Costa Rica appears to be trying to cause hunger and shortages in Central America by blocking nearly a 1,000 trucks going south through Central America with food and merchandize, some of it for treating and dealing with COVID-19. The trucks are from every country in Central America, but the majority are from Honduras and Guatemala. The line of trucks is miles long and growing.
First, Costa Rica made drivers get tested and wait for three or more days. Some drivers from Central America tested positive (most news articles dis-inform that the drivers were Nicaraguan). Now they have decreed that drivers can only bring goods to the border and transfer to a Costa Rican company. The other nations, transportation organizations, and some of the Costa Rican business sector are telling the president to rescind the decrees.
President Carlos Alvarado says he is doing it to stop the spread of COVID-19, but it is already in all of Central America and his country has had nearly 900 cases. He is creating an international incident, and may well put some of the truck drivers out of business (about 85% of trucks that carry merchandize in Central America are privately owned as opposed to owned by big companies, so it may also be an effort to get the little guys out so the big companies can take over). Nicaragua is helping the drivers out with food. At Costa Rica’s southern border with Panama, truckers blocked traffic May 18 to protest the measures.
As part of the US-directed and financed 2018 coup attempt, the Nicaraguan opposition set up some 2,500 roadblocks around the country. In the Carazo department more than 400 trucks were stranded for well over a month. This crisis brings back terrible memories for Nicaraguans and anyone associated with the Central American truck drivers who suffered violence in 2018.
On the 125th anniversary of Augusto C Sandino’s birth, May 18, President Ortega pledged that Nicaragua will continue to facilitate the international land transit of goods in coordination with the other national and regional institutions in order to standardize efforts that allow for prompt attention at border control posts.
“That is Nicaragua’s decision, that is, it does not depend on us, it depends on Costa Rica … being willing to find a mechanism that will provide security to the transporters themselves,” said the President.
Daniel said that the stranded trucks are a problem generated by decrees issued by the Costa Rican government. “It is Costa Rica that has closed its borders with the measures that it began to establish,” he said. Daniel called on the Costa Rica government to solve this situation. He expressed his solidarity with the transporters who are stranded and cannot enter Costa Rica.
The president said that between the southern Nicaraguan town of Rivas and the border with Costa Rica at Peñas Blancas there are 942 transport trucks that have not been able to enter Costa Rica, 384 are from Guatemala and 284 from El Salvador. In this regard, he said that the Central American Integration System had agreed to coordinate a resolution so the flow of commercial traffic in the region would not continue to be affected.
On May 15, Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado signed decrees No. 42351-H and 42350-MGP-S, to keep the number of foreign carriers as low as possible to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19. Since May 18 trucks may only enter the facilities of Costa Rican land border posts to drop off or pick up goods there. The Decrees will affect the supply of essential products to combat COVID-19 as well as food.
The day the measures went into effect the Central American Council of Economic Integration Ministers asked the Costa Rican government to rescind its decision. Backed by 17 regional groups, the proposal calls on the countries of the isthmus to support the urgent drafting and immediate application of the Protocol for the Central American transport sector, which will establish coordinated procedures between the States to prevent contagion and guarantee the flow of trade.
The Central America Transport Federation (Fecatrans) demanded the elimination of the decrees because of the negative impact on the regional supply of products. The vice president of the Heavy Transport Union of Guatemala, Juan Carlos Limatuj, described as outrageous what drivers go through at the border post of Peñas Blancas (northern border of Costa Rica with Nicaragua).
The Panama Customs Director, Tayra Barsallo, called the Costa Rican measures “inhuman” and the Panamanian authorities asked for the elimination of the decrees.
The Panamanian transporters’ union closed the Paso Canoas border crossing on the canal side to stop Costa Rica’s cargo from entering Panama in retaliation.
The line of nearly 1,000 transporters at Peñas Blancas (the primary transportation border-crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica) keeps increasing. This puts the supply of products at risk, generates uncertainty due to the possible damage to perishable products and affects trade.
“We are asking the [Costa Rican] Government to suspend the decree because it affects the regional economy,” said Costa Rican Chamber of Exporters (Cadexco) President Laura Bonilla.
The National Chamber of Cargo Transporters (Canatrac) of Costa Rica is concerned about the long line of trucks at the borders. “First they did COVID-19 tests on all drivers with a three-day wait for results. We are aware of the health interests of our authorities, but we must find a balance between health, safety and the logistical safety of goods,” said Canatrac representative, Francisco Quirós.
On May 19, Costa Rica began militarizing its closed borders with more than 1500 trucks, food and merchandise stranded. Central American transporters, exporters and importers accuse Costa Rica of violating the rules governing free trade in the region.
US funded Nicaraguan opposition media outlet, Confidencial, as well as ABC News falsely claimed the problem was that Nicaragua had closed its border with Costa Rica.