GRANADA, Nicaragua – Costa Rica’s Immigration Director Marco Badilla this week adamantly defended his institution’s treatment of Nicaraguans, following a series of explosive articles in the Nicaraguan press accusing the Costa Rican government of mistreating emigrants flocking south in search of work.
In a week of reports covering the massive movement of Nicaraguans crossing the Costa Rican border during Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week), the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario, a newspaper born in the early 1980s with the support of the left-wing Sandinista government, accused Costa Rican Immigration officials of launching a “war” against impoverished Nicaraguan immigrants.
One rather alarmist headline, published in El Nuevo Diario April 6, blasted the Costa Rican government for treating Nicaraguans like members of the Taliban – Afghanistan’s former extremist clerical government.
ARTICLES in the daily La Prensa, the country’s most well-established daily, highlighted the large number of Nicaraguans detained by Costa Rican authorities for attempting to cross the border illegally, and questioned the Tico government’s treatment of thousands of Nicaraguans living in the squatter settlement known as La Carpio, outside of San José.
A full-page report published Monday in El Nuevo Diario detailed in tedious first-person narrative the alleged mistreatment of a reporter by Costa Rican Immigration agents, who reportedly expressed anger that the Nicaraguan press always reports the same sob story about immigrants being treated unfairly at the frontier.
BADILLA defended Costa Rica’s handling of the weeklong immigration flux, and insisted that Immigration officials and bilateral relations would not be adversely affected by the Nicaraguan press reports.
“We are complying with Costa Rica laws; this is a national matter of security that has nothing to do with international relations,” Costa Rica’s Immigration Director said in a telephone interniew.
Badilla stressed that Immigration officers at the Peñas Blancas border crossing do not take the Nicaraguan press reports personally and do not let the headlines affect the professional manner with which they approach their job.
According to Costa Rican Immigration statistics, a total of 2,433 foreigners – mostly Nicaraguans – were detained or denied entry into the country during Holy Week, in a Tico police campaign called “Semana Santa Segura.”
Official numbers show that more than 13,000 people – mostly Nicaraguans – crossed the northern Peñas Blancas crossing April 1-11, a time when Nicaraguan immigrants typically return home to spend the week-long Easter vacation with their families before returning to Costa Rica for work.
An additional 338 Nicaraguans were detained in Costa Rica’s northern zone area of Los Chiles, where they were picked up by police for crossing the border at unauthorized entry points, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
IN Nicaragua, the reports of mistreatment at the border are viewed as based in truth.
Rene Vargas, a Nicaraguan political analyst and long-time journalism professor at Managua’s University of Central America (UCA), claims the reports – albeit a form of emotive protest – are based in fact and represent an established pattern of xenophobia in Costa Rica.
He said the media comparison to the Taliban is an example of the unsophisticated language used by the Nicaraguan media to reach readers, rather than a word usage indicative of anti-Tico sentiments to sell papers in Nicaragua.
Francisco Chamorro, sub-director of El Nuevo Diario’s newsroom, denied the reports represented “yellow journalism,” but admitted he didn’t know if they were even-handed.
“I don’t know if they were balanced, but we have to trust our correspondents,” he said.
VARGAS said he believes the Nicaraguan media reports are intended more as a criticism of the Nicaraguan government than an attack on Costa Rican authorities.
The analyst slammed the Nicaraguan government for failing to recognize the immigration phenomena as a national social issue, rather than a Costa Rican problem or a dilemma facing individual Nicaraguans.
Vargas pointed to the fact that Nicaragua has not established a consulate in the northwest Costa Rican province of Guanacaste, even though most Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica live and work there.
The fact that Nicaraguan immigrants in Guanacaste have to travel some four to seven hours to San José to have any access to consulate legal recourses in instances of injustice, demonstrates the Nicaraguan government is not taking the problem seriously, Vargas charged.
Vargas said he thinks the media reports are intended to call the Nicaraguan government’s attention to the systematic problem facing so many of its citizens.
Badilla, meanwhile, said Costa Rican immigration authorities have a meeting scheduled with their Nicaraguan counterparts next week in Managua to discuss the immigration issue further.
Some of the same immigration issues and allegations of mistreatment were raised during the past Christmas holiday season, when Costa Rican immigration officials took what Badilla called “very drastic measures” and rejected more than 6,600 Nicaraguans trying to enter Costa Rica at the Peñas Blancas border post (TT, Jan. 9).