Republic of Nicoya
República de Nicoya
Bandera Nicoya
Nicoyan flag since 2001
Language Spanish
Capital Nicoya
Head of state President
Independence 1988 (de facto); 1995 (declared)
Area approx. 2500 km²
Population 20,000 - 30,000
Currency Costa Rican Colon and Nicaraguan Córdoba used together

Rough map of the region

Nicoya is a small breakaway state in the northwest of Costa Rica.


Background: Before 1983

Named for a 16th-century chief, the Nicoya Peninsula was a distinct cultural sub-region in pre-Columbian times, the southern limit of the Mesoamerican civilization. Nicoya was part of Nicaragua province in the colonial era, but shortly after independence it was annexed by Costa Rica together with the rest of Guanacaste. Within Costa Rica, Nicoya was one of the few regions with a substantial indigenous population. Divided between Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces, its main settlement has always been Nicoya city, one of Costa Rica's oldest.

Civil War: 1983-1990

Nicaragua's Sandinista government invaded Costa Rica shortly after Doomsday in pursuit of Contra rebels. Nicaragua quickly declared that it was re-annexing all of Guanacaste, including Nicoya. By 1987 Nicoya was securely in Nicaraguan hands.

In December 1987 an alliance of Contra groups, called the People's Front of Nicaragua (FPN), stormed through Guanacaste and seized the cities of Liberia and Nicoya. The main Sandinista stronghold, near Puntarenas city, was cut off from Nicaragua. But under General Joaquín Cuadra and with the support of local Costa Ricans, the Sandinistas managed to shatter the Contras' organization and drive them out of the province. The rump of the Contra army held out in Nicoya. That rump army included a number of prominent Contra leaders, including Alfonso Robelo and former Sandinista Edén Pastora.

The FPN lost contact with Contra groups outside the peninsula. But within their hideaway, they were somewhat secure. The Nicaraguans' attention was turned elsewhere: one Contra group had moved into Costa Rica's central valley; others had headed back north into the Mosquitia region; and Costa Rica's government was contesting the Nicaraguans' occupation. The Sandinistas judged that attacking the remnant of the FPN was not worth a costly campaign in the rugged terrain of the peninsula.

After 1990, Sandinista forces in Nicaragua and Costa Rica split with one another. Nicoya was in the no-man's-land between them. The Contras in the peninsula were able to take advantage of the situation and maintain their hold on the area.

Contra rule

For several years, Nicoya was governed as a guerrilla outpost. Rebel leaders debated their next course of action. The energetic Pastora wanted to gear up for more attacks on the Sandinistas as quickly as possible. The more cautious Robelo wanted the guerrillas to bide their time in Nicoya for an indefinite period, securing their territory and waiting for a more opportune time to strike. While the more aggressive party was in power, they were unable to make good on their promises to attack. Even Pastora saw that it would be suicide for the small remnant force to provoke the Sandinistas in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica. So Contra energies were focused inward, on making sure Nicoya could support them in the long term. This meant establishing the rudiments of a government over the peninsula and making sure adequate food could be produced for both the guerrillas, and the people they now depended on.

Alfonso Robelo and his followers staged an internal coup in 1995. Pastora fled to Puntarenas and (re-)defected to the Sandinista government there. Robelo declared the Republic of Nicoya, claiming that both Nicaragua and Costa Rica were "infested" with Communists. However, Robelo was not in power long. Another coup was accomplished in 1996 with substantial aid from local Nicoyanos. Robelo himself was killed, and many of his followers were either killed or driven to certain execution in Sandinista territory. In order to win local support, the new regime pledged an expansion of rights and democracy - pledges it had no intention of fulfilling.

The Counter-Counter Revolution

In 2001 yet another power struggle removed the last of the old Contra leaders from power. The new ruling clique was a mix of aging lower-ranked guerrillas weary of the ideological movement, and Costa Ricans who saw it as in their interest to preserve the state's authoritarian outlines but resented the Nicaraguans' monopoly on power. Even more so than the 1996 coup, the leaders of '01 tried to cloak their rise in the appearance of democracy. They officially dissolved the FPN and held elections for a local Congress. Congress met sporadically for a few years but eventually was phased out quietly.

In 2010 Costa Rica finally secured its northeastern border with Nicaraguan and Siberian help. This left Nicoya as the only piece of prewar Costa Rican territory still occupied by rogue groups.

International relations

Nicaragua and Costa Rica

Besides having a rugged terrain defended by a brutal regime, Nicoya has lasted as an independent state mostly because it sits in a zone disputed between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

The two countries spent twelve years wrangling over Guanacaste province between 1992 and 2004, and during most of that time they put off discussing control of Nicoya out of fear that the talks might fall apart completely. Throughout this period of rivalry, both Costa Rica and Nicaragua tried several times to improve their relative positions by occupying all or part of the peninsula. But each side worried that a major operation in Nicoya would provoke the other to send its own troops. This could lead to open war, something neither side could afford.

Since 2004 Costa Rica and Nicaragua have tried to build a more cooperative relationship, and any attempt to settle the Nicoya Question would seriously complicate matters. With neither country willing to either give up or enforce its claim to Nicoya, the local regime has been left to its own devices.

Overall Costa Rica has had slightly more success than Nicaragua in extending its control. Its foothold on the southeastern tip of the peninsula has steadily grown over the years, and since 2000 Costa Rica has also maintained a base at Carillo.

Other countries

Foreign powers have sometimes toyed with the idea of supporting Nicoya to affect the balance of power in the region. In particular, South American and Australia-New Zealand strategists have considered using the breakaway state against Siberian-allied Nicaragua. However, these schemes have never been carried out for fear of offending neutral Costa Rica. Mexican and Hawaiian ships have traded with Nicoya over the objections of both claimant nations.

The League of Nations officially lists the territory as "disputed." South American relief workers affiliated with the International Health Organization have brought humanitarian aid to the people on several occasions. Plans are underway to open an IHO office in Nicoya City.

Life in Nicoya

The Nicoyanos themselves do not live as isolated an existence as most people expect, especially since the status of Guanacaste was resolved and peace returned in 2004. Agricultural products and some other goods are traded across the ill-defined border. Those who can afford radios listen to Costa Rican and Nicaraguan as well as the handful of local stations.

In terms of politics and power, Nicoya remains a closed society. The regime maintains its rule through intimidation and occasional violence.

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