Pellas: ‘Nicaragua’s hour has come’

Nicaraguan business mogul gets AMCHAM’s top business award

Daydreaming is a helpful exercise in visualizing a better future, but executing a plan is imperative to building a new Nicaragua, says Carlos Pellas, the country’s leading businessman.

Woolgathering, he says, is only helpful insofar as it leads to some sort of actionable ideas.

“Vision without action is a dream; action without vision is a waste of time, but vision and action together can change the world,” Pellas told an overflow crowd of Nicaraguan business leaders and well-heeled socialites who gathered Tuesday night in Managua for an award ceremony to decorate Pellas with the country’s top business honor, the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce’s Business Excellence Award. “We need to dream, but we also need to act.” 

In Nicaragua, Pellas says, the hindrances to doing business are myriad and daunting, but it’s always been that way. Just ask the original “foreign developer,” Spanish explorer Francisco Hernández de Cordoba, who came here with big plans in 1524 but was decapitated by the locals after founding Granada and León (on second thought, don’t ask him).

Doing business in Nicaragua has become easier since then, but there’s never a perfect moment, Pellas says. Investors who wait for ideal circumstances to execute their business plans will quickly grow old and cynical, slipping into a vapid state of ennui with other fussy-pants naysayers who never accomplish much, Pellas said.

“The true businessman is never on a completely certain path,” Pellas said. The challenge, he says, is not to become paralyzed by all the snags, twists and encumbrances on the road ahead, but to get to it and then persevere.

That’s what Pellas is doing with his ambitious $250-million tourism project, Guacalito de la Isla,  which is already causing international buzz even before its inauguration next January. Pellas, whose family business conglomerate controls 21 companies—everything from agriculture and healthcare, to rum, insurance, automobile imports and financial services—is focusing much of his attention on making Guacalito de la Isla his “legacy project.” When he talks about his coastal development, he does so with the irrepressible excitement and boyish giddiness of a little kid describing his favorite Christmas present.

“We’re doing something completely different, something the world will be talking about for years,” Pellas said.

Leap of Faith

Though some might find it curious that a billionaire with a midas touch would fret over the same investment concerns that nag mortal investors, Pellas says when he started Guacalito de la Isla in 2007, his ambitious plans to build a world-class spa and golf resort on the southern Pacific coast seemed risky—if not slightly loony—given the situation in Nicaragua.   

Pellas says he wants Guacalito to be a multigenerational experience (photo/ Tim Rogers)

“Go back in time six years to November 2006, when Comandante Daniel Ortega had just won the elections after 16 years out of power and there was a great uncertainty in the country about what was to come. No one knew if there would be a new agreement with the IMF, if we would continue with current economic model or go back to the ‘80s, or if they would respect the financial system or return to a scheme of interventionism,” Pellas said. “During this uncertainty, many of us remembered the crisis we lived though in the 1980s—the scarcity of products, the price-controls, the constant devaluations.”

 The political and economic uncertainty of Ortega’s return to power, plus the Nicaragua’s normal pitfalls to doing business, made building a luxury spa and golf resort on an inaccessible beach seem as feasible as building castles in the sky. 

“The zone was physically isolated and the (promise) of the coastal highway was just another project of many. The image of Nicaragua beyond its borders was that of a bellicose and unsafe country. The tourism infrastructure was nonexistent, and (the town of) Tola was the closest to civilization,” Pellas said.

On the upside, the property Pellas found—an undulating virgin forest lined with 200-year-old trees, cupped by white-sand beaches and kissed by Pacific breakers—is of such unutterable natural beauty that it makes all that other stuff seem like lesser issues.

Plus, Pellas said, he was encouraged—and perhaps challenged—by his own family’s history of pioneering new industry in Nicaragua. His great grandfather, Francisco Alfredo Pellas, must have faced even greater hurdles when he first came to Greytown from Italy in 1875 to start the Nicaragua Steamship Navigation Company at the age of 25, Pellas ruminated.

“When he came to do business here in the 19th century, the list of obstacles was even longer than what I faced with Guacalito,” Pellas said. “Not only did he not know the country, but he didn’t even know what it was like on this side of the world. And he left one of the most prosperous cities in the world at that time to move to a place that was known only for sickness and civil war.”

A helpful government

Despite initial reservations about the Sandinistas’ return to power, Pellas says the administration of President Daniel Ortega has been extremely helpful and welcoming to investment.

Pellas “vision without action is a dream” (photo / Tim Rogers)

“The support of the government for the development of this project has been very important for us,” Pellas said. He says the government permits for Guacalito de la Isla have been “managed with efficiency and velocity,” helping the project finish its first phase within the six-year time frame and prepare its doors for opening in less than two months.

Pellas has not had the same experience in neighboring Costa Rica, where his Pellas Development Group is also working on a tourism project called the Santa Elena Preserve in Guanacaste.

“Just to give you an idea, (Guacalito) started at the same time as the project in Costa Rica, and in Costa Rica we still haven’t even been allowed to place the cornerstone,” Pellas said. “We keep requesting permit after permit and I think I going to die of old age waiting for permits. Meanwhile, here in Nicaragua, we are going to be inaugurating the spa and the golf course in a couple of months.”

