Catch of the Day


Fascinating piece on a native village in Nicaragua that's been the serendipitous beneficiary of the confluence of ocean currents, geography, and the U.S. drug war. Seems that when drug runners' boats get accosted by the U.S. Coast Guard and they pitch their contraband overboard, it tends to wash up on the beaches of this village. Floating bales of "white lobster" wash ashore at the rate of one or more per week.

"We know there are small shop owners who do this," says Yorlene Orozco, the local judge. "We are talking about people without a profession, no home, no job. One day later they have a new car, go to the casino and are building a home that costs I don't know how many thousands of dollars."

Law enforcement in Bluefields is practically invisible "I just had a Swiss tourist tell me that when she went to the supermarket they tried to sell her cocaine," says Orozco.

The police and Navy have few resources and less trust from the local public. Bluefields is effectively an anarchist nation—no Government, no organised institutions and the rules are made by community groups.

Given the massive amount of cocaine in town, violence is surprisingly rare. Gunfights are nearly unheard of and most of the town seems to lounge around or play baseball all day and then erupt into a frenzy of energy by late afternoon, fuelled by Flor de Cana, a Nicaraguan rum, fresh fish, an endless supply of native oysters, and "the white lobster".

The "catch" has made the town enormously wealthy.

At a local price of $3500 per kg, the typical 35kg sack nets a cash sale price of $122,500, which by all accounts is spent immediately.

"Last time bags and bags washed up, everyone [felt like] a millionaire, but that money does not last." explains Helen, who runs a university research institute in Bluefields. Asked how the locals unload their cash, she said: "Beer, beer, beer. You should see the amount they drink here. Go to the pier and see how much alcohol goes out to the islands."

"When the drugs come in, everyone is happy, the banks, the stores, everyone has cash."

Arana, the former mayor, recalled one month when the village bought 28,000 cases of beer.

Actually, it doesn't all go for beer…

The cocaine business is reshaping the face of these Indian communities. Tasbapauni Beach is now nicknamed "Little Miami", because so much cocaine washes up on its long shoreline that it has fuelled a construction boom. Luxurious oceanfront condos protected by security guards now sit side by side with wooden fishing shacks.

"If shit washes up on your shore it belongs to that family. Every family owns their turf," said a Miskito fisherman.

But when a fisherman finds white lobster the entire village shares the treasure, with a percentage going to the community, a smaller percentage to the church and the majority split among the crew of the small boat that found the loot.

"It is like a municipal tax," says Sergio Leon, a local reporter who has been writing about the drug situation in Bluefields for many years. "The schools and churches are not built by the Government, that money comes from the fishermen and their finds."

Drug money has been used to build a school and replace the church roof. "The pastors here get mad when they don't get their cut from the find," says Francisco a court official. "If a member of the congregation has found 15kg, the church calculates 15 times $3500, that's $52,500, and at 10 per cent they are saying: where's the $5250?"