Costa Rica continues diplomacy but detains Nicaraguans

Nicaraguan workers really have dug a trench across the Isla Calero, and Costa Rican officials knew about it since at least Thursday.

Small ditch carries some water now. The Nicaraguan army headquarters is in the upper right. Photo: Miniserio de Gobernación, Policías y Seguridad Pública

That was the day a security ministry plane flew over the work site and took photos of the ditch. The hand-dug trench, which now appears to be filled a few inches with water does not look like much, but locals expect the hydraulic power of the river to rip through the island and create another mouth for the Río San Juan. A.M. Costa Rica reported on the presence of the ditch in an update Friday.

Even over the weekend Costa Rican officials did not seem to realize the significance of the ditch.

Tuesday in Barra del Colorado, Costa Rican police began rounding up illegal Nicaraguan immigrants. Six of them, a woman and five men, were identified as possible Nicaragua agents. Costa Rican immigration authorities were taking them to the holding facility for illegal immigrants in Hatillo. They also are expected to be questioned by Costa Rican intelligence agents. Some of those detained carried items that were issued by the Nicaraguan army, police said.

In all, 17 Nicaraguans were detained by noon, according to reports from Barra del Colorado. This is not unusual because the border is fairly open in that area and the question of nationality seldom comes up. Unofficial reports said that 10 illegal Nicaraguans were put in a boat for deportation.

The six who are suspected of being Nicaraguan agents were detained in a home in the community. Police did not say if they found anything confirming their suspicions.

Also Tuesday, Casa Presidencial reaffirmed the country’s pacifist commitment and said its delegation in Washington, D.C., would seek to convene another session of the Organization of American States. The tentative dates are Nov. 29 and 30, Casa Presidencial said. The central government also said that a team of experts from the organization were to arrive in Costa Rica Friday to observe. However, the organization quickly disputed that claim.

It was at the Organization of American States that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega suffered a major diplomatic defeat Friday when delegates voted that he should remove his country’s troops from the island. Only ally Venezuela voted with him.
Vice President Alfio Piva said that the country would file a complaint with the secretariat of the international treaty on wetlands of international importances. This is the treaty known as Ramsar after the Iranian city in which it was signed in 1971.

The wetlands in northeast Costa Rica that are being excavated by Nicaraguans have been listed as being of international importance since 1996. The environmental damage there is clear from air photos taken by the security ministry.

The photos show that the Portillo lagoon is involved in the Nicaraguan project. Pivo said the appeal to the treaty secretariat was designed to show the country’s concern with the Nicaraguan activities.

These activities were done without studies and will constitute irreversible damage if the canal goes through, Pivo said.

Residents in the Barra del Colorado area not far from the lagoon said they believe that the area is highly important in the growth of the world-class tarpon that are found there. They said they think that tarpon fry spend their early years in the lagoon.

In Nicaragua Tuesday, thousands of students and supporters of Ortega marched in what they said was the defense of the Río San Juan and national sovereignty. They specifically rejected what they said were the pretensions of Costa Rica, according to the La Prensa newspaper there.

President Laura Chinchilla plans to reaffirm pacifism. Her schedule tonight shows that she will appear at the 27th anniversary of the proclamation that Costa Rica is neutral in international conflicts.

That declaration, by then-president Luis Alberto Monge in 1983, was prompted by the civil war in Nicaragua.

Some Ortega opponents in Nicaragua are concerned that the work on the river, disguised as a dredging project, was never subject to the governmental bidding process as the law requires. The $2.5 million for the project is believed to have come from Venezuela.

There also is concern that the project is not to develop the San Juan as a transport route but to create a location for an expensive marina for foreign interests in which Ortega and the director of river operations, Eden Pastora, will share.

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