From La Cruz to San Juan del Sur: the binational project promoted by authorities from La Cruz and Nicaragua

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Translator: Arianna Hernández

Can you imagine crossing the border from La Cruz and getting to the beaches of San Juan del Sur in Nicaragua in about 30 minutes? That is one of the projects that La Cruz mayor, Luis Alonso Alan, and other local and Nicaraguan authorities, including the Nicaraguan Minister of Tourism, Anasha Campbell, have in mind.

Last Thursday, April 22, the mayor of La Cruz, the Minister of Tourism, Gustavo Segura, and his counterpart from Nicaragua held a meeting to promote the border towns as a national, binational and European tourism attraction.

As part of the agenda, they visited Conventillos, a border point 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) from the center of La Cruz along an unpaved road, from which the virgin beaches of La Cruz’s coastline can be seen. Departing from Conventillos, just 10 kilometers (about 6 miles) after crossing the border, the first town of San Juan del Sur is Ostional.

It’s precisely in Conventillos where the La Cruz mayor’s office is pushing to open an immigration post for two main reasons. First, the tourism potential of La Cruz, which offers rural tourism, virgin beaches, bird watching, marine species and petroglyphs as well as scuba diving, snorkeling and kitesurfing.

And second, the Peñas Blancas immigration post has mainly a commercial focus. The border there isn’t very friendly to tourism since it’s normal to run into long lines of trucks and there aren’t many businesses there.

Seen as a binational project, there is a third reason: San Juan del Sur is one of the destinations in Nicaragua that is most visited by international tourists, and a new border post is among the priorities of local and national Nicaraguan authorities.

“In the case of Nicaragua, we are working in coordination with the Ministries of Transportation, with the General Administration of Immigration and Foreign Affairs and the municipal mayors to set up the border post in El Naranjo,” as the border sector in Nicaragua is called, Minister Campbell told regional media La Cruz TV.

But how possible is it for Costa Rica to set up an immigration post there, like authorities dream of doing?

Enthusiasm for the project from Nicaraguan authorities and the mayor of Santa Cruz who dreams of making it a reality before his term ends in 2024 crosses paths with what’s possible for other national authorities from the General Administration of Immigration and Foreign Affairs (DGME-Dirección General de Migración y Extranjería ) and the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT).

Initiative at a Standstill

The project has already taken at least one step forward. In 2010, Costa Rica created the immigration post of Conventillos by decree due to the increased flow of migrants through that area and, therefore, due to the need to have “logistical and legal mechanisms to exercise more effective and efficient immigration control.” Since then, to this day, Conventillos has been a point where people enter and exit illegally.

Although it was created on paper, the project never advanced to the point of setting up a crossing for tourism. Right now, there’s just a police station.

Even today, setting up an official border post is not a priority for the DGME, according to their press office’s response to a query from The Voice.

A financial situation prevails at the national level that requires exercising a very precise prioritization to address only those strategic actions that can’t be postponed,” they said.

They also specified that the National Council of Border Posts “has focused resources on modernizing Peñas Blancas, Paso Canoas, Sabalito and Las Tablillas.”

Two weeks before the meeting on Thursday, The Voice also asked ICT if promoting setting up the post was one of its projects.

The press office responded that “all actions that facilitate the expedited transit of tourists in the region are welcome and investment in border infrastructure is an action in that line. However, ICT does not have projects to promote building or opening border posts.”

After the meeting, the Costa Rican Minister of Tourism said that there is interest in improving the immigration flow of tourists. “We would like to set up new immigration crossing opportunities for tourists through crossings that are much more attractive to them,” he mentioned.

Conventillos is located 7 kilometers (about 4 miles) from the center of La Cruz along an unpaved road. The mayor of the canton, Alonso Alan, believes that opening a border post here would also boost the business economy of the canton’s downtown area, since Route 1, which tourists currently take to cross to or from Nicaragua, doesn’t go through the downtown area, so a lot of economic stimulation is lost despite being on the border. Photo: Cesar Arroyo Castro

Local Binational Push

In Nicaragua, the momentum for binational tourism is progressing more rapidly, according to statements by the Nicaraguan Minister of Tourism and the mayor of La Cruz. They are building the southern coastal highway, investing in improvements to the route that leads to the border, in the San Juan del Sur area, and they have already built three bridges.

“The government of President Daniel and First Lady Rosario have that political will to advance in improvements required by El Naranjo (the border area on Nicaraguan soil through the San Juan del Sur area)… but it’s a process that requires that reciprocity from the Costa Rican brothers in order to make it functional,” Campbell told La Cruz TV.

Since the beginning of his term as mayor, Alan has had meetings with the mayor of the municipality of San Juan del Sur, Mayra Solis. This, specifically, has been one of the topics on their agendas.

Cross-border areas are obliged to work together to develop. One side does nothing by developing if nothing happens on the other side,” acknowledged Alán.

The socioeconomic interdependence and tourism potential in the cross-border area of ​​Costa Rica and Nicaragua is documented in a research project at the National University’s Chorotega campus, which points out a “great opportunity for the development and improvement of social and economic conditions in border sites between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.”

“According to the characteristics of the places or towns near the border areas of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the possibility exists of establishing a line of rural tourism, which strengthens the development of local tourism resources and, in turn, promotes tourist flow in the area and lengthens their stay in these places,” says the research project.

Alan believes that this potential is the perception that the authorities took away after the meeting, which for him is the result of months of effort “in an attempt to enthuse and motivate authorities from both countries about what we believe can become a national project,” he told The Voice.

“The border areas are very depressed in social and economic development, and we are thinking, more than ever, about reactivation and needs of the canton and of the development of Guanacaste,” he added.

La Cruz has very diverse tourist attractions that are underexplored: rural community tourism, bird watching and marine species, snorkeling, scuba diving, surfing, kitesurfing. One of Nicaragua’s epicenters of international tourism is just across the border: San Juan del Sur. Photo: ICT

The Next Steps

Alan said that after the meeting, local and national authorities will continue to define the work path and road infrastructure needs and begin to consider the required land. At the moment, on the Costa Rican side, the route is prepared and electric service is available. Water resources still need to be guaranteed.

In a couple of months, we’re going to reconvene the authorities, probably on the Nicaraguan side, to see how we advance in human resources and infrastructure,” Alan told The Voice.

Immigration, for its part, told this news outlet that in order to proceed with setting up an immigration control postwhich doesn’t necessarily imply that it is suitable for tourists to cross, but which could be seen as a preliminary step toward itthey would need “the endowment of sufficient financial resources both for the purchase of the lot, construction, furnishing and sustainability of the property” and another series of resources:

12 positions for hiring officers for the Professional Immigration Police, budgetary resources to defray the costs of the required positions, guarantee internet service, technological equipment (computer and peripheral, including biometric), endowment of police tools and requirements for the new personnel, water, electricity, telephone service, telecommunications and municipal services, the purchase of a minivan and a pickup for immigration control purposes, regular budgetary resources for building maintenance payments.

Alan doesn’t lose hope of completing the project before the end of his current term in office. “At the rate we are going, there is enough time to finish it. The problem for me is that national elections are coming. In a year, we’ll be changing authorities and these months are going to involve very intense work to leave commitments that must be fulfilled,” he said.