Confrontational comments Saturday by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega triggered a sharp rebuttal from Costa Rica.
A diplomatic note from René Castro Salazar, the Costa Rican foreign minister, to the Nicaraguan ambassador here expressed indignation over Ortega’s comments.
The authoritarian leader of Nicaragua said that he might take the issue of the Río San Juan to the International Court of Justice in The Hague and seek passage rights for his countrymen on the Río Colorado, a river totally within Costa Rica. He said his country might withdraw from the Organization of American States.
That organization voted 21 to 2 Friday to demand that Ortega get his troops out of land disputed with Costa Rica. The hemispheric body stopped short of calling the land Costa Rican, which it is. Venezuela voted with Nicaragua.
Ortega said the troops would stay.
Ortega spoke at a Managua press conference flanked by his military officers, religious authorities, and his wife, Rosario Murillo. In television clips some of those present seemed to be trying to hide their surprise at Ortega’s words.
In a diplomatic way, Costa Rica called Ortega a liar. Castro said the country roundly and emphatically rejected Ortega’s statements because they lacked truth. Castro said the statements were insulting and unfounded.
Ortega also said that Costa Rica’s foreign policy was directed by narcotraffickers and that nations that voted against Nicaragua at the Friday meeting were influenced by the drug trade. He listed México, Colombia, Panamá, Honduras and Guatemala. México also filed a protest.
Ortega, as part of the reasoning created to justify the Costa Rican invasion, said the troops were there to fight drug trafficking. In fact the purpose of the expedition is to dig a new San Juan river mouth directly to the sea to circumvent the meandering 30 kilometers of the river. This would be an economic boon to Nicaragua.
A.M. Costa Rica reported in a Friday update that Nicaraguan workers have dug a small ditch from a bend in the Río San Juan to the Caribbean coast in Costa Rican territory. The ditch is just two or three shovelsful wide, but local observers expect the hydraulic power of the river to blow out a new river mouth during the late November and December rainy season there.
The international border between the two countries is the south bank of the river. A new river mouth would cede to Nicaragua all the Costa Rican land that now lies to the north of the ditch.
Castro called a Sunday night press conference to talk about the message he sent to Harold Rivas, the Nicaraguan ambassador. In the message, he reminded Nicaraguan officials that the Río Colorado is not open to negotiation. The river has been considered Costa Rican territory for years. It branches from the Río San Juan well upstream from the area of the dispute and has its own mouth to the Caribbean.
He also pointed out that Nicaraguans have decorated Costa Ricans for jointly fighting the drug trade.
Castro said that Costa Rica was prepared to meet Nicaraguan delegates Nov. 27 for discussions on the river if the troops were withdrawn. He also said Costa Rican diplomats would be talking to officials in other countries to try to reach a solution on the invasion. He rejected force of arms and said the country would press its case only with diplomacy.