Remove troops from island, OAS secretary general says

If Costa Rican officials were expecting a strong stand in support of their territorial integrity, they went to the wrong international organization.

José Miguel Insulza gives his report. Photo: Organization of American States/Juan Manuel Herrera

José Miguel Insulza, secretary general of the Organization of American States, gave his report Tuesday on his visit to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the Isla Calero, but the best he could suggest was that both countries adopt “the goal of generating a favorable climate for dialogue between the two nations, to avoid the presence of the armed or security forces in the area where their presence could still be a source of tension.”

José Enrique Castillo Barrantes addresses the council with Luis Alfonso Hoyos Aristizábal of Colombia to his left. The television shows the Río San Juan. Photo: Organization of American States/Juan Manuel Herrera

In other words, he said he hoped that Nicaragua would remove its troops from the island it seized a month ago from Costa Rica.

José Enrique Castillo Barrantes, Costa Rica’s ambassador to the hemispheric body, was more direct. He gave Nicaragua 48 hours to remove the troops. He told the meeting of the organization’s Permanent Council that the issue was not about a border dispute.

Costa Rica has been seeking some sort of international support since the Nicaraguan troops invaded its territory and ran up their country’s flag.

But Insulza said in his report “I wish to recall that the mandate of this secretary extends to initiatives of good will to create an opportunity for negotiation between the parties, and in no case is it to expound, discuss or much less resolve the issue at hand.”

The secretary general had three other suggestions in his report beside getting Nicaraguan troops off the island.

He urged both countries:

• To hold the eighth meeting of the binational Río San Juan committee to urgently address aspects of the bilateral agenda as soon as possible, at the latest on the originally agreed upon date, and in the company of the Organization of American States.

• To immediately renew conversations on the aspects related to the demarcation of the border line carried out to date, in accordance with existing treaties and awards.

• To include the pertinent authorities so they may review and reinforce the mechanisms of cooperation between the two nations to prevent, control and face drug trafficking, organized crime and arms trafficking in the border area.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has presented his
country’s invasion of the land as a fight against international narcotics traffickers and confusion and uncertainty over the international border.

Costa Rica has presented overwhelming evidence that the Isla Calero is Costa Rican territory. Nicaragua even described it as such in a 2007 filing with the International Court of Justice in another border dispute.

Insulza flew both with Nicaraguans and Costa Ricans to see the border area along the Río San Juan. He met with presidents and officials of both countries. Still it is unclear if he realized the purpose of the invasion is to seize land so Nicaragua can dredge a new mouth to the river.

At the session Tuesday, Denis Moncada, the Nicaraguan ambassador, said his country “has not violated nor does it intend to violate the sovereignty of the neighboring country of Costa Rica.” He added that “Nicaragua insists and reiterates its disposition towards dialogue, and the peaceful solution of disputes as well as the need for cooperation between countries against drug trafficking and organized crime.” That was according to a summary of the session by the organization’s press office.

The session is supposed to resume in Washington, D.C., Thursday.

There may not be Nicaraguan troops on the island now. No one reported seeing soldiers when Insulza took a flight over the territory Monday.

Costa Rica is at a disadvantage, of course, because it does not have a military force to respond to the Nicaraguan invasion. The country has sent at least 100 heavily armed police to the border, but they do not have the weaponry or tactical support that a formal army would have.

Costa Rica also has declined to meet with Nicaragua until the troops are withdrawn.

The border between the two countries is the Río San Juan for most of its course. Nicaragua owns the river, and the international boundary is the south bank. Isla Calero is Costa Rican because the main channel of the river passes north of it. It is recognized as Costa Rican territory in every serious geographical description of the area. However, Google Maps had to correct an error in its online presentation of the area. It blamed the error on a third-party provider.

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