Costa Rica’s deadline for Nicaragua to leave its national soil expires today, but the country lacks the capability to enforce the demand.
Still, there were troop movements on either side of the Río San Juan Wednesday and on the Isla Calero that Nicaragua has taken over.
President Laura Chinchilla Miranda met Wednesday with legislators, and she received promises of support from even the opposition parties. However, she has said that the country will not use force to remove the invaders. Costa Rica’s heavily armed police are outclassed by Nicaragua, which has air power, rockets and heavy weaponry. Nicaragua also has a warship posted off the coast of the island.
Residents of Barra del Colorado, not far from the invaded island, reported seeing Nicaraguan military helicopters in the air there and even in Costa Rican territory. Costa Rican police officials closed the local airport in Barra del Colorado to civilian flights. They are believed to be bringing in reinforcements.
A major Costa Rica television network outlined Wednesday night the obvious conclusion that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is using the territorial incident to generate support to help his candidacy in the national elections a year from now.
Nicaraguan lawmakers met by the Río San Juan in San Carlos province Wednesday and considered renaming the waterway the Río San Juan de Nicaragua.
There is little doubt that the Isla Calero is Costa Rican property. It is on the south side of the main channel of the river and has been considered Costa Rican land even by Nicaragua as late as a 2007 International Court of Justice case.
Local television stations showed video of the Nicaraguan
flag flying over the island and that country’s soliders on guard. The windswept island has as its main strategic value the possibility of being the site of a new mouth for the river, which would greatly enhance the economic prospects of Nicaragua.
Costa Rica has the option of seeking a strong response from the Organization of American States, but the nation’s
pacifist philosophy would seem to preclude any military action. The Washington-based hemispheric organization also has as members a number of countries that will side with Nicaragua, including Venezuela, which is believed to be bankrolling the Rio San Juan operation. The Organization of American States could suspend Nicaragua’s membership and impose a boycott.
The activity there has been disguised as a dredging operation, but the real motive is to punch a channel through the Isla Calero to the Caribbean sea so that vessels have rapid access to the river. In the final 30 or so kilometers the river meanders, doubles back on itself and is silted up.
A new river mouth would be important for transportation and tourism purposes. Historically, Nicaragua and the river have been considered as a possible alternate route between the Caribbean and the Pacific in competition with Panamá. Small boat traffic can now reach Lake Nicaragua from the river mouth with difficulty. The northwest part of the lake is a short distance from the Pacific.
Still the canal would be a gigantic undertaking with locks needed at rapids in the river and a canal with locks between the lake and the Pacific. Still the job probably would be far cheaper than the $3 billion Panamá is spending to enlarge the capacity of its canal.
Ortega has characterized the military operation at the Isla Calero as an anti-drug push. In fact, the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is poorly patrolled and a haven for drug transporters.
Canada has offered to help provide technical support to Costa Rica.