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ORLANDO, FL — A new port on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast is helping the politically challenged country move ahead economically.

Nicaragua had a presence at the PMA Fresh Summit convention, here, to promote its fresh fruit, vegetable and other perishable exports.

Grower Carlos Solórzano, representing VegyFruit S.A., located in El Raizón, Nicaragua, said that the improved port facility, which opened six months ago and is known as El Rama, will be a big help to his export program. One small refrigerated cargo ship per week sails to the United States from El Rama, and "we hope to get two ships a week," he said.

Despite a long Caribbean coastline, Nicaragua has always had difficulty accessing ocean transportation from that side of the country. Mr. Solórzano said that Nicaragua has traditionally had to ship to the Atlantic Ocean via Puerto Cortes, Honduras, or Puerto Limon, Costa Rica.

Mr. Solórzano said that Hispanic root vegetables are now the major export item for Nicaragua, which also exports red beans, plantains, sugar snap and sno peas, mini-vegetables, okra and mangos. Nicaragua shipped 50 containers of watermelons to New York in January and February. By air or sea, Nicaraguan mangos and other products also are being sold in Europe.

Nicaragua’s Socialist government, headed by President Daniel Ortega, “does not have good relations with the U.S., but we entrepreneurs have to deal with that,” Mr. Solórzano said. “The economy has to work.”

The current Nicaraguan administration offers no export incentives, as was previously the case.

Ernesto Vargas of the Carana Corp., based in Arlington, VA, led the Nicaraguan delegation to the PMA show as part of an $11 million foreign development program supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Mr. Vargas said that the purpose of the contract is to develop Nicaraguan exports and employment, while improving the quality and safety of Nicaraguan products.

“We are here with 10 companies,” Mr. Vargas said.

Among those companies was Grupo R, which is owned by Abel Reyes, an exporter of plantains, papayas and coffee.

Mr. Reyes said that there are 120 Nicaraguan plantain growers who want to develop export markets, and a papaya export industry is developing on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast, which receives 47 inches of rainfall a year. This is 30 percent of the rain received on the Caribbean Coast.

Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast is also attractive for agricultural production because of the volcanic soil and a much lower risk of hurricanes.

Mr. Reyes added that Nicaragua is Central America’s largest country but has a relatively small population, leaving open land for cultivation.

“We are happy to meet companies that want to buy our products,” Mr. Reyes said of the PMA Fresh Summit experience. “We have the land and people wish to work. The main problem is that our growers didn’t know how to sell.”

He added that three Nicaraguan companies that attended the PMA Fresh Summit sold all of their production on the convention’s first day. Those salesmen immediately packed up and returned to Nicaragua.

Exporter Diego Vargas of Tecnología en Agroexportación S.A. in Managua said that he hopes national elections next September will improve Nicaragua’s political situation. He said that Nicaragua’s difficult times began with a devastating earthquake in 1972. The Sandinistas took over the country in 1979. Thus, “the country has been frozen since the 1970s,” he said.

Still, Mr. Vargas is exporting beans, roots and calabasa to the United States and Puerto Rico. He said that El Rama is “great” because it saves $600 per container in freight costs.