(AFP & QCOSTARICA) Two policemen and a military officer escort two young men off the horses on the Honduran shore of the bordering Guasaule River, in their mission to block the entry of Nicaraguans trying to enter Honduras, in the face of their country’s apparent indifference to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The riders turn out to be Hondurans crossing from Nicaragua through a blind spot on the border, carrying blocks of cheese to sell in their communities.
“We are all hungry,” justifies a Honduran police officer who lets the two young men through, without penalty, involved in the so-called “petty smuggling.”
The mission of Honduran officials deployed at the border is “to avoid contagions, of Nicaraguans entering with the virus,” Lt. Carlos Wilfredo Cruz, armed with an M-16 rifle, told AFP while accompanying the policemen in the operation.
Both Honduras and Costa Rica have tightened border surveillance in recent weeks to protect themselves against what both governments consider an inadequate response by the government of Daniel Ortega to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While everyone adopts restrictive measures, including forced quarantines and border closures to contain the coronavirus, in Nicaragua no limitations have been decreed and on the contrary, the Ortega government has called for mass marches and celebrations.
In Honduras, the police and military deployment extends from customs to a dozen blind spots across the river, turned into a bed of rocks by the severe drought. Also in the middle of the undergrowth, where illegal trade flows in both ways, such as cheese.
While Honduran police and military prevent Nicaraguans from entering through blind spots, customs, health and immigration authorities have also reinforced epidemiological surveillance at the customs office.
“We are concerned that the sister republic of Nicaragua is not taking any protection measures” against the pandemic, said border customs administrator Rosana Ventura.
“The concern is latent because we are at a border post with a country that is not taking protection measures,” he stressed.
He said that about 900 trucks that transport goods cross every 24 hours through that customs office.
The doctor who examines the truckers, José Alfredo Sánchez, says that the truckers inform him that in Nicaragua there are no protection measures like in the rest of Central America.
“We do not know what number of those infected are in Nicaragua, because Nicaragua is not doing any tests, so that does not guarantee that the number they are giving is real,” the doctor warned.
Testing and drones in Costa Rica
Nicaragua officially reports 25 confirmed cases and eight deaths of coronavirus, a number that has not changed for days, although civil organizations have reported more than a thousand infections and nearly 200 deaths.
Sánchez is in charge of approving the entry of truckers into Honduran territory after taking their temperature, asking them if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and alerting them to the risk that they are running from the disease.
After passing the consultation with Sánchez, Guatemalan trucker Edy Roberto Taltique, 50, who carries a shipment of reels of paper from Costa Rica to Guatemala, stressed that the Costa Rican authorities are taking the best measures against contagion from the disease.
“In Costa Rica, at the border, at the entrance, the mandatory testing before entering the territory and from there (the sample) goes to the laboratory, they give the results and you can enter,” the country, he said.
Costa Rica began testing, both at the southern border with Panama, but with particular and reinforced attention to the northern border with Nicaragua, all truck drivers who want to enter the country with cargo.
Those with symptoms such as nasal congestion or cough or test positive for the covid-19 are not allowed to enter, according to Costa Rica’s Health Minister Daniel Salas.
In the 8 days of testing, 23 drivers coming from the Nicaragua side of the border tested positive.
Additionally, Costa Rica, not having an army, mobilized its six police forces, including the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ), to strengthen border surveillance and contain the entry of Nicaraguans.
Costa Rica has an estimated 500,000 Nicaraguans living in and working in the country, among many with legal residency refugees, illegals, and migrants, who regularly move between the two countries.
Although not aimed specifically at the Nicaraguan residents in Costa Rica, it prohibits the re-entry of any resident who left the country after March 23. In addition, any resident who is found having entered the country illegally will lose their migratory status.
In addition, to stop many of the permanent residents from leaving and returning, Costa Rica prohibits any resident who left the country after March 23 from entering.
#FronteraNorteCR. Realizamos patrullajes aéreos y terrestres a lo largo de nuestro cordón fronterizo norte. Evitamos así el desembarque de extranjeros en condición migratoria irregular.#CRContraElCOVID19#SomosUnaSolaFuerza#Operación #FronterasCerradasCR#FronterasSeguras pic.twitter.com/yU0MwoURZt
— Seguridad Pública (@seguridadcrc) May 14, 2020
Additionally, it uses drones to monitor the border from the air and installed an airbase in the border area to carry out air patrols, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
Moving truckers by convoy
The testing of drivers resulted in a backlog, trucks lining up for kilometers in Nicaragua. To reduce the losses to the drivers, including spoiled merchandise, on Friday (May 15), Costa Rica, in lieu of testing that takes from 2 to 3 days for the results, will escort truckers moving from north to south and south to north, that is not remaining in Costa Rica, in a police convoy.
The drivers will move convoys of 50 trucks, escorted by the Fuerza Publica (National Police), making only one supervised stop along the route.
All other truckers whose destination is within Costa Rica will continue to be tested.