"This house is not for sale," proclaims a sign on a colonial townhouse in the tourist boomtown of Granada. Its exasperated owner seeks to ward off speculators and swindlers seeking to make a quick buck out of the real estate boom that has come and gone and returned somewhat to Central America's hottest tourist attraction. Visitors are flocking to a country that hopefully, someday soon, will lose its well worn moniker as the second poorest in the Western Hemisphere. Despite President Daniel Ortega's anti-U.S. rhetoric and pro-Chavez leanings, he's declared the country open for business, attracting tax-shy retirees, beachfront-property hunters, and adventure-loving sun seekers enticed by multiple seasons of television's Survivor made on Nicaraguan shores.
It's hard to avoid Ortega's smiling face when traveling the country. Posters proclaiming his loyalty to the people are stationed on government buildings and roadside monuments. The ex-bank robber and veteran Sandinista leader has once again renamed Managua airport after the legendary general Augusto C. Sandino; it had been changed by the right-wing president Arnoldo Alemán when he was in power (originally, the airport was named after Somoza, the unpopular dictator). Ortega has also refused to occupy the Casa Presidencial, calling it a symbol of the opulence of the previous administration. His sincerity is proven somewhat shallow by the cynical pacts he's made with his corrupt rival Alemán that guarantee both men stay in power and push out the smaller parties. A subversion of the country's Supreme Court saw it declare Ortega legally fit to stand for reelection, despite a constitutional ban -- a move, along with some electoral fraud in 2008, that saw the U.S. and European Union suspend all aid to the country. The legions of disillusioned Sandinistas are increasing, including the legendary rebel priest and ex-minister Ernesto Cardenal and the folk singer Carlos Mejía Godoy, who has forbidden the FSLN from using his famous anthems.
Nicaragua's real hope lies in its people, and despite the wickedness of everyday politics, it is safe to say that democracy is here to stay, as is the relative freedom of speech that it entails. Now, the only foreign intervention is the increasing groups of visitors, many of whom are deciding to stay. Towns like Granada and San Juan del Sur have an international flavor, with investors, retirees, Peace Corps volunteers, and the simply curious all hoping that this country's future shines brighter than its dark past.
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