MANAGUA—Over the past 19 years, Nicaragua has forked over nearly $1.28 billion in compensations to thousands of U.S. and Nicaraguan citizens whose properties were among the 28,000 confiscated by sticky-fingered Sandinista officials in the 1980s, according to official statistics.
Since the compensation program began in 1993, a total of 1,864 U.S. citizens have been indemnified to the tune of $433 million, according to the Nicaraguan government. Of the remaining 193 U.S. citizens still waiting to have their property claims resolved, only six were born in the United States. The rest are Nicaraguans who became naturalized U.S. citizens in the 1980s or 90s.
U.S. officials say that detail is irrelevant because the U.S. government doesn’t distinguish between the rights of its natural-born citizens and those who are naturalized later in life. But the Sandinista government does make that distinction in a new property-claims report prepared last week by the Nicaraguan Attorney General’s Office (PGR).
The report, a copy of which The Nicaragua Dispatch has obtained, notes that 187 of 193 claimants on the Embassy’s list are naturalized citizens. The group of Nicaraguan-born, U.S.-naturalized citizens is seeking compensation for a total of 357 properties.
In some cases, however, authorities have discovered the claimants weren’t eligible for compensation. The Sandinista government notes that “for the first time” the U.S. Embassy agreed to drop 48 cases from its list because the claimants “did not meet the requirements for indemnification.”
The U.S. Embassy’s Property Office declined Nicaragua Dispatch’s request for comment this week, citing “strict privacy policies.” U.S. Ambassador Phyllis Powers has not yet responded to The Nicaragua Dispatch’s request for interview.
The Sandinista government, meanwhile, insists it is motoring ahead on its goal of reaching 60 new resolutions before the 2011-2012 property waiver expires on July 31. Despite a very shaky start to the year (from August 2011 to February 2012, the Nicaraguan government resolved only four U.S. citizen claims), the Attorney General’s Office claims it has since turned on the afterburners and made remarkable headway in the past three months, resolving 46 claims between March and May.
The Sandinista government reports it has now resolved 50 cases in the 2011-2012 waiver year, and is on pace to finish close to last year’s record of 62 cases.
Since returning to power in 2007, the Sandinista government says it has resolved the property claims of 297 U.S. citizens and doled out $72.4 million in compensation.
Despite Nicaragua’s final push to resolve the dwindling list of aging property claims, U.S. officials have expressed concern in recent months that the Sandinista government may be wavering in its overall commitment to private property.
That concern was first voiced last year by outgoing U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan in his final interview with The Nicaragua Dispatch.
“Americans who own property, many of who are dual [Nicaraguan-U.S.] citizens, have suffered [recent] land invasions. And when they have gone to the authorities, authorities have not reacted. So they come to us and we inform the authorities. And I must say, the reaction from the Nicaraguan government has been mixed at best. They often turn a blind eye to these land invasions,” Callahan said in an interview published here last October. “Land invasions are getting worse, absolutely.”
The former ambassador said the U.S. government has “no indication” that the Sandinista government is behind any of the land invasions, but added, “I certainly know as fact that they have not reacted the way we want them to react.”
“They have taken some cases and they will tell us that the government is absolutely opposed to these land invasions, but that’s a rhetorical answer. What we’re waiting for is a real answer—[for the government] to take measures to protect these people who have been victims of these land invasions.”
In March, Gonzalo Gallegos, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Caribbean and Central American Affairs, said in an interview with Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro that the U.S. Embassy has registered 10 new confiscations of U.S. citizens’ properties in the past year alone.
“The government is resolving some cases, but they are also taking land, they are confiscating,” Gallegos said in a March 31 interview with Confidencial, following a week of meetings in Managua with top Sandinista officials.
Two months later, Ambassador Powers sent a letter addressed to Attorney General Hernán Estrada listing 16 U.S. citizens who “are suffering transgressions that impede them from exercising their full right to private property.”
The ambassador’s May 21 letter adds, “My government is exceedingly concerned that these cases will discourage U.S. investment in Nicaragua, impeding the development that this nation demands.”
Sandinista officials insists none of the 16 cases—each one of which is explained in some detail their May 31 report—represents a confiscation or appropriation by the government. The new cases are just garden-variety land disputes among citizens, according to the PGR. The Sandinista government says some of those cases are being resolved, some still need to be reviewed, and others are in litigation.
Overall, Nicaragua remains committed to upholding its end of the deal until the very end, the PGR insists.
“The State of Nicaragua has made commendable efforts towards the definitive solution to the property claims; the will of the government is clear and precise on this issue,” Attorney General Hernán Estrada wrote in a letter to the U.S. Embassy last January.
Whether the U.S. government agrees with that assessment will be determined next month when a final decision is made on the property waiver.
Next: Part IV: Nicaraguan business leaders claim the Sandinista government is fulfilling its obligations to resolve property claims, and a cancelation of the waiver would be a political move by the U.S.