Papa Francisco Calls Out Feuding Costa Rica and Nicaragua: The Full Story

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    Pope Francis expressed his concerns for the two Central American countries last Sunday, but where’s the true root of their problem?

    In a call for world peace, Pope Francis made special remarks regarding Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Also included in the mix were Syria and Libya, drawing the question as to why the Holy Father would call out the tico-nica rivalry in light of so many other horrendous current events.

    [quote_center]“I encourage everyone to continue, with a generous spirit of confident willingness, toward cessation of violence and a negotiated settlement leading to peace.”[/quote_center]

    It’s difficult to say exactly what chapter of Costa Rican-Nicaraguan disputes brought the region to Pope Francis’s attention.

    Border Disputes and the Special Not-Military

    Of course, by now most have heard that the International Court of Justice has declared Costa Rica the rightful owner of the disputed territory along their border, not only banning Nicaragua from any further excavation or military presence in the area but also requiring the northern country to pay compensation for the damage already done. According to Carlos Argüello Gómez, Nicaraguan ambassador to the Netherlands trial:

    [quote_center]“Nicaragua has lost 250 hectares of wetlands that we considered to be ours.”[/quote_center]

    Nevertheless, both countries have agreed to abide by the ruling which states they have until next year to come to a fair settlement between them.

    The decision has been hailed an example case of how two countries can come to territorial understanding without resorting to military tactics. Nevertheless, to say arms have never been drawn along the Nicaraguan-Costa Rican border would not be entirely true.

    Costa Rica’s Department of Intelligence and Security’s Special Intervention Unit (known as the UEI for its name in Spanish) has made frequent trips to the northern border in the past decade. While technically a special branch of Costa Rica’s police force, the fatigue-wearing, assault rifle-carrying UEI are specially trained for:

    • protecting supreme powers and dignitaries during visits to Costa Rica
    • disabling explosives
    • performing high-risk operations against terrorism and drug trafficking

    Whether the UEI is trained for combat with Nicaraguan border-crossers is not clear, but none of the above UEI tasks seem a likely explanation for their presence at the border. Despite the clouds surrounding the UEI’s usage, the Department and UEI receive 46% of the current presidential administration’s total budget.

    Nicaragua, on the other hand, shamelessly sent troops to Isla Calero in 2010 before beginning the infamous river tredging for which they now must pay reparations.

    The Migrant Crisis

    There’s no doubt that the recent Cuban Migrant Crisis has put further strain on Costa Rica’s relationship with Nicaragua.

    Latest reports show roughly 5,000 Cubans currently sheltered in the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste since that Nicaragua, Belize and Guatemala have all refused entrance. While some travelers have benevolently chosen to give back to their host community, the fact remains that such an influx of non-residents in Costa Rica cannot be sustainable for long.

    President Solis has assured migrants with temporary visas that no one will be sent home against his or her will, but has since refused any further Cubans from entering. Those with visas already in process as of last Friday are expected to still receive access.


    While many Civil War refugees from Nicaragua to Costa Rica have since returned to their mother country, those that chose pura vida during the 1990s onward have made their relocation more permanent in nature.

    In 1998, 77% of all documented immigrants to the country were Nicaraguan. In fact, Nicaraguan-born residents made up around 10% of Costa Rica’s total population by the turn of the millenia. The vast majority of the immigrants took jobs in labor and service related fields, with at least half of those working sending remittances back home.

    The steady flow of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica has seemingly caused a stereotype and prejudice to build up around them. Pregnant Nicaraguan women face severe discrimination in Caja hospitals. Employers assume the men to be “drunks, lazy or delinquents,” and crime against Nicaraguans is hardly taken seriously. A 2014 study revealed 12% of Costa Ricans view Nicaraguans purely as “criminals,” while an additional 25% had mixed beliefs.

    Hope for the Future

    [quote_center]“I hope that a renewed spirit of fraternity will further strengthen the dialogue and mutual cooperation [between Costa Rica and Nicaragua].” — Pope Francis[/quote_center]

    Like a father passively scolding his two grown children, the Pope seems hopeful that the recent Hague ruling will give Costa Rica and Nicaragua an opportunity start fresh.

    While Costa Rica still apparently holds a bit of a grudge for Nicaragua’s decision against Cuban migrants, the northern country has repeatedly promised its commitment to renewed relations. According to TeleSur, Nicaraguan Coordinator of Communication and Citizenship Rosario Murillo announced on Monday:

    [quote_center]“We are fully prepared for dialogue… to ensure respect, tranquility and peace between our two countries.”[/quote_center]

    From Costa Rica, the Solis Administration formally “thanked” the Pope for his statement, but after decades of challenges, perhaps only time will tell.

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