An environmental expert characterized the possible impact of Nicaragua’s work on the Isla Calero as very dramatic and irreversible.
The expert is Allán Astorga. He was one of the environmentalists who met with René Castro, the foreign minster, Monday afternoon to consider the impact of the work Nicaraguan soldiers and others are doing on Costa Rican land they took over in the northeast section of the country.
The Nicaraguans are attempting to build a channel that would bypass the meandering final 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) of the Río San Juan. Although the ministry and others call the work a canal, those living in nearby Barra del Colorado expect the river to blast a new mouth along the guide Nicaraguans have dug.
The route goes into the Laguna Los Portillos, which is considered to be environmentally rich.
Costa Rica has chosen not to respond with arms to the Nicaraguan invasion but to base its attack on the damage to the countryside. The country is asking the International Court of Justice in The Hague to order a stop to the work. The court has jurisdiction over the international boundary, which is the river.
The environmentalists heard Astorga say that 650 hectares was involved and that the land has protected status. That is about 1,600 acres. Part of the land is in Nicaragua, but the bulk is in Costa Rican territory.
Costa Rica also has appealed to the Organization of American States, and a meeting there is scheduled Dec. 7. Meanwhile, Costa Rica has called off the planned session between the two countries to discuss river issues. Such meetings are planned well in advance, and one was set for Friday. However, Costa Rica has said it would not meet
Nicaraguan delegates until troops from that country go home.
Another speaker Monday said that representatives from the secretariat for the Convention on Wetlands were considering visiting Costa Rica over the weekend to verify the damages claimed by the central government here. Both countries are signatories to the international treaty, and the area involved has been identified as a protected wetland.
For his part, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has rejected the international court’s power to impose a freeze on the work.
Although the project has been characterized as simply dredging the river, the tenacity and bravado of invading an adjacent country suggest to some of those affected in Barra del Colorado that much higher stakes are involved. A new mouth to the river would greatly enhance the marketability of what is now an underdeveloped section of Nicaragua.
Coincidentally the Asamblea General del Secretariado Episcopal de América Central is taking place in La Garita. This is a meeting of the Roman Catholic bishops of the region.
President Laura Chinchilla Miranda spoke at the opening session and told the bishops that she is convinced that those involved can get over this difficulty by acting with a fraternal spirit and with mutual respect. She said the Catholic Church could offer an invaluable contribution.
Costa Rica has no aspirations over the Río San Juan, she told the bishops. Costa Rica has always recognized the river to be exclusively Nicaraguan as established by the 1858 Cañas Jerez treaty, she added. She said she wanted Nicaragua to respect the sovereignty of Costa Rica the way Costa Rica respects its sovereignty.
The international border is the south bank of the river for most of its course. Nicaragua controls the river.