Nicaragua and Costa Rica are like the fans of two opposing football teams. They can’t survive without each other but they never have a good thing to say about one another.
These neighboring countries have had all manner of territorial disputes and border spats. Nicaragua even attempted to invaded Costa Rica in 1955, when the Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somosa tried to help defeated Costa Rican ex-president Dr. Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia make a comeback. As a result the Ticos strongly supported the Sandinistas, which toppled Somoza but soon swapped their support to the US backed Contras after deciding they didn’t really want a communist neighbor. This gives just a small insight into the background to a very dynamic relationship, in which many Ticos paint themselves as sober pacifists and their Nica neighbors as inherently violent.
Nicaraguans are the butt of Tico jokes, much as the Irish are for the English or the Canadians for the Americans. Nica-busting also gives the Ticos and excuse to avoid looking at their own faults. For example, many Tico jokes about the Nicas focus on domestic violence-conveniently overlooking the fact that domestic violence is rife in Costa Rica too.
Depending on who you believe, up to one million Nicaraguans have come to Costa Rica in the past two decades, driven by poverty, conflict, natural disasters and chronic unemployment. The official figures are 300,000 (which is still almost 10% of the population), and this number doesn’t include the huge numbers of illegal indocumentados who easily slip over the border.
What is certain is that Costa Rica has become to Nicaragua what the United States is to Mexico. The staunchly anti-Communist Ticos worry at every mention of a return to power of the Sandinistas regime or severe droughts in Nicaragua, which could spark another huge wave of immigration.
Although some Ticos gripe that Nicas are stealing their jobs, in reality the hard-working Nicaraguans provide the workforce for jobs which most comparatively highly educated Ticos now refuse to do-as domestic help, security guards, and on construction sites. Much like the Mexican workforce in the United States.