MANAGUA – Foreign real estate developers and hotel owners doing business in Nicaragua have banded together to create their own lobbying group, formalizing the growing influence that outside investment has on the country’s economy.
The Nicaraguan Association of Investors and Developers (ANID) joins a long list of local business groups that have organized to push their agenda in the legislative National Assembly. But the new association is the first to focus on property rights and investment opportunities related to tourism, says Turalu Brady Murdock, a founding member of the association.
“We work solely for investors and developers,” said Murdock, who is with First American Title Insurance, a property title insurance firm based out of Miami, Florida. Though the association is open to anyone, Murdock said that most members so far are developers from the United States.
Nicaragua received nearly $235 billion in foreign investment last year and tourism was a major factor. In 2006, 773,000 visitors generated nearly $239 million for the country’s tourism sector, up 8% from the year before. Murdock said the investors and developers association will work to ensure that such growth continues.
“The stronger we are as a group, the more we can improve the business environment for investment,” she said.
The association, started late last year, is still getting off the ground. It has not yet elected officers and only a few meetings have been held.
But the group is beginning to make its presence felt. It recently hired a full-time lobbyist and has already taken an active role contesting legislation that the group fears is bad for foreign investment.
The group’s main fight right now, Murdock said, is to modify the forthcoming Water Law that could push private property rights farther away from the beach (NT, March 16).
The association also helps members find charitable groups that match their interests, creating a type of
for Nicaragua, in which donors give to one source that funds many different causes. Sara Murphy, who heads the group’s charity program, said that the streamlined process will help developers give out more money with fewer hassles.
“It takes away the headache of donating,” she said.
President Daniel Ortega has stated that he welcomes foreign investment, as long as it helps the poor.Murdock organized a meeting last September between a then-campaigning Ortega and some 128 mostly foreign investors and developers, who raised concerns related to property rights, tourism investment incentives and judicial security, among other issues.
Ortega addressed the concerns, promised cooperation with legal and responsible investment, and “no more property confiscations.” (NT, Oct. 6, 2006).
Murdock says that the new government has been very open to working with outside developers and she expects the good relations to continue.
But the government has also made it clear that it wants to protect the interests of the have-nots. At a recent association meeting, Mario Salinas, the new president of the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR), said the government wants to make sure that any large hotels or new golf courses don’t divert scarce resources from poor towns.
“A big project has a huge impact on the community and infrastructure,” he said. “If the hotel uses all the water, than the city won’t have any, and that generates animosity.”
Water is a major issue in areas that are popular for development, especially along the southern Pacific coast which has a long dry season.
Many foreign investors have set up their own programs for their needy, but Salinas said that a few donations here and there are not enough to eliminate poverty in Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the region. He called on developers to work to truly improve the community around their projects as way of boosting their business.
“You can’t build a big glass tower when you’re surrounded by poverty,” he said. “If a tourist sees poverty, he or she might not want to come back.”