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World & Nation

Nicaragua closes Costa Rica border to protest coronavirus testing

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega speaks during the inauguration ceremony of a highway overpass in March.
(Alfredo Zuniga / AP Photo)

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega blamed new coronavirus-related monitoring measures taken by neighboring Costa Rica for his country’s decision to close their two border crossings.

In a nationally televised address, Ortega said Monday that more than 1,000 trucks were stranded on Nicaraguan highways. The dispute at the border boiled over after Costa Rica on May 8 began testing all truck drivers entering the country for the coronavirus.

Costa Rica said 61 truckers had so far tested positive, most trying to enter from Nicaragua, though some were also entering from Panama. The truckers are tested at the border before being allowed to continue. Those who test positive are forced to turn around. Those showing symptoms are rejected without a test.

“It isn’t Nicaragua that has closed the border,” Ortega said. “It is Costa Rica, with measures it began to take, to demand, to establish.” He called the testing “a pretext” used by Costa Rican authorities.

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At Costa Rica’s southern border with Panama, truckers blocked traffic Monday to also protest the measures.

Costa Rica’s COVID-19 testing policy at the border does not only affect regional trade and cost Nicaraguan businesses money. The positive test results also provide another piece of evidence that Nicaragua’s coronavirus outbreak is greater than suggested by Ortega’s government, which has been accused of concealing information.

Doctors and others say Nicaragua’s government has gone from denying the coronavirus’ presence in the country to actively concealing its spread.

Nicaragua has reported only 25 confirmed cases of the disease and eight related deaths. Those numbers have become more difficult to defend as more Nicaraguans speak out about the deaths of their relatives.

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Ortega’s government has not implemented social distancing measures used elsewhere and continues to promote mass gatherings. Schools remain open and professional sporting events still draw fans.

The lack of action in neighboring Nicaragua has concerned Costa Rican officials, who have so far demurred when asked about the public health threat posed by their neighboring country.

Costa Rica appears to have triggered Ortega’s response by saying Friday that truckers bringing cargo to Costa Rica could leave it at the border and have Costa Rican drivers take it to the final destination. Those drivers transiting the country could still do so, but only after testing negative and with a police escort.

In cities across Mexico, morgues are full and funeral homes are jammed but nobody knows for sure how many people have died in the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The Central American Council of Economic Integration Ministers discussed the measures Monday and asked Costa Rica to suspend its latest ones. Costa Rica proposed creating a regional protocol, including bio-security measures and a working group to make sure commerce continues to flow freely.

Costa Rica Foreign Trade Secretary Dyalá Jiménez said the other regional members complained that the measures were not approved by the regional body and therefore lacked legal standing.

“This situation complicated the possibility of arriving at regional agreements to quickly allow us to address the situation at our borders,” she said.

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Costa Rican business groups have also complained about the effects of the measures on commerce. The Costa Rica Exporters Chamber said the government’s actions Friday had a negative impact on more than 1,000 Costa Rica exporters.

Costa Rica has 866 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 10 deaths.

Ortega said he was willing to talk to his Costa Rican counterparts to find a solution, “but it depends on Costa Rica.”


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