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Media coverage prioritizes violence over peace: Costa Rican voices on Nicaraguan refugees by Serena

In such divisive times in the world, there is much hope for a positive story. Unfortunately, this is not one of those stories. In April 2018, protests by Nicaraguan civilians over social security reforms prompted the Nicaraguan government to retaliate violently. Over 300 people have been killed, and at least 565 people are still jailed. As a result of the political crisis in Nicaragua, approximately 42,000 Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica (as of March 2019). While Costa Rica is allowing Nicaraguans to enter its borders as they flee the increasingly oppressive regime of President Daniel Ortega, many Costa Ricans are not happy with this.


Even though Costa Ricans are known for their hospitality and support of peace, this is not the case with all Costa Ricans. Some have had violent and xenophobic reactions to Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica (there is little information on who these Costa Ricans are or what their role in society is). However, the voices of Costa Ricans against Nicaraguan refugees are louder than the ones that support refugee acceptance. This is because the media has prioritized the collection of anecdotes from those against over those for.


In order to understand this story fully, we must explore the history between these two countries. They can be described as “twins”, one more “rebellious” and financially insecure than the other. Nicaraguans have long emigrated to Costa Rica to find financial security and, often, better living conditions. In fact, Costa Rica’s total population is 7.5% Nicaraguan immigrants and has been since before the refugee crisis. Nicaraguans emigrating to Costa Rica is not new. The problem, then, is that media do not mention this in their reports. Of the 30 articles I surveyed while researching about Costa Rican perspectives of Nicaraguans, at least 80% mentioned xenophobic and racist ideals, and less than 10% mentioned Costa Ricans supporters. It is hard to ignore that.


Media is mostly reporting on violent accounts of protest against Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica. The most prevalent accounts of violence in the last few months are the August 18th demonstrations and attacks in the neighborhood of La Merced in San Jose. “We want Costa Rica free of bastards” and “Let’s fly the flag for our country and kill these Nicaraguans” was heard from Costa Ricans carrying knives, baseball bats and glass bottles stuffed with gasoline-soaked rags. These tactics were used to threaten and ostracize Nicaraguans, stemming from ingrained xenophobic and racist ideals.


Less reported, though, are protests against racist demonstrators which began immediately as the August 18th demonstrations broke up. Most notably, a protest to condemn these actions brought 1,000 people to San Jose one week later. They chanted “Ticos and Nicas are brothers!” to push a peaceful discourse. Finally, Catholic and Evangelical leaders condemned the xenophobic attacks, as well as Costa Rican soccer clubs whose jerseys were worn in the protest.


Bottom line: hateful rhetoric and actions are newsworthy; support and tolerance are not.

After examining the impact of Costa Rican perspectives on Nicaraguan refugees and migrants, I cannot help but notice the strong parallels between this case and others. In Europe, with the increase in refugees from Syria; in the United States, with refugees from Latin America; in Colombia, with refugees from Venezuela — all these cases are reflected in the confusion, anger, and violence of Costa Rican people. Much like with these cases, media tend to report only the anger against refugees than the people who support them.


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