San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Paper tigers growl in Nicoya

NICOYA, Guanacaste – The people of Nicoya saw an aggressive side of their leaders late Thursday morning as national and local politicians vehemently asserted the northwestern province of Guanacaste’s sovereignty and decision to join Costa Rica 189 years ago.

The patriotic fervor of the event contrasted with the scene last month during the celebration of the Annexation of Nicoya on July 25, when more than 500 protesters converged on the same city to express their grievances with the San José government’s alleged mistreatment of the province. 

Hymns blared and marchers yelped as several hundred rallied in front of the Nicoya Court of Justice for the short march to the Plaza de San Blás, waving the Costa Rican tri-color, and red, white, blue and green flag of Guanacaste province as the crowd wended through the provincial capital’s streets.

Authorities estimated the crowd at 1,200, according to National Police representative Commander Francisco Cordero Jiménez.

In front of Nicoya’s iconic Church of San Blás under a blistering Guanacaste sun, all the province’s 11 mayors signed a ceremonial reaffirmation of the 1824 annexation of Nicoya.

Leaders were passionate, if not bellicose, in their denouncement of Ortega’s statements.

Marchers in Nicoya

As many as 1,200 people came out in support of the “March for the Motherland” in Nicoya, Guanacaste, on Thursday, according to a National Police estimate. 

Alberto Font

The president of the Legislative Assembly, Fernando Mendoza, a lawmaker for the ruling National Liberation Party from Cañas, Guancaste, told the crowd that they would defend their sovereignty with kicks and punches.

“We Guanacastecans defend the province’s sovereignty every day, no matter the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year; we defend our sovereignty!” he cried.

Chinchilla responded to a question about the aggressive delivery of some of the speakers, saying it was a “call for respect,” but reminded reporters the event was not a “war cry” against Nicaragua.

On Aug. 13, Ortega told a crowd that sometime in the future Nicaragua could sue Costa Rica in the International Court of Justice at The Hague to “reclaim” the province of Guanacaste, which joined Costa Rica in 1824.

Municipal and national leaders present at the march said that the “threat” from Ortega was real, echoing Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo’s statement during an event in Washington, D.C., where he said Nicaragua has “expansionist” intentions for the isthmus.

“President Ortega did the same thing with Colombia and Honduras and has fights over territories with three countries. So as, Costa Ricans, especially Guanacastecans, it hurts our soul, touches our heart that he can make a claim on a piece of land that doesn’t belong to him,” Mendoza said.

The mayor of Nicoya, Marco Antonio Jiménez Muñoz, equated Ortega’s statements with Nicaragua’s decision to occupy Isla Calero, a small piece of wetlands along the border near the Caribbean coast. Costa Rica viewed the act as an invasion and the dispute is currently under review by the International Court of Justice.

“For those who think this is unimportant, it is. The only way to truly raise a strong defense is if he [Ortega] understands this doesn’t just pertain to one government, it has to be the entire population who says with one voice, ‘enough!’” Chinchilla told reporters after the speech, referring to the Nicaraguan leader.

Moment in the march

A couple marching in the “March for the Motherland” on Thursday pauses to sing the hymn of Guanacaste.  

Alberto Font

While the City of Nicoya announced the event on Aug. 14, days after Ortega’s statements, the “spontaneous demonstration” in Chinchilla’s words was stacked with Cabinet members from her administration, including Carlos Roverssi, Carlos Benavides, Mario Zamora and Roberto Gallardo, the ministers of communications, presidency, pubic security and development, respectively.

Representatives from Nicoya’s municipal council, as well as the mayor, also spoke.

When asked about the about-face nature of the patriotic march after demonstrations in July highlighted the province’s frustrations with Costa Rica’s central government, the mayor rebuffed the comparison. Jiménez argued that there were more people attending the official event on the evening of July 25 than those protesting that morning. 

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