Costa Rica says “No” to Nicaraguans

From 1856 to 1857 William Walker, an American became president of Nicaragua. Earlier he had provided Nicaraguans with weapons in an attempt to take over some of Costa Rica’s territory. The then Costa Rican president, Juan Mora, sent troops against Walker and his troops and won. This was due to the assistance of Juan Santamaria, a mere drummer in the army. He volunteered to torch the building where Walker’s men were taking cover. He was completely exposed and was able to set the building on fire before he died from a shower of bullets. Walker’s men scattered, making Costa Rica the winner. Juan Santamaria’s heroism made him known as the man who single handedly defeated Walker and gave a real sense of pride and unity to the people. A serious flare of nationalism had developed because of the defeat of Walker. Even though Costa Ricans have a similar background to other people in South and Central America they consider themselves a distinctive ethnicity. Costa Ricans have grown to despise the Nicaraguans, especially the immigrants trying to come into Costa Rica, and are trying to expel them from their territory. 

Costa Rica has been the most peaceful country in Central America in recent history. They have high levels of health and education. Costa Rica has a stable democracy and for the most part, they keep to themselves; with immigrants from Nicaragua trying to cross the border though, they have become unified in their disdain for the Nicaraguan people. As the author Caitlin Fouratt explains, “After the Fall of the Sandinistas in 1990, economic migration to Costa Rica increased dramatically. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch devastated Nicaragua, leaving millions homeless and destroying infrastructure and the harvest.” In 2010 Nicaragua started a dredging program in the San Juan River. Costa Rica objected to this act. They then brought Nicaragua to court. They accused them of violation of international environmental law. Later that same year Costa Rica built a road on the border of their country and Nicaragua. Because of this Nicaragua brought Costa Rica in front of the court. The court combined the two cases. In 2017 “Costa Rica asked the highest U.N. court to establish its maritime boundaries with Nicaragua once and for all to end repeated border disputes with its Central American neighbor.” Costa Rica claims that Nicaragua has a military camp on Costa Rica’s territory. This claim is what allowed them to take Nicaragua to court. In the same case “Costa Rican ambassador Sergio Ugalde told the court on Monday that Nicaragua was seeking to justify the location of the camp with “unrealistic and exaggerated claims” that would re-draw Costa Rica’s sea and land borders.” The tension between the countries seems to grow each year causing them to find new faults in one another so they can take legal action against each other. 

For a very long time, Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica for economic and political reasons, as well as to escape violence in their country. Nicaragua’s president Danile Ortega is not well liked by Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans at the moment, and there have been protests against him. For Costa Rica to keep their economy where it is they are  “wholly dependent on low-cost Nicaraguan laborers for harvesting their sugarcane and coffee and filling the ranks of the construction workforce in urban centers.”Costa Rica of late has had some social and economic challenges, and they are reluctant to take immigrants especially Nicaraguans. They need the Nicaraguans for labor but they are also a burden on the country. The Costa Ricans have found some use for the Nicaraguans, but it seems their low-cost labor isn’t enough in the minds of the Costa Ricans to outweigh the downside of them entering the country and the prejudice they have against them.

Attitudes toward Nicaraguans have grown more hostile over the years. Nicaraguans are seen as violent and illiterate. Costa Ricans think that they are superior. Any immigrants that are Nicaraguan and already in the country are not treated well. Caitlin Fouratt says that “In response to this kind of anti-immigrant attitude, the National Assembly passed a law that restricted residency, increased enforcement, and limited immigrants’ opportunities for integration. In Costa Rica, Nicaraguans make up 75 percent of immigrants and represent around 7 percent of the total population. They often work in agriculture, construction and service sectors.” Costa Rican officials commonly do roundups of illegal aliens. They return almost 150 Nicaraguan daily. The officials are on top of things and are doing everything they can to keep undocumented immigrants out. For the sake of keeping their own country stable and due to some entitlement, the people of Costa Rica are very reluctant to give a helping hand to the people of Nicaragua or treat them well. 

 In 2019 Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado wanted Nicaragua to hold free elections and re-establish democracy, as well as maintain a free press, and provide human rights guarantees. He felt that Nicaraguans had a negative impact on Central America. The country is not interested in taking in Nicaraguans but rather they improve on their own. This comes off as selfish, but Costa Rica must sustain their own well being and they are struggling to keep up with the growing number of refugees. The UN has called on other countries to help places like Costa Rica which are having to take in this influx of Nicaraguans.

There has been little improvement in the two countries’ relationship. A big part of this is Costa Rica’s nationalism. They see themselves as superior to the Nicaraguans and therefore do not want to get involved in the issues taking place in Nicaragua that are causing the people to flee. Costa Rica is putting themselves first and focusing on the preservation of their country and its culture. 

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