When the neighboring country acts like a precarista

Costa Rica is facing a problem similar to that experienced by many landowners here. Someone has moved onto the property and will not leave.

When that happens to a Costa Rican or expat property owner, one option is always force. A goon squad can beat up land thieves and tear down their temporary structures.

Not having an army required Costa Rica to reject that course of action. Instead, the country has chosen to carry its complaint to the Organization of American States, much like the landowner who files a court case to get rid of the boundary intruder.

Such prolonged legal disputes usually work in favor of the property thief because it is easy to erect seeming legitimate reasons.

In Costa Rica land invaders frequently say the owner was not using the land, so they should be allowed to erect homes. On the Isla Calero, Nicaragua could say the same thing and coat their statements with legal claims.

When a squatter or precarista takes over land in Costa Rica, there usually is an economic motive far greater than a place to live. Seaside properties have skyrocketed in value and prompted waves of invasions.

Some expats have been fighting legally for years against invaders who hope to sell out for big bucks.

The Nicaraguan president, Daniel Ortega, and his dredging master, Eden Pastora, must also have a major economic motive, perhaps for some kind of development near the mouth of the Río San Juan.

So the Nicaraguans, even with a blatantly false claim, have taken the land by force of arms and plan to prolong and complicate the legal processes.

Costa Rican foreign minster René Castro found out Wednesday that the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States was divided along ideological lines with leftist governments favoring Nicaragua. The Permanent Council might end up doing nothing when it reconvenes today or it might craft a compromise giving part of the land to Nicaragua. Castro asked that all Nicaraguan troops leave Costa Rican soil.

Castro also wants the hemispheric body to impanel
a commission to visit and study the geography and rival land claims.

Meanwhile, President Laura Chinchilla, criticized by some because she kept a low profile, went on television Wednesday night to call the Nicaraguan military intrusion a grave violation of sovereignty and said the claims by the Nicaraguans were only words without foundation. She said maps from both countries prove that the island is Costa Rican.

“We have a grand challenge to act against this aggression with prudence and good sense,” said the president. “Our instruments are dialogue and international law with which we are acting.”

The president also made reference to the hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans who are living legally and illegally in Costa Rica. She said she promised them respect.

Wednesday the Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States, Denis Moncada, rejected that body’s power to adjudicate a territorial claim. Ortega said he wanted to take the matter to the World Court in the Hague where other San Juan river disputes have been settled. That is a long process. Meanwhile, he said Tuesday in Managua, the dredging operations on the river would continue.

The dredging is designed to open a new mouth of the river through Costa Rican land to create rapid access to the river, which is on the border between the two countries. The existing final 30 kilometers of the river meanders and doubles back on itself.

Nicaraguan legal experts were quoted in that country’s press Wednesday saying that Costa Rica is using the territorial dispute as a way to stop the dredging of the river. Other Nicaraguan officials have claims that Costa Rica is conspiring with Colombia and others to assert invalid claims.

Castro presented his case Wednesday evening on “CNN en Español.” The network said it tried to reach Moncada for his side of the story but could not.

Also Wednesday the Nicaraguan legislature called upon Ortega not to stop the dredging or withdraw its troops from the disputed land, according to Nicaraguan press reports. The legislature also voted to hold a future session near the disputed island.

The Organization of American States session is scheduled to resume at 10 a.m.

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