Feeling duped by what he claims was a duplicitous offer to negotiate a land settlement with the government, Walter Bühler, owner of the Punta Teonoste eco-hotel in Tola, has suspended talks with the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGR) and is now placing all his hopes in Nicaragua’s fragile rule of law.
On Friday, Bühler expects Granada’s Appeals Court to rule on his motion for a judicial order to evict a group of government-backed squatters who have been occupying a 20-manzana (34.5-acre) piece of beachfront property for nearly a month. On Feb. 13, police and armed officials from the PGR forcibly occupied the land adjacent to Punta Teonoste. Bühler claims the property is all part of his family’s title to 65 manzanas (113 acres), while the PGR argues that the property belongs to the state and state wants nothing more than to give the land as a gift to former guerrilla leader Edén Pastora.
Since the PGR apparently took the land without a judicial order, Bühler is attempting to get the courts to reverse by due process what the Prosecutor General has done by force.
“I don’t think that the courts or the Sandinistas want confiscations to occur,” Bühler told The Nicaragua Dispatch today. “The Judicial Power has to defend its rights; I don’t think they want the PGR going over their heads and usurping power from the courts.”
The PGR insists it is measuring property boundaries along the coast to determine what land belongs to the state and what properties belong to private ownership. But so far, the guys sent to occupy the land next to Punta Teonoste don’t seem to be doing much surveying.
Negotiating in bad faith?
Bühler, a Swiss-Nicaraguan dual citizen, raised eyebrows last month when he suddenly announced his family was negotiating a settlement with the PGR after two weeks of accusing the government of trying to steal his land.
“This government has demonstrated on many occasions that it is a government of dialogue, a government that tries to retain investment in the country. So we are confident that these talks will develop properly. We are very satisfied with the way the Prosecutors’ Office has been handling this case,” Bühler said Feb. 23, upon announcing negotiations with the PGR.
Now he says that process was a sham because the government wasn’t willing to negotiate in good faith.
“They asked us to stop making declarations to the press and to stop attacking them in the media. In exchange, they said we would work out an arrangement where the government would respect our title to the 65 manzanas of land,” Bühler told The Nicaragua Dispatch today. “But once we started negotiating, they insisted on taking the 20 manzanas in exchange for a letter of no contention for the rest of the property.”
In hindsight, the hotel owner thinks the timing of the government’s offer to negotiate—announced the same day that COSEP and a gaggle of reporters trekked out to Punta Teonoste to see what was happening with the land invasion—was just a ploy to steal Bühler’s thunder while the country was watching.
Still, he doesn’t think it was a tactical mistake for his family to accept the government’s offer to negotiate, even though the talks would have been a blow to the rule of law and could have set a dangerous precedent for other investors.
“It wasn’t an error; we thought we had an opportunity that we had to take,” Bühler said.
But now that opportunity is gone, he says, and it’s up to the courts to decide.