Nicaragua seems to be stoking the fires of nationalism

La Prensa titles a television appearance by the Costa Rica security minister with the words "We are not thinking of invading you yet."

The Nicaraguan administration is playing the nationalistic card by suggesting that expats living in Costa Rica are being mistreated and that U.S. troops and warships are on the move.

Major Managua newspapers played up a La Nación news story Monday that said Nicaraguans complained of abuse and mistreatment in Costa Rica. The La Nación story was based on an information fair in San José Sunday in Parque la Merced.

The extent of the mistreatment chronicled in the news story was a Nicaraguan security guard who complained that he always had to work nights and a household employee who said she had been slapped by her employer during her 24 years here.

Both La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario played up the story.

However, it was a La Prensa story about U.S. forces that captured the attention of Costa Rican officials. The news story said that the Nicaraguan military was attentive and cautious at reports Costa Rica will let 46 ships of war with helicopters and 4,000 troops to conduct joint maneuvers.

The Costa Rican security minister, José María Tijerino Pacheco, quickly convened a press conference to say that no foreign troops were authorized and that the permission granted to U.S. ships had nothing to do with the controversial Isla Calero.

This is the same tale that has been promoted by Prensa Latina, the Cuban News service. The Cuban outlet came out with the same story last July when the Costa Rican legislature approved a routine request that allows U.S. ships to stop at Costa Rican ports, resupply and grant shore leave to crews.

The U.S. Embassy has said that the ship requests includes all possible vessels and that only about 20 percent of the ships on the list ever really visit Costa Rica.

The security ministry on behalf of the U.S. Embassy made the request of lawmakers in late November, and the matter is up for discussion now. The Costa Rican Constitution prohibits the arrival of warships without legislative approval.

Principal opponents of the request in the legislature are the Partido Acción Ciudadana, the Partido Frente Amplio and the Partido Unidad Social Cristiana in the person of lawmaker Luis Fishman. The U.S. Embassy has pointed out the economic benefit of letting U.S. ships resupply here. Bar owners love sailers on shore leave.

The legislature here has to approve the arrival of U.S. ships every six months as it has done since 1999.

The military situation is sensitive to Nicaragua officials because the country’s troops have invaded Costa Rican land on the Isla Calero and dug a ditch to divert the outlet of the Río San Juan to the Caribbean. The work is part of a project to provide better access to the river that forms the boundary between the two countries.

President Laura Chinchilla has declined to take any military action, and Costa Rica does not have war planes and heavy armament as does the Nicaraguan troops. Her administration has brought the invasion to the attention of the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, which by treaty has authority over the national boundary. The country also has appealed to the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council. The results have been less than decisive, although there is a hearing in The Hague Jan. 11.

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