Aaron Stiegler – International Relations Degree Student

Historically, the relationship between Costa Rica and Nicaragua has been a mix between friendly and anything but friendly. That being said, the bilateral relations between the two countries has experienced strain in the last two years, due to a series of humanitarian crises including the displacement of Nicaraguan refugees in Costa Rica (ECRE, 2019).

The Crisis

Since social and political unrest in Nicaragua reached a fever pitch in 2018, migration from Nicaragua to other Central American countries has risen, especially to Costa Rica (UNHCR, 2019). As of August, 2019, about 65,000 Nicaraguans have requested asylum in Costa Rica, overwhelming the Costa Rican asylum system and local communities (Chamorro, 2019).
As the refugees are fleeing persecution, violence and political instability, the Costa Rican government has expressed concern for the human rights violations being carried out by the Ortega regime against political opposition, but has not taken any further political steps (UNHCR, 2019). With the humanitarian crisis showing no signs of improvement, this question presents itself: is the diplomacy being practiced by Costa Rican government sufficient to solve the crisis?

The Solution?

The government has been hesitant to take any political steps to address the Nicaragua crisis due to the potential consequences of such a decision at the domestic and international levels (Chamorro, 2019). Instead, Costa Rica has given many of the 65,000 Nicaraguan refugees within their borders education and employment, in addition to other forms of aid and assistance (UNHCR, 2019). These actions resemble a common foreign policy technique, called “Humanitarian Diplomacy”. Simply put, humanitarian diplomacy is using humanitarian aid to people from unstable or inhospitable countries to pressure the leaders of those countries into making certain decisions (De Lauri, 2018). This is a form of soft, or non-military, power that allows governments to influence the decision-making of another government without the use of force. By providing for the needs of Nicaraguan refugees, Costa Rica is exerting this soft power on Nicaragua. However, with 325 people killed in the last year and tens of thousands more refugees expected to arrive in Costa Rica by the end of this year, the government’s current diplomatic strategy to address the Nicaragua crisis does not seem to be working (ECRE, 2019 and Chamorro, 2019).

Humanitarian Emergency or Not?

Declaring the Nicaragua crisis an official humanitarian emergency would allow Costa Rica to receive further assistance from the international community in providing for the needs of the Nicaraguan refugees (Chamorro, 2019). However, as was stated earlier, the government has not been willing to take that step. According to the foreign minister, the government has been reluctant to declare the current state of affairs as a humanitarian emergency because they fear political consequences domestically (Chamorro, 2019). Many, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) have also suggested that without a political approach to the problem, the crisis will continue to get worse (UN, 2019).


To answer the question posed earlier, no, the diplomacy being practiced by the Costa Rican government is not sufficient to solve the crisis. At least, not yet. Costa Rica has largely been conducting its diplomatic efforts without sufficient support from the international community. However, there is currently a resolution that would establish a diplomatic commission with other countries that would propose a political solution to the Nicaraguan government, though this commission has not yet been created (Chamorro, 2019). Perhaps an official declaration from the government of a humanitarian crisis at the Nicaraguan border, as well as the formation of a multinational diplomatic commission, will provide the international support needed to alleviate the instability in Nicaragua. Costa Rica has had success in the past using diplomacy to address the instability in the region. There is no reason for us to abandon diplomacy now, but this time we may need help.


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Bibliographic references:
• Chamorro, C. F. (Pseudonym). (2019). Costa Rican Foreign Minister on the Nicaragua Refugee Crisis. Havana Times. Retrieved from
https://havanatimes.org/nicaragua/costa-rican-foreign-minister-on-the-nicaragua-refugee- crisis/
• De Lauri, A. (2018). Humanitarian Diplomacy: A New Research Agenda. Christian Michelsen Institute for Science and Intellectual Freedom. Retrieved from https://www.cmi.no/publications/6536-humanitarian-diplomacy-a-new-research-agenda
• Semple, K. (2018). Nicaraguan Migrants Fleeing Turmoil Test Costa Rica’s Good Will. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/22/world/americas/nicaragua-migrants-costa-rica.html
• (2019). Costa Rica Struggles with over 60,000 Fleeing from Nicaragua. European Council on Refugees and Exiles. Retrieved from
• (2019). Nicaragua crisis: One year in, more than 60,000 have fled, seeking refuge. United
Nations. Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/04/1036711
• (2019). One year into Nicaragua crisis, more than 60,000 forced to flee their country. United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. Retrieved from https://www.unhcr.org/news/briefing/2019/4/5cb58bd74/year-nicaragua-crisis-60000-for ced-flee-country.html