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Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans – A Tense Relationship

January 25th, 2009

flagSome time ago, I blogged about the increasing tension between Costa Rica and its immediate neighbor to the North, Nicaragua. I thought it was one of my better semi-humorous efforts (see it here), but I was recently taken to task for my opinions by alert reader EJ. While I think EJ perhaps overreacted to my post, his comments are really good if a bit emotional, and are worth discussion as the complex relationship between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is something we deal with every day.

There are a huge number of Nicaraguans living here in Costa Rica. In fact, there are about eight times more Nicaraguans than North Americans.

flag2There is some bad blood between the two countries dating back over 100 years, and while there have been no armed conflicts (thank God as we have no army here) there have been some wars of words about navigating the San Juan river that separates the two countries plus ongoing criticism of how Nicas are treated here. The was also the dog incident, since resolved in court and finding the police not at fault. Nicaragua claims that Costa Rica stole Guanacaste when they annexed it back in 1825.  Costa Ricans disagree, and if I have learned anything living here, it is to NOT even have an opinion oN this topic. It is, however, a thorn in the side of many Nicaraguans.

Some Nicas are here legally, but a fairly number are here without papers.  They arrive via passport, then like some North Americans… they never leave. Unlike some North Americans, they do not leave the country every ninety days to renew their visa (though this practice is not legal… it is still done by those scofflaws not willing or perhaps not having the money, income or respect for Costa Rica law) .

Many Ticos are not fond of the Nicaraguans and blame them for just about everything… from crime to bad weather.  I do not. My admittedly limited experience with Nicas in my home area and on some work projects has been very satisfactory.

While certainly those living in the slum areas (La Carpio for example) certainly commit their share of crime, their living conditions are awful and they do as most poor do in this world… anything to survive.

“I should like to see just how fast the Costa Rican economy would crumble if those undesirable Nicas should be deported from their low-income, blue collar jobs which most Costa Ricans think they’re too good for.”

He makes a good point.

You will have to search long and hard to find a Costa Rican housekeeper. It is the Nicaraguan women that clean the homes and raise the children of a whole lot of Ticos and foreign ex-pats living here. Many are not documented (here legally) and those who do make the effort to get documented (like Maritza, my housekeeper) have to jump through a LOT of hoops at immigration and put up with world class harassment when attempting to simply get their domestic work permit.  It can be done… Maritza did it.. but it is nasty hard. Why must it be so hard when someone wants to be legal?

These women often arrive in Costa Rica living their children behind.  Maritza makes one trip to Nicaragua each year around Christmas to visit her three girls, all under 15. I just cannot imagine how hard this must be, but with unemployment running over 40% (last I heard) in Nicaragua, she can earn a very decent living here.  Her salary, of course, is wired back to her kids twice each month. As she IS legal, she can cross the border without issue, and more important, she can return.

Many Niaraguan men come here with great skill in working concrete… something that is present in just about every new home and all office buildings in Costa Rica.  It is my opinion that Nicaraguans build, and have built,  Costa Rica.  I have had occasion to visit a pretty large number of building sites, and the workers are nearly all Nicaraguan.  Two homes were recently constructed near me and, being nosey, I supervised! I saw no goofing off, they showed up every day to work and the homes, now more than a year old, both look great.  OK, one doesn’t, but that is beause the architect had to have had a drinking problem.

As I write this, I am not sure what is my point.  Partly it is a response to EJ and an overdue validation of his comments, but more, it is to just try to focus my own thoughts as to just just why this tension goes on. It seems pointless… but then I think about Blacks, Whites and Latinos in the USA, and just think… oh, yeah… that!

10 Responses to “Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans – A Tense Relationship”

  1. Michael on January 26, 2009 8:05 am

    Thanks. It is good to have you writing again.

  2. Tim on January 26, 2009 9:36 am


  3. Stan on January 26, 2009 9:44 am

    Gee, this sounds exactly like the issue in the USA concerning the Mexicans. Word for word, but just replace Nica with Mexican 🙂
    Have a great day.
    Stan Burns

  4. Tony on January 26, 2009 3:22 pm

    Sounds like the U.S. Everyone blames the mexicans for everything, but one day without them and the U.S would cease to function.

  5. Tim on January 27, 2009 8:20 am


  6. wayne on January 27, 2009 4:06 pm

    I taught ESL 4 years while living in Indiana.
    I also taught catechism last year at my church, to children from mexican immigrants whom did not retain enough of the language to take the class in spanish. It pains me to read ENGLISH ONLY and junk like that. Do americans not know that 2nd generation will act and do just like a typical american kid – which means women aborting their children and guys with ear rings and tattos.
    mexicans are needed here to do the work for those whom didn’t make it out of the womb.

  7. ROMER TOMAS on February 1, 2009 9:10 pm

    well aim from costa rica and i have 13 years living in new jersey usa…..and i be dealing all this time whit the way …the americans traid us here..all i want is work and have a better life for me and my family

  8. Jennifer Ramos on January 3, 2011 6:44 pm

    Thank you 🙂
    I am currently working on a research paper on the effect of immigration in diffrent countries and your article was very helpful, it helped to get an insiders opinions of the situation. Btw, im Nicaraguan-Amercian haha
    Thanks again

  9. Daniel on March 29, 2012 7:04 am

    I am Nicaraguan born and I have been raised here in USA. I have been reading to make sense of the ordeal between Nicas and Ticos and I really can’t put my finger in the issue. I think that education and ignorance is what it comes down to the facts. It is hard to believe that as neighboring countries they don’t get along due to the finger pointing and the animosity between the two nations is something as human and society we can’t control you will always have those issues in which everyone thinks they are RIGHT! And no matter your creed or opinion you may have, nobody is listening to the each other. Everyone wants to be right and excuses after excuses take place. As a country now days everyone struggles and to have a bad assumption about someone that you don’t know is where the problem begins. Here is my point, I lived in Washington, DC metropolitan area and I work for a trust fund company as a programmer, the company is about 80 to 90 people and there are other Latin American working where from other countries, not too long ago we had this Administrator assistance to start working in our office and once we knew that she spoke Spanish we were very respectful and cordial to one another, she asked me where was I from or where were my parents from and since I have been here in the USA since I was 10 years old I am now 44 years old I have never heard of Nicas and Ticos dislikes, and as soon I told her I was Nicaraguan born she totally changed her ways towards me, she stated that both countries don’t get along and since those were the facts we stop talking to one another for those reason.

    Keep in mind I am a intelligent person and I have a career and I have an education but because I was from Nicaragua her demeanor completely change just because I was Nicaraguan born, my question is who is right and who is wrong, I will let you be the judge to that. In my perspective I can’t comment on Ticos or be negative about it because I can’t judge something that you don’t know and I have nothing against their country or citizens because as human we have to respect one another and to me that is the bottom line treat people the way you want to be treated.

    Thank you, for reading my comments and hope this controversy with both nations can be resolved in a professional and respectful manner.


  10. Tim on April 3, 2012 7:09 am

    A truly excellent comment. Thank you!

    Sadly, from my perspective of having lived a zillion years… I have come to the conclusion that everyone wants someone to hate, disparage make fun of, antagonize…. Ticos have the Nicas (and Columbians), In the US, there are Blacks and Latinos (and oh puleeese do not tell me that has gona away), even Canadians have their Newfy jokes… and on and on.

    Silly really…. Best of luck and thanks again.