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Health restrictions in Costa Rica cause tension on border with Nicaragua

Thousands of Nicaraguan truckers blocked the country’s southern border on Wednesday, in retaliation for the health restrictions imposed by Costa Rica on cargo transportation during the coronavirus crisis.

The blockade exacerbates tensions in Central America after Costa Rica enacted measures limiting the entry of truckers to its territory after detecting nearly 50 cases of COVID-19 among those workers.

“We are going to definitively block traffic to pressure governments to resolve this,” said the president of the Nicaraguan Transport Association (ATC), Marvin Altamirano.

The protest that prevents the passage of Costa Rican buses and vehicles into Nicaragua began Tuesday afternoon and will continue until restrictions on the passage of transport to Costa Rica are lifted, Altamirano said.

Television images showed kilometer-long lines of trucks on both sides of the Peñas Blancas border post, between Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega last week accused Costa Rica of applying “unilateral measures” of border control, to the detriment of the commercial flow in the Central American isthmus.

The Federation of Chambers and Associations of Exporters of Central America and the Caribbean (Fecaexca) pointed out, for its part, that the restrictions on entry to carriers imposed by Costa Rica limits intraregional trade and causes a significant economic impact.

About 90% of trade between Central American countries is mobilized by land transport.

Costa Rica’s restrictions also prompted a response from Honduras, which this week blocked the entry of Costa Rican truckers.

The Guatemalan Ministry of Economy pressed Costa Rica on Wednesday to find “viable solutions” for “the good of the Central American integration process,” and avoid harming the competitiveness of companies in the region.

Guatemala also pointed out that a relaxation of measures would avoid jeopardizing the supply of food products, “especially now that the economies of the region are seriously affected” by the coronavirus crisis.

In response, the Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Trade, Dyalá Jiménez, affirmed that her country’s borders “have always been open.”

“What we have always wanted is that the commercial flow does not stop, always keeping our maximum sanitary restriction to avoid sources of contamination,” Jiménez told reporters.

On Friday, the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA), based in Guatemala, announced that it is studying a plan to “guarantee the fluidity of trade in Central America.”

Central American trade and security ministers were scheduled to speak virtually on Wednesday to try to find a way out of the border situation.

Costa Rica has proposed three possible solutions: that the carrier leave their cargo at the border and that a local trucker pick it up; that the carrier enter Costa Rica with the cargo and leave it in a designated warehouse; or, for those who carry cargo between Nicaragua and Panama, that truckers join a caravan escorted by police from one border to the other.

Such options served as the basis for a bilateral agreement with Panama, which allowed the countries to clear a border blockade in the context of the pandemic.

Central America has registered more than 22,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 600 deaths.

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