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Costa Rica: Border Conflict with Nicaragua

What began as a simple cleaning or dredging of the San Juan River, the natural border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, has resulted in a diplomatic and military conflict.

San Juan River. Image by Flickr user Guillermo A. Durán, used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

The government of Nicaragua decided to start dredging the San Juan river in order to ease the navigation of larger boats. This was not a problem, because the river belongs to them. But days after starting the work on the river, the government of Costa Rica realized that the materials extracted from the river were being deposited in Costa Rican territory. After Costa Rica complained about the issue, Nicaragua said that everything had been a mistake and that it would not happen again, but that was just the beginning of the problem.

On November 1st, Costa Rican newspaper La Nación [es] reported: “Government confirms incursion of Nicaraguan Army into national territory,”

El Gobierno confirmó esta tarde la incursión de tropas del Ejército de Nicaragua en territorio costarricense, específicamente en la Isla Calero, ubicada en la zona fronteriza, en la desembocadura de los ríos San Juan y Colorado.

“Esto es una lesión a la soberanía nacional, no se puede interpretar de otra manera,” [Ministro de Seguridad José María Tijerino.]

The Government confirmed this afternoon the incursion of Nicaraguan Army troops into Costa Rican territory, specifically in Calero Island, located in the border area at the mouth of the San Juan and Colorado rivers.

“This is an infringement of national sovereignty, it can not be interpreted otherwise,” [Minister of Security José María Tijerino.]

As a result, Costa Rica has called on the permanent council of the Organization of American States (OAS), where it will present evidence with photographs, videos and testimony of the neighbors in the area. Minister Tijerino said [es] that,

“Costa Rica, que no tiene ejercito, confía en los canales diplomáticos para evitar una confrontación que solo agravaría la situación.”
“Costa Rica, which has no army, relies on diplomatic means to avoid a confrontation that will only worsen the situation.”

This problem goes beyond the border conflict, because it could trigger an increase in the problems immigrants face. In Costa Rica there are nearly 600,000 Nicaraguans, mostly undocumented, and it's no secret that xenophobia is an issue, something the border conflict could worsen.

Dean Cornito in La Suiza Centroamericana [es] writes,
Cualquier otro país latinoamericano que hubiera sufrido la violación de su territorio, ya estaría en estado de guerra con su vecino. Y eso exactamente es lo que quiere Daniel Ortega, que siempre que tiene un problema interno, busca como desviar la atención del público creando un conflicto externo artificial.
Any other Latin American country that had suffered the violation of its territory, would already be at war with its neighbor. And that's exactly what Daniel Ortega [the president of Nicaragua] wants, who always has an internal problem, and seeks to divert public attention by creating an artificial external conflict.

According to comments made on various blogs, Costa Ricans have come to see these problems as a totally normal situation, where it is said that whenever Nicaragua is on election season it seeks to divert attention to other things so that their internal problems don't stand out and the incumbent government doesn't lose votes. El infierno en Costa Rica [es] writes about this,

Una de las tradiciones más arraigadas en la cultura política nicaragüense en las últimas décadas, es que cuando se acercan las elecciones, se debe provocar un diferendo con Costa Rica, preferiblemente por el Río San Juan; lo anterior con la finalidad de limpiar la imagen del gobernante de turno, llena de corrupción, incapacidad para solucionar los problemas, entre otros [..]

One of the most deeply rooted traditions of Nicaraguan political culture in recent decades is that when elections approach, they will create a dispute with Costa Rica, preferably about the San Juan River; this in order to clean the image of the current ruler, full of corruption, unable to solve problems, etc. [..]

The opinion of many bloggers is that this is a time to think clearly and make good decisions, so that neither of the two countries are affected, because as neighbors, mutual cooperation is very important. Costa Rica and Nicaragua are trading partners and these problems affect exports from both sides; many sources of jobs could be affected.

