About 80 percent of the northern highway is completed

Casa Presidencial photo Sign designates the name fo the new highway

The invasion by Nicaragua soldiers more than a year ago has had a beneficial effect on the northern zone of Costa Rica. What was once a backwater with little contact with the central government is now the scene of development.

A new 6 billion colons (about $12 million) road is 80 percent finished, according to highway officials. The 160-kilometer (about 99-mile) route is designed to provide quick access to the northern zone. In the past, the only route was the river, and Nicaragua owns the river, thanks to a 19th century treaty.

The Consejo Nacional de Vialidad rushed through the road project and said Friday that more roads in the area will be fixed up. The new route is designated Ruta 1856 and called the Juan Rafael Mora Porras highway. Highway officials said they expected the remainder of the road to be finished in three months. They said at least 22 communities along the boarder with Nicaragua would benefit because residents will not have to travel on the river.

President Laura Chinchilla visited the area Friday, and gave the presidential blessing to three new schools. She told residents in Delta, Fátima and San Antonio that with the new highway comes electricity, telephone service and piped water. She said the area could benefit from tourism. She directed the Ministerio de Planificación to draft development plans for the communities.

The new highway runs along the south bank of the Río San Juan. The construction is not without controversy. The government of Nicaragua has accused Costa Rica of environmental damage to the river, and a Costa Rican has carried a complaint to the Sala IV constitutional courts, saying that there was no environmental studies done before the road went in.

The name of the highway, of course, is that of the Costa Rican president who directed the war against the U.S. filibusterer William Walker in the year 1856. The war was called the Campaña Nacional. Politics of the period beingwhat they were, Mora was overthrown and had to flee the country. When he returned in 1860, he was captured in Puntarenas and shot.

His brother-in-law, Gen. José María Cañas negotiated and put his name to the Cañas-Jerez Treaty that defined the border between the two countries. He was shot, too.

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