May 30, 2017: Managua, Nicaragua

The day began with our departure from the beautiful town of Estelí travelling to Managua, Nicaragua, approximately 107 kilometers, or 67 miles away. On our drive from the city through the countryside, we observed police road stops, which are used to ensure that the roads are safe.

As we continued our drive on CA #2 (Central American Highway #2) , the scenes of the countryside opened up to some familiar sights: cows, chickens, donkeys, horses, fields of tobacco, red beans and rice, offering a majestic view of Nicaragua’s vast and plentiful agricultural landscape.  Our Nicaraguan guide, Carlos, provided a deeper perspective on the advancements in agricultural processes that have moved away from the old traditions of farming to promoting organic planting, cultivating and harvesting of all crops. Not to be missed were the rolling vistas of mountains, plains, valleys, lakes and river beds, and villages that stretch through the Sébaco department region.

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Scenic drive through northern Nicaragua

As we continued on CA#2, we made a stop in Sébaco, a lively and colorful town, where everyone was celebrating Mother’s Day!!  Yes, in Central America, Mother’s Day is a national holiday that is celebrated on May 30th each year. Most schools and businesses are closed, but for those that are open, most people work only a half of day and then spend time with their families for the remainder of the day.

As we entered the city of Managua, the streets were filled with many tiendas, food markets, maquillas, and a variety of services to choose from.

Street vendors in Managua
Street vendors in Managua

Carlos provided an extensive overview of the businesses in Managua. The economy of Nicaragua is greatly dependent on the businesses in the country – from the small agriculture farmer, to the tienda owner, to the more established family businesses, and to the large corporations that dot the landscape of the countryside and the larger cities. Commerce (business) provides over 50% of the country’s GNP. The country of Nicaragua is established as a socialist nation under the Ortega regime wherein the wealthy provide for the less fortunate. In order to provide for the 1.75 million citizens of Managua, businesses are required to pay a 15% “business tax,” which is used to provide basic health, sanitation, and educational services to the citizens of Managua.

The average salaries for citizens of Managua are constructed on three levels:

  • Lower-waged employees – $340/month – agricultural workers, maquillas, service industry workers and teachers
  • Middle-waged employees – $350-$500/month – engineers; medical professionals (doctors); lawyers
  • Higher-waged employees – $1,000 (plus)/month – politicians; professors; larger business owners

Although the country experiences a 15% business tax, there is no personal income tax for individual citizens. In addition to the business tax, which comes from middle- to large-sized businesses, the local shops pay a small monthly usage fee for the stalls in which they provide goods and services to the local communities across the county.

Citizens that work for larger, established companies (or the government) are provided with benefits and a pension (depending on the company.) The average age of retirement is 60 years old — with the exception of teachers who have a mandatory retirement age of 55. Upon retirement, citizens are entitled to social security benefits; however, due to the life expectancy of Nicaraguan citizens, the government is seeking to change the mandatory retirement ages. Many U.S.-based companies (franchised locations and corporate offices) have established a presence in Nicaragua due to the lower wage structure in the country.

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Colorful trees lining main avenues of Managua

As we continued our tour of Managua, Carlos pointed out the colorful electric trees of Managua. The 67 trees were sanctioned by President Ortega in 2014 as a symbol of emotional and cultural freedom from the civil unrest (U.S.-backed Contras insurgency) of 1981-1988.

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Miniature city of Managua in Lake Xolotlan Recreational Area, Managua

After a discussion of the business and economic influences on Nicaragua, our guide led us through the historical city of Managua, which was founded in the 1600s with roughly 400 residents. Over the years, the city has experienced great population growth and an economic explosion; however, in 1972 the Momotombo volcano erupted and an earthquake ensued. The eruption destroyed the city, and it has taken 45 years for Managua to rebuild. A miniature city sits amidst the Lake Xolotlan Recreational Park to remind the citizens of the bustling metropolis that once stood.

Clockwise from top left: Old Cathedral of Managua (Catedral de Santiago) and the front and back of the National Palace (Palacio Nacional de la Cultura). 

After visiting the historic sites of the National Palace, the La Casa de Los Pueblos, the National Theatre, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, and the Sandino Memorials, the tour of the city continued to the Cathedral of Managua, erected in 1993 to represent the 67 evangelical movements of the country. The new cathedral has created much controversy, particularly about its architectural style and $4.5 million cost.

protesters camp
Protesters’ camp

As we completed our tour of the cathedral, we came across a gathering of migrant workers who had suffered from the damages of abusive use of pesticides in the early 2000s – something that was studied in our GEC prior to coming to Nicaragua — and taken up residence outside of the cathedral in protest over the death, suffering and abandonment of thousands of residents. We were able to interview one resident, Carmen, who told of her 8-year struggle to obtain help from the Nicaraguan government; however, the American company that was responsible for this atrocity has closed business and left the country. A somber end to a busy day . . . .

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