More than six months after denouncing the Nicaraguan government for attempting to occupy part of their sprawling beachfront property in Tola, Walter Bühler, owner of the Punta Teonoste eco-hotel, claims his problem with the Sandinista administration has not yet been resolved.
Bühler, a Swiss-Nicaraguan dual citizen, says the ongoing saga over his property rights has remained out of the press for the past five months, but nothing has changed since the day armed agents from the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGR) forcibly occupied a plot of land adjacent to their hotel.
“The case is not resolved, and we are still not willing to cede land,” Bühler told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a recent interview. “The Prosecutor General’s Office has not advanced on the issue. Now they aren’t even interested in measuring the property because they know what they are doing is wrong and that our title is in order. They are no longer insisting they are right, now they are just saying we need to give them 10 manzanas (17.5 acres) of land.”
The problems started for the Bühler family on Feb. 13, when police officers and officials from the prosecutors’ office arrived at Punta Teonoste and informed the staff that the property now belongs to the state. The government agents did not present any judicial order or paperwork to support their claim, but started occupying a 20-manzana plot (nearly 34.5 acres) on the southern part of Teonoste’s property. Bühler immediately denounced what he called a government “land invasion” and was backed by the Supreme Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), the nation’s largest business chamber, which warned the government that any type of aggression against private property would be bad news for the country’s nascent investment climate.
Sandinista Prosecutor General Hernán Estrada assured the Bühlers, COSEP and the media that the government had no intention of confiscating private property. Estrada said his office was simply trying to order coastal properties by measuring the property lines. But the prosecutor then confused the situation by saying the state was giving a 20-manzana parcel of the land to former guerrilla leader and self-styled river dredge captain Edén Pastora for his years of service to the country.
While the Teonoste land grab has since faded from the headlines, the problem has not gone away, Bühler says.
In fact, in some ways it has gotten worse. Bühler says his family discovered that the Prosecutors’ Office has already issued and registered another title for the contested 20 manzanas of land, so now the disputed property is doubly titled to two different people.
As an indication of just how arbitrary the whole issue is, Bühler says the government is now demanding only half the land that they originally claimed.
“At first they were asking for 20 manzanas and now they are asking for 10. So they have lowered their demand, but we aren’t willing to cede 10 manzanas either,” Bühler.
In the meantime, the government’s men remain on the land, which they have fenced off from the rest of Punta Teonoste’s property with new barbwire.
“There are always people there, and the fence remains,” Bühler says. “We haven’t taken it down yet because that isn’t the solution to the problem. The solution to the problem is for the Prosecutors’ Office to annul their new title; they can’t just say everything is ok, because they still need to annul that title.”
For now, Bühler says, the situation remains in a de facto standoff as his family tries to hold the line against the intruders, and not lose their house in the process.
“My house on that property is still under our vigilance,” Bühler says. “There have been attempts to get into my house, but we won’t allow them to take over the house.”