Ticos who bought land “to extract natural resources” from the Nicaraguan side of the border, according to a story posted on a government website.

“We have indentified through various investigations in the public registries of San Carlos and Rivas, as well as field studies, that some people have bought large tracks of land along the southern border to create conditions that could be damaging to our country,” said Environmental Prosecutor José Luis García.

The eco-prosecutor said his office is investigating Costa Ricans who have allegedly purchased land using “testaferros”—or a Nicaraguan straw man who lends his or her name to put on the title to hide the fact that the land is owned by someone else.

García alleges that “many Costa Ricans” have used testaferros to buy land along the Nicaraguan side of the border to use for timber and animal trafficking and other illicit activity. García said Costa Ricans are also using the water from Nicaragua’s Rio San Juan to support their agricultural activity as well.

“This is a situation that the state is paying a lot of attention to in coordination with the army and the police,” García said.

The government is apparently trying to give teeth to the new Border Law, which was passed in December 2010 to create a state-controlled border region of 15 kilometers.

The law establishes a 5-km “Border Security Zone” (the first five kilometers from the border towards the interior of the country) that is “inalienable” state land to which no foreigners can claim title.

Foreign ownership and land usage are also seriously limited within a broader, 15-km border zone. The preamble to the law states that border-zone property “should be in the hands of nationals” and that the state of Nicaragua has “preferential right to buy land for sale not only by foreigners but also by Nicaraguans.”

The government’s announcement that it is investigating land titles along the southern border comes one week after state prosecutors and armed police invaded a 20-kilometer swath of disputed land claimed by Hotel Punta Teonoste, in Tola. The government claims its efforts are not confiscatory, rather an attempt to “measure” territories along the Pacific coast to determine which properties belong to the state.