Costa Rica prepares to present its case today

Map shows how the Río San Juan meanders and why Nicaragua would want to create a more direct route to the sea. Graphic: A.M. Costa Rica

Costa Rica goes to the Organization of American States today seeking hemispheric pressure to reclaim land occupied by Nicaraguan soldiers. But already the president of Nicaragua has discounted the role of the Washington, D.C.-based international organization.

The president, Daniel Ortega, told reporters in Managua Tuesday that the Organization of American States was not competent to decide international boundaries, according to the La Prensa newspaper there. Instead, Ortega suggested that the matter be referred to the World Court in the Hague.

In the meantime, he said, the river dredging operation will continue.

Nicaragua soldier keeps watch from a rickety tower while other troops are seen in and around the shack on the Isla Calero. This photos ran as a larger size for part of Tuesday's edition. Photo: Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública

Costa Rica officials are preparing documents and maps to present to the organization’s Permanent Council in the hopes that the council will appoint a commission to study the situation and visit the area. There are representatives of 33 countries on the council, including ambassadors from Ecuador, Venezuela and Bolivia, nations that are predisposed to favor Nicaragua.

The Nicaraguan strategy seems very much like the old Costa Rican adage that “It is better to seek forgiveness afterwards than permission before.” By the time any international body takes any action, significant work would have been accomplished on the river.

Nicaragua is trying to put through a new main channel for the Río San Juan to avoid the meandering path of the first 30 kilometers of the river from the Caribbean. This is designed to improve access, but residents in Costa Rica’s Barra del Colorado on the Río Colorado fear the work will greatly reduce the flow in their river.

The Río Colorado really is a second mouth for the Río San Juan but totally in Costa Rica.

The Permanent Council’s meeting today will be aired on the organizations Web site. It begins at 10:30 a.m. eastern daylight time.

Meanwhile, reports from Barra del Colorado said that two boatloads of heavily armed Costa Rica policemen left that community Tuesday afternoon. One went upriver and another went into the Caribbean Sea.

Costa Rican television had two cameramen approach the disputed area on the Isla Calero. They photographed Nicaraguan troops standing guard. The security ministry also released air shots of Nicaraguan soldiers and a camp they set up on Isla Calero

José María Tijerino, the security minister, has said that he did not have armed police occupy the disputed area last week because he did not want a confrontation with Nicaraguan soldiers. He said he feared bloodshed.

Ortega said that the military operation on the Finca Aragón on the island was to combat the drug trade, according to La Prensa.

Nicaragua has had more than a week to get its story straight. Last Oct. 22 Eden Pastora, the former guerrilla in charge of the dredging operations, was overheard on the marine radio band identifying the location where river sediment was being expelled by the dredge as Costa Rican land. Now his story is that the land really is Nicaragua, according to his words in a Nicaraguan television appearance.

Ortega is making much of the presence of the heavily armed police who in dress and armament are indistinguishable from soldiers. Costa Rica prides itself on having abolished the army in 1948, but Ortega has repeatedly called the armed police troops. as has A.M. Costa Rica.

For most of its course the south bank of the river is the international border. But Nicaragua is expected to argue that this rule does not hold true as the river nears the sea. It will be basing its arguments on 19th and early 20th century treaties.

Costa Rica recently received a ruling from the World Court after prolonged litigation over the right of its citizens to use the river for transportation without paying fees to Nicaragua.

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