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Nicaragua-Costa Rica coronavirus dispute stalls hundreds of trucks at border

By Hector Guzman

PENAS BLANCAS, Costa Rica (Reuters) – Hundreds of freight trucks were stuck on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua on Friday as the two countries remain locked in a squabble over measures to contain the coronavirus.

A queue of trucks from across Central America, which a Reuters witness estimated at nearly 1,000 vehicles, sat waiting on both sides of the Penas Blancas border post.

Costa Rica has criticized Nicaragua for what some have called a lax response to the pandemic and tightened its border controls. Nearly 40 coronavirus cases in Costa Rica stem from infected truck drivers entering the country, authorities say.

On Monday, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered the closure of the border in retaliation for Costa Rican measures that disrupted movement of goods, including forcing truck drivers to take coronavirus tests before entering.

Nicaragua has been criticized by international organizations for its containment measures, which have been lax compared with other parts of Central America.

Marlon Martinez, a truck driver from Guatemala, said he tested negative for the virus on arrival in Costa Rica and was able to unload his goods there.

“But now I can’t get back,” he said.

Costa Rica began testing drivers in early May. So far, 50 have been barred from crossing after testing positive.

President Carlos Alvarado’s government says the controls are crucial to virus containment measures in Costa Rica, which has registered 903 cases and 10 deaths.

Business groups have complained, however.

“This problem affects all of Central America. We must not let it take a serious toll on our economy,” the Federation of Chambers and Associations of Exporters of Central America and the Caribbean said in a statement.

On Wednesday, Costa Rica made an agreement with Panama to manage the flow of trucks with satellite monitoring and adjusted routes, as well as eliminate coronavirus tests for drivers, which had also caused delays at their border.

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