Julio Córdoba from Ciencia Ficción con Julio Córdoba [es] thinks that,

Como representante de nuestro país el ministro debe promover como valor superior la paz y el Derecho como única herramienta para resolver el conflicto y dejar a otros la promoción de la guerra, valor que no forma parte del sentir costarricense.
As a representative of our country, the Minister must promote peace as a superior value and law as the only tool to resolve the conflict, and leave to others the promotion of war, a value that is not part of the Costa Rican character.

The general feeling in Costa Rica, the only country without an army on the continent since 1948, is clear: The option of an armed conflict with Nicaragua is not a topic for discussion, since Costa Rica does not have the means to confront them. H3dicho [es] says:

Los gobernantes Nicas son los más trogloditas de la región, y con tal de desviar la atención de sus problemas internos, no les importa poner en riesgo vidas de costarricenses y nicaragüenses. […]

Dichosamente nunca es tarde, y ante una nueva incursión del ejercito nicaragüense a nuestra frontera, nuestro gobierno solicita la intervención de la OEA, como país de paz que somos. […]

A las autoridades nicas las debemos enfrentar con firmeza real, sin dar un paso atrás, pero con diplomacia, nunca con las armas contra un país hermano.

The Nicaraguan authorities are the troglodytes of the region, and in order to divert attention from their internal problems, they don't care about risking the lives of Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans. […]

Fortunately, it is never too late, and in front of a new Nicaraguan army raid on our border, our government sought the intervention of the OAS, as the peaceful country that we are. […]

We have to face the Nicaraguan authorities with real strength, without taking a step back, but with diplomacy, never with weapons against a brother country.

To keep this situation from affecting trade relations in both directions, and at the same time to avoid affecting Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica, the authorities have turned to international bodies to resolve this conflict in the best possible way. Dean Córnito in La Suiza Centroamericana [es] points out:

Con todo y todo, es mejor tolerar una violación de nuestra soberanía por algunas semanas hasta que el sistema interamericano de defensa mutua se mueva a favor de Costa Rica, que lanzarnos a una guerra sinsentido e innecesaria para nosotros. Nuestras autoridades tienen mucha razón al proceder con cautela.

All in all, it is better to tolerate a violation of our sovereignty for a few weeks until the inter-American system of mutual defense moves in favor of Costa Rica, than to get involved in a senseless and unnecessary war for us. Our authorities are correct in proceeding with caution.

Update 11/6: After this post was written in Spanish, the AFP and other sources reported that a Nicaraguan official “cited Google's version of the border map in an interview with Costa Rican newspaper La Nacion to justify a raid on a disputed border area.” Global Voices published this short update post on the subject.

19 comments

  • […] post ha sido publicado en el prestigioso blog Global Voices Online, disponible en los idiomas [ES] [EN] [FR] […]

  • Olga

    El Rio San Juan del Sur le ha pertenicido a Nicaragua de por siempre y la OEA tiene que ver la verdad del pueblo Nicaraguense. Es de uno el Rio San Juan del Sur no de Costa Rica. Mire los perimetros historiales de medida originales de Nicaragua y la linea divisoria tiene que estar en los registros historiales de nuestro banco de bibliitecas. Ahora si es que los Sadinistas no destrulleron los informes de historia. Yo fui nacida y creida hasta la edad de 17 en mi pais de natalicio Nicaragua. Y los bancos y libros de historia existen en la biblioteca nacional o el palacio nacional. Por favor algun Nica abogado de renombre allude a su tierra. Respetuosamente,

    • OJ

      El Río San Juan le pertenece a Nicaragua, NADIE, Costa Rica u otro estado Americano ha discutido esto. El problema es la presencia de soldados Nicaraguenses en territorio Costarricense. Es una violación a la soberanía de cualquier país. Se sabe que esto es otro juego de Ortega para ocultar los problemas y la corrupción de su país. Entonces Senora Olga, el río no es lo que se esta peliando aqui.

