San Juan troop movements are anti-drug, Ortega says

A Nicaraguan military operation along the Río San Juan just north of Costa Rica is not related to dredging operations there but is an effort to suppress narcotics trafficking, according to Daniel Ortega, Nicaraguan president. The president was quoted in El Nuevo Dario of today.

Ortega also defended the dredging operation on the Río San Juan and said that all the activities were on Nicaraguan soil. This is something that has been shown not to be the case by photos of dredging sediment being dumped on the south bank of the river as well as an overhead radio message from Eden Pastora, the former Sandinista guerrilla in charge of the dredging who told his crew on the marine band that they were pumping onto Costa Rican territory.

Ortega also said that Costa Rica should not waste its time bringing Nicaragua into the World Court where river disputes have been settled. He prefers discussions with a binational commission that meets periodically to discuss river issues. But if Costa Rica did take the case to the World Court, it would lose because the land in question is Nicaraguan, he told the newspaper.

The fact is becoming clear to Costa Rican officials that Nicaragua seeks to create a new mouth of the river into the Caribbean. The proposed channel would take miles off the current route of the river which meanders and doubles back on itself before it reaches the sea.

The land involved is not particularly valuable, but it is the property of the Costa Rican government. The proposed channel would cut off a piece of Costa Rica and make it Nicaraguan because it would be on the north side of the river. The international boundary is the south bank.

The dredging is being promoted in Nicaragua as a economic blessing to the country because it will open up the river to more traffic. Costa Rican officials know the route of the proposed channel because Nicaragua workers chopped down trees for part of the distance. The proposed path can be seen clearly from air photos.

Ortega also told the newspaper that Costa Rica had not done enough to fight narcotics traffic along the river. Nicaraguan officials claim that they busted up a drug refueling operation at the extreme northeastern tip of Costa Rica. They still claim the land is Nicaragua even though the resident farmer identified it as Costa Rica.

Costa Rican officials are reported to be nervous about troop movements on the Nicaraguan side of the river. Even though heavily armed police were sent to the zone a week ago, many have returned home. In addition, should hostilities break out between the two countries, Costa Rica would be at a disadvantage because it has no air power.

Some also have suggested that Ortega is creating the border distraction for home consumption to enhance his image among voters. He seeks to run for a new term. The river situation is featured daily in most Nicaraguan newspapers.

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