SAN CARLOS, Nicaragua – Nicaraguan Tourism Minister Mario Salinas is calling on the Costa Rican government to not let the political dispute over the San Juan River contaminate tourism integration between the two countries.
Salinas on Saturday denounced Costa Rican authorities for allegedly trying to obstruct the flow of tourism into Nicaragua, following reports that Tico immigration officials refused to issue day passes to Costa Rican tourists who wanted to visit San Carlos to participate in the Second Aquatic Carnival, held on the San Juan River.
Salinas said some 400 Costa Ricans tried to cross the border at Los Chiles by requesting a day pass from Costa Rican immigration authorities. Though Costa Rica normally grants only 30 day passes per day, Tico authorities in the past have opened the border completely during big tourism events or carnivals held near the border, saving day visitors money and paperwork on normal immigration requirements.
For example, last year’s Aquatic Carnival was attended by some 400 Tico tourists visiting on day passes, including a plane full of journalists and tour operators who flew to San Carlos aboard an aircraft provided by the Nicaraguan government. This year, however, Costa Rican authorities canceled permission for the flight and refused to issue day passes at the border.
“We were told at the border that Costa Rican authorities would issue only 30 day passes, and that they had to be requested in San José several days in advance,” Minor Castro, owner of Costa Rican tour company Sunset Tours of Arenal, told The Nica Times.
Castro, who was traveling with a group of 24 Costa Rican tour operators, said he had to pay $300 in immigration fees to get his group across the border. He blames the problem on politics.
“The problem over the Río San Juan is simply political because it doesn’t exist among neighbors,” Castro said.
Salinas called on Tico authorities to not let political problems become an excuse to obstruct tourism development. He called their behavior last weekend “incomprehensible.”
“Tourism is only a factor of integration and unification between our people, and it shouldn’t be obstructed,” Salinas told The Nica Times. “We shouldn’t be limited to a vision of the border based on the last couple of days or months; we have to have a long-term vision of development, well-being and progress in both countries. And we can’t obstruct that development for any reason.”