President sends fire fighters to disputed Isla Calero

Firemen who will quench blazes and perhaps face Nicaraguan troops along the northern border listen to officials Thursday. Casa Presidencial photo

The central government is sending 14 fire fighters to the northern zone to occupy the Isla Calero near the territory that Nicaraguan soldiers have invaded.

President Laura Chinchilla Miranda swore the men and women in Thursday and told them the Nicaraguans were cowards who act brave before the unarmed. She said insults should be considered as flattery. They need not worry, she said, because Costa Rica is above such insults. Some Sandinista loyalists baited Costa Rican officials when they visited the disputed zone a year ago.

The fire fighters are supposed to protect the environment and prevent and extinguish any blazes. They are part of the central government’s plan to turn the northeastern part of the country into a national park. This is another action to thwart the efforts by Nicaragua to take some of the land.

President Chinchilla and René Castro, the environmental minister, presented the men and women with Smokey Bear-type hats to represent their new position. At the end of the ceremony Ms. Chinchilla was presented with her own hat and yellow fire brigade shirt.

Castro is the minister of Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones. He said the reason the ministry uses bright yellow as the fire brigade color is because it is universal and easy to identify.

“As environmentalists we are proud and like to be noticed. There is no need for us to be camouflaged,” said Castro. He added that only those who do not want others to see them hide in camouflage.

The Nicaraguan soldiers wore camouflage.

“We want our work in the area to be radiant,” said Castro.

Ms. Chinchilla also praised persons who will be volunteering to help the new detachment.

She said that conservation work and the prevention of forest fires is another example to the world that Costa Rica can convert a crisis into opportunity. In the case
of the Isla Calero conflict, the president said that her administration will continue promoting development along the border as well as seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Costa Rica brought Nicaragua into the International Court of Justice over the invasion in October, 2010. Costa Rica emphasized environmental damage as Nicaraguans tried to create a new mouth of the Río San Juan to assist development in the area.

Then, after Costa Rica began construction of a road parallel to the river on the south bank, Nicaragua filed a court claim alleging environmental damage. International treaties specify that the border between
the two countries is the south bank and not the middle of the river. So Nicaragua sometimes has prevented Costa Ricans and Costa Rican police officers from using water transport.

Until the 100-kilometer (about 60-mile) road was begun, the river was the only route.

Since the land dispute began, Costa Rica has paid special attention to the development and infrastructure of the area along the Río San Juan. The government has installed electricity, and telecommunications into communities that had been ignored. The country also has beefed up security.

The ministry is currently working on a study to decide about turning Isla Calero into a national park. The island is between the Río San Juan and the Río Colorado. It is the country’s largest island.

Castro said officials are looking into what is the economic benefit of creating a national park. Costa Rica already has many. He said the people around the area will benefit from the island becoming a national park because it can generate tourism, money, and better living. The land already is the property of the government. Parks are supervised by his ministry.

According to the minister, there are no inhabitants on Isla Calero, although he said that the country will use maps and satellite photos to validate any claims made by persons who say they are residents.

As is usually the case, Ms. Chinchilla left the ceremony without fielding any questions on the Isla Calero or other aspects of her government.

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