Stranded Migrants, Syrian Refugees and Street Sexual Harassment Hit Costa Rican Headlines

Frontera de Nicaragua

“Welcome to Nicaragua”, reads the banner. But there was no welcome to Nicaragua for Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica. Imagen on Flickr by user Kippelboy (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Costa Rica has been at the center of the headlines since mid November 2015 with the following news: the drama of the Cuban migrants stranded on their journey to the United States, the Syrian nationals who were in the country for five days without anyone noticing and the violent death of the brave young man who filmed one of many street harassers.

As then president Ricardo Jiménez Oreamuno used to say back in the 1930s, in Costa Rica there are only three seasons: rainy, dry and quarrelling with the ‘nicas’ (short for Nicaraguans).

More than a thousand Cuban citizens are stranded in Costa Rican territory awaiting a “miracle” that will allow them to go through Nicaragua on their way to the north. Their situation has been at the center of the news for several days:

Se deja ver la luna en La Cruz de Guanacaste, a 16 kilómetros de la frontera con Nicaragua. Está fresca la noche del lunes y en las faldas de la pampa se ha desatado desde el domingo un drama fronterizo que tiene a unos 2.000 cubanos anclados en Costa Rica, dada la negativa de Nicaragua de permitirles transitar y retomar su romería hacia los Estados Unidos.
Hasta el miércoles [18 de noviembre], 883 personas permanecían en albergues instaurados por la Comisión Nacional de Emergencias, con el apoyo de múltiples organizaciones. Además de la pastoral, se izaron tres refugios adicionales en La Cruz, y el miércoles se inauguró otro en Liberia.

You can see the moon over La Cruz de Guanacaste, 16 kilometers away from the border with Nicaragua. It's a chilly Monday evening and on the hillside of the pampa is unfolding a border drama that has some 2.000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, given the refusal by Nicaragua to allow them to go ahead and resume their journey to the United States.
Until Wednesday [November 18], 883 people stayed at shelters set up by the National Commission of Emergencies, supported by several organizations. Besides the pastoral one, there were three additional shelters in La Cruz, and on Wednesday another was was inaugurated in Liberia.

The Costa Rican Chancellery has been more active than ever, with regular press releases:

El Presidente (Luis Guillermo) Solís fue enfático en que la principal prioridad del Gobierno es de carácter humanitaria, para garantizar que hombres, mujeres y niños migrantes tengan las condiciones adecuadas de alimentación, atención médica y psicológica, cobija y techo para afrontar la difícil situación que afrontan en la frontera norte.

President (Luis Guillermo) Solís was emphatic about the main priority of the Government being humanitarian, to ensure that migrant men, women and children have all the proper conditions of food, medical and psychological care, blankets and shelter to cope with the difficult situation they face at the northern border.

Costa Rica is known for its respect for everyone's human rights. As reiterated by the Minister of Communication, Francisco Herrera Ulloa, to Cuban songwriter Silvio Rodríguez in an affable virtual message exchange:

Somos respetuosos y garantes de los derechos humanos, por esta razón, hemos trabajado para brindar las condiciones necesarias y garantizar los derechos fundamentales para que estas familias reciban un trato digno.

We respect and guarantee human rights, that's why we've been working to provide the necessary conditions and to ensure fundamental rights so that these families may be treated fairly.

Recently, things have also revolved around the Syrian nationals that have already left Costa Rica, but who spent five days in the country without anyone noticing. On November 19, a Syrian woman was found and arrested, she only spoke English and Arabic and was staying 25 meters away from the Saudi Arabia embassy. Allegedly, she was part of the group of five Syrians, but from some unknown reason, she stayed behind.

The 5 Syrian nationals detained in Honduras wanted to go the US, after going through Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Brazil and Costa Rica.

Meanwhile, sad news came on Thursday, November 19, with reports of the passing of Gerardo Cruz, the brave young man who filmed one of the many street sexual harassers who walk around the streets of the Costa Rican capital, San José. This particular harasser was recording a video of a girl from underneath her skirt.

The day after this was revealed, Gerardo was stabbed. He was in a coma for several weeks, apparently improved, until finally it was reported that he died from a heart attack.

Police say they were unable to find any links between Gerardo's video and the attack he suffered; instead, it was an assault that Gerardo fought back against and was stabbed.

Social networks honored an ordinary ‘tico’ (as Costa Ricans are popularly known) who wanted a better country where women are respected, who had a wife and was expecting a daughter:

Gerardo Cruz was killed, the guy who recorded the “gentleman” who was recording under the skirt of a girl in Costa Rica. Justice for him and for us women!

Gerardo Cruz was bid farewell amidst applause and a call for peace.

Not only is Costa Rica in mourning, today all of Latin America is. Thanks, Gerardo Cruz, for confronting sexual harassment.

“Tell the truth, even with a trembling voice”. The message by Gerardo Cruz's family upon receiving his dead body.

It's enough to take a look at Twitter to understand why we had a Civil War in 1948. In spite of being a country where we all know each other, are related or have at least one person in common, 70 years ago we killed each other, betrayed each other and went after each other.

The thing is, in the happiest country in the world, we have to take a look inside ourselves and make all the necessary changes so that it might still be that way.

Gabriela García Calderón Orbe contributed to this post.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.