San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua: Ludicrous feud between neighbors continues through 2013

If you wait long enough in Central America, a few things are sure to happen: A volcano will erupt, a giant cache of drugs will be found, and Costa Rica and Nicaragua will have a political spat. Such events don’t usually amount much, but this year’s edition was particularly surreal. Here are some highlights:

Ortega ‘reclaims’ Guanacaste

Fancying himself the El Cid of the 21st century, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega attempts to “win back” the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste by appealing to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. He insinuates that Costa Rica had merely “occupied” Guanacaste since 1842 and that the territory truly belongs to Nicaragua.

Ticos protest in the streets

On this side of the border, Ortega’s words are met with anger and patriotism. Not only do Costa Ricans demonstrate across the country, but also President Laura Chinchilla herself joins the patriotic marches in Nicoya. Both governments exchange angry sound bites. Meanwhile, at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, it’s business as usual; border-hopping tourists unaware of the situation generally have no idea that anything’s awry.

Costa Rica closes consulate in Managua

After angry Nicaraguans block off access to the Costa Rican Consulate, the Costa Rican government shuts it down, citing “xenophobia.”

Governments clash over wetlands dispute

Before the two countries have a chance to simmer, they clash again over Isla Portillos, a wetlands area also known as Isla Calero that spans about 1.2 square miles. The drama includes (a) the claim that Portillos “historically” belongs to Nicaragua, (b) the Nicaraguan military illegally entered the restricted wetland, (c) the military has been dredging two canals, causing environmental damage, (d) the whole project was carried out by former Nicaraguan guerilla leader Edén Pastora, and (e) Costa Rica caused damage by building a nearby road parallel to the San Juan River. The two nations again return to The Hague, where the world court issues preliminary rulings in favor of Costa Rica.

Pastora claims innocence, conspiracy

Pinned for the crime of “usurpation of public property and violation of the country’s forestry law,” Pastora, known during the Sandinista uprising as Comandante Cero, finds himself in the legal crosshairs of Interpol. He then claims that Costa Rica bribed Interpol to issue a red alert against him.

‘Exit tax’ drives border-crossers crazy

Ironically, none of these conflicts has much impact on everyday people. But a new $7 tax issued by the Costa Rican government causes new chaos at the border. The one thing Ticos and Nicas can agree on wholeheartedly: The border needs a Bancrédito ATM, stat.


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