Pellas said the Guacalito project will also be unmistakably Nicaraguan, from the Flor de Caña oak cask headboards on the beds to clientele itself.

“We didn’t want to have a project that’s only full of gringos; if you go to Four Seasons or Los Sueños in Costa Rica, you don’t see a single Tico—no one. And I didn’t want to do that, so we started a project called Friends and Family for Nicaraguans so that form the beginning there would be an integration of Nicaraguans and foreigners.”

Now is the time for Nicaragua

While there is never a perfect moment or circumstance to invest, Pellas says this is the closest Nicaragua has come so far.

Now is the time for Nicaragua to lose its training wheels and start to really gain some momentum as a world-class tourism spot, he says. And he hopes Guacalito de la Isla will provide “the spark to convert Nicaragua into a tourism destination.”

“Others already believe it will happen,” Pellas said, pointing to last Sunday’s New York Times feature on Nicaragua Rising. “Believe it; our hour has come.”

  • Raffles

    Not hard to see why this award was given. I’m not a golfer but it is indeed what many potential visitors want, I’m asked by my friends all the time if they can play golf in Nicaragua.

    Sounds like a terrific vision incorporating Nicaraguan values and not just catering to wealthy visitors. Likely to create demand and infrastructure which will spill over to benefit a lot of smaller players and residents of that area.

    Would hate to try and compete with Pellas but my he’s a symbol to others that good business can be done in Nicaragua.

  • John Shepard

    No need to compete. Pellas leads the way. There is plenty of Nicaraguan pie for everyone to share. Not every project has to be of Pellas’ scale to be successful.

    • Ben Hartman

      Not big enough for over 8,000 people who has died and continue to die in his sugar cane business due to CKD/pesticide related!!

      • Kelvin

        Can you produce the evidence that the 8,000 Chronic Kidney Disorder deaths are caused by pesticides and not the workers genetic structure, diet, cheap guaron and dehydration.

  • A. William

    Accredited Business Consolidators Corp. shares Carlos Pellas’ belief that businesses, including manufacturing, need to take a second look at Nicaragua. We are shifting our focus from international projects to Nicaraguan ventures because of the immense amount of opportunity in that country. Nicaragua maintains many programs that are attractive to foreign companies including tax incentives for exports, no prohibition on foreign ownership of land, and the ability for foreign entities to own the majority of stock in local corporations. Nicaragua’s labor force is also ready, willing, and available to work. Skilled employees with training in specific industries have competitive wages as $250 to $400 per month. Non-skilled laborers are available at $190 to $250 per month. The Government’s social security program, that provides employees healthcare and some retirement benefits, amounts to about 15% of wage. Payroll taxes exist only for higher paying jobs and are not difficult to account for. Land and industrial space is available at reasonable prices. Business can obtain licensing and tax certificates without bribes or engaging in corruption.

    On the other hand, businesses entering the market should join with trusted consultants to avoid misinformation, including from attorneys who try to convince businesses that they need to pay for efficient service from government agencies– something that simply isn’t true.

  • Abu Sharif

    As we always thought, there is no contradiction between the socialist repressive government and Mr.Pellas and his “private sector”. Question is, if Pellas becomes a communist or if Ortega is just another capitalist?

  • Abu Sharif

    Mr. Pellas, why didn’t you say ONE WORD about the electoral fraud? Rhetoric question, because we know why. It does not matter to the bizne of the private sector or even helps a lot. That is the advantage of former leftists, once converted they are worse than their former adversaries.

  • Karen in Los Angeles, Ometepe

    Mr. Pellas would be wise to invest in some infrastructure to reduce garbage on the streets and crimes against tourists, among other things, if he wants to attract more tourists to Nicaragua.

    • raffles

      Karen do you understand the difference between a business and a Government? Mr. Pellas would have no business trying to do what you suggest.

      • Karen in Los Angeles, Ometepe

        Actually, raffles, I do. I am a business owner. And I perform lots of civic-minded activities that improve my community, and as a consequence, my business. That includes lobbying the government to make the changes that would improve attractiveness to tourism, which Mr. Pellas with his money & connections would be uniquely well-positioned to achieve in Nicaragua, as well as direct financial support where appropriate and necessary.

        • Fellow nicaraguan

          If you make a little bit more research you will find out that Mr. Pellas’s business group does help in those causes you mentioned above and in many others. Two quick examples are ANF and Aproquen. ANF does not explicitly help in cleaning the streets, but their program in increasing education makes sure that thousands of children go to school and have the necessary school materials, in this way children learn that throwing garbage to the street is not good. They also promote sustainable development and through the Centro Empresarial Pellas, they help others to create and/or improve their own businesses, generating jobs for others. Of course, him and the group of people who work with him are not perfect, but then, who is? We should worry more about what each one of us does to help Nicaragua and take example of the good things others do.

    • Kelvin

      No, Mr. Pellas was in fact wise to pave the road from Tola to the resort instead so that tourists could get there. The 15% IVA and other taxes and fees on $500 a night should cover a lot of garbage collection. Can you image the money he is putting into the Municipal Council of Tola? Lets think first.

  • Mark Oshinskie

    Golf Nicaragua. Ugh.

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Why that Ugh!!!!! Why not a Yeahhh Baby :-)


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