Costa Rica and Nicaragua: a border drawn by the covid-19 pandemic

Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, communities used to interact as a single people. What is it like to live on the new border drawn by the COVID-19?

He brought in a bag the avocados that his aunts gave him, and a pair of sandals that he bought on the other side, for the “carajilla” (young girl). He walked with his rubber boots, like any other day, through the paddocks and grasslands that separate the department of Rivas in Nicaragua and the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica.

María Estela Hurtado says that the police did not pass through the alley where her home is, about 50 meters from the borderline, and about 150 from the main road that leads to the Peñas Blancas customs post. She states that she feels safer because “the robadera” has already stopped the migrants. // Photo: David Bolaños.

He is Nicaraguan, but he has spent nine of his 34 years living undocumented in Santa Cecilia de La Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

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Here the border is an imaginary line that many like him know by heart because they live between one nation and another, visiting relatives on the other side, shopping at the grocery store in the neighboring country, crossing on foot, by bicycle, a motorcycle, a horse. Anyone of us would be lost, but he would never be. He came, perhaps, thinking about the rice he had to go sun to plant tomorrow.

And then he saw them.

“When I saw them I said ‘ayyyy’. And I wanted to go to them, but then I couldn’t anymore”.

If we look at the map from right to left, the natural border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is broken when the San Juan River flees north, in the Tiricias sector, in Pocosol de San Carlos and at the height of the Bartola Refuge, on the Nicaraguan side.

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A concrete landmark marks the border in the courtyard between two houses, in the town of La Cruz de Upala that appears on the map as “Nica Mall” due to the commercial exchange that was usual before the COVID. In this hamlet, crossing between the two countries was as easy as opening the door and going out to the patio. // Photo: David Bolaños.

What follows is an invisible line on which pastures, mountains, wetlands, mountains, houses, fall. Above all that: people, communities. Entire communities used to receiving health services on the Costa Rican side and buying cheap beer or leather sandals from the Nicaraguan side.

For decades, the inhabitants of both countries have drawn that imaginary line at the tip of political scandals and conflicts that characterize media coverage: from the conflictive navigation of the San Juan river to the “trocha” (trail) of the Government of Laura Chinchilla and the invasion of Isla Calero by of Nicaragua in 2010.

This gate works as a division in one of the three farms through which the Fuerza Publica (Costa Rica’s national police) passes to reachmojón 13, which marks a vertex on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua in Upala. That same path is used for the illegal passage of people between the two countries. // Photo: David Bolaños.

But the COVID-19 pandemic – and the abysmal difference in health management in both countries – is perhaps the sharpest knife with which has ever cut these communities.

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Confidencial, La Voz de Guanacaste, Interferencia de Radios UCR joined this binational research to understand how this new normality is for families living further north in La Cruz, Upala and Los Chiles. This new frontier.

Click on the above links for the complete reports (in Spanish).


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"Rico" is the crazy mind behind the Q media websites, a series of online magazines where everything is Q! In these times of new normal, stay at home. Stay safe. Stay healthy.

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