      The San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua, NOBODY, Costa Rica nor any other Latin-American state is arguing that point. The presence of Nicaraguan Soldiers in Costa Rican territory is the issue. It is a violation of sovereignty of any country. Ortega is simply trying to deviate attention from his corrupt and inefficient government. Olga, the river is not the issue here.

  • Insisto el río san juan siempre ha sido y será de ustedes… ese no es el debate fronterizo. lo que ocurre es que el comandante cerooote, se equivocó con su brujulita que le salió en alguna caja de cereal barato y ahora le dice a su papá ortega que los varones ticos no lo dejan jugar más al soldadito viejito, por eso armó el alboroto y además ortega que anda buscando disfrazar sus robos de dinero en Nicaragua, pone esta cortina de humo para todos los nicas y ticos nos la creamos. Por cierto ya me canse con este tema, de mí no sabrán más hasta que lleguemos a vernos en la zona si eso quieren.

  • Cristóbal

    @Olga: Costa Rica no esta peleando el río.

  • David Murillo

    Aqui un tico orgulloso de haber nacido en tierra donde valores como el vivir en paz y civismo es aun parte de nuestro patrimonio. Costa Rica le ha dado trabajo y una mejor vida a mas de medio millon de nicas, de los cuales la majoria se han sabido amoldar a una sociedad civilizada como la tica. Muchos nicas lo que han llegado a hacer a tierra tica es a tratar de ensuciar esta sociedad. Los nicas no se quieren ni entre ellos. Ejemplos son las diarias noticias nacionales donde en guanacaste un maldito nica mata a machetazos a su esposa he hijos por celos o borracho.
    Con un “presidente” como Ortega que se puede esperar de esta manada de mal amanzados. Nicaragua es uno de los paises mas pobres del planeta. Miles de familias no tienen ni el pan diario, pero a este dictador de Ortega le es mas importante su reeleccion y provocar su pais vecino con su ejercito tercermundista.

    @ Olga: “Nica abogado de renombre” otro ejemplo de la ignorancia de los nicas…una sociedad en la que a recien nacidos se les dan nombres como “MacDonalds”, “Burger King”, “Google”. Ustedes deberian de aboler ese ejercito tercermundista y mediocre e invertir ese dinero en educacion de su propio pueblo.

    Atte.: un tico

  • Ricardo

    realmente da tristeza leer todos estos comentarios, dos pueblos hermanos confrontando de esta manera, ningun ser humano es ilegal en esta tierra, en este mundo globalizado tenemos que buscar la integracion en el marco del respeto y la colaboracion mutua
    viva la unidad Centro Americana

  • come on Nicaragua government and military personal I am sure your parent did not raise you to behave in such a way, don’t be mean be nice it is not right to trow trash over the fence of your home and into your neighbor yard in the long run it will come back to the country.
    Bueno govierno the Nicaragua y militar personal estoy segura que sus padres no les ensenaro a portarse asi tirar basura al besino trbajen honorablemente y recojan y llevense la basura al basurero.

  • […] anterior post de Roy Rojas (noviembre 6, Global Voices Online) se empezo la cobertura en GVO respecto a la última disputa fronteriza entre Nicaragua y Costa […]

  • […] a prior post by Roy Rojas (November 6th, Global Voices Online) Global Voices began to cover the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, showing the […]

  • j smith

    I guess Costa Rica has to live with a neighbor that by treaty “owns” the San Juan river. Its a done deal. But the treaty does give Costa Rica the right to use the river for navigation… up or down to a certain point that is. The mendacity of the Ortega regime is very clear to me now, and very clear to Costa Rican’s. Double the mendacity of El Supremo Ortega is that I’m sure he knows that 600,000 of his fellow Nicas are living illegally in Costa Rica. Que “cara de barro” este Ortega!
    But don’t despair Costa Rica. You know it, and Nicaragua knows it too: It’s better to live in Costa Rica. Don’t you think?

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