Nicaraguan diplomat casts blame on Costa Rica

Tiny figures of police officers survey sediment dumped on Costa Rican soil by dredge. Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Publica/Paul Gamboa

Round Two of the Río San Juan saga will be in the diplomatic arena.

The foreign ministry said Wednesday that it has received a reply from Nicaragua to the protest it lodged a week ago about dredging on the river, which is part of the northern boundary of the country.

The Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores y Culto was very diplomatic and non-committal about the note. It simply said in a release that Harold Rivas, the Nicaraguan ambassador here, had delivered the note and that the message would be analyzed and that there would be a determined response in defense of the national interests.

The ministry did not say what was in the note. Reports in Nicaraguan newspapers say that the note claims that it was Costa Rica that violated the territory of its northern neighbor with what the government there said were troops of the armed forces of Costa Rica. The note demanded that the events not be repeated.

Nicaragua also claimed that the dredging also was an anti-drug operation.

The Nicaraguan denial comes in the face of photographs by the security ministry in San José that clearly show that the dredge was pumping river bottom onto Costa Rican land.

Also on record confirming that the land is Costa Rican is Eden Pastora, the former guerrilla in charge of the river operation. He was overheard on a marine band channel telling workers on the dredge to remove the outflow pipe from Costa Rican territory.

The various treaties give Nicaragua the river and place the international border on the south bank.

The Nicaraguan note was drafted by a man identified as Manuel Coronel Kautz, a vice minister there.

What the response does not address is that Pastora
and his crew chopped down a line of trees with the apparent intent of dredging a canal or new channel for the Río San Juan. Basically, he was seeking to change the international boundary. The security ministry confirmed the tree cutting but only said that the canal would go to a nearby lagoon.

In fact, that lagoon is just a short way from the Caribbean. A new channel for the river would put significant amounts of land that now is Costa Rican under Nicaraguan rule.

Security ministry officials sent heavily armed tactical squad officers to the northern border Friday. There was no confrontation with the Nicaraguan army, which was close by. Nicaragua has closed the river to civilian travel.

The situation does show that Costa Rica has failed to maintain control over the sparsely settled northern frontier. A family named Reyes said that a complaint was filed earlier in October about Nicaraguan soldiers taking their cattle and slaughtering them for food. Nicaragua claims it busted up a drug boat refueling operation there.

The nearest Costa Rican community of any size is Barra de Colorado just south of the border on the Río Colorado, which really is another mouth of the San Juan but totally in Costa Rican territory. Residents there, particularly those in the sportsfishing business, worry that dredging and other activities by Nicaragua will destroy the flow of the Río Colorado and damage their business. The area is well known for tarpon and snook fishing.

Nicaragua, in the note, also raised the issue of two Judicial policemen who were detained overnight after entering Nicaragua a few feet in another area of the border. They were later returned to Costa Rica. The agents said the border was not well marked.

Nicaragua suggested that a binational commission immediately begin to put in border markers along the river based on the Treaty of Jerez Cañas and subsequent accords. That probably is needed. Costa Ricans living along the river said that Nicaraguan workers uprooted boundary markers and dumped them in a lake.

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