World Court decision simply is not something to cheer about

The country’s officials have expressed their happiness with a decision Friday by the International Court of Justice. The court said that Nicaragua did not have much of a case to condemn Costa Rica for environmental damage along the south bank of the Rio San Juan.

Newspapers were quick to tout the second court victory over Nicaragua. But each was just a temporary decision.

An analysis on the news

The court in November told Nicaragua to fill in ditches or channels that it dug when no one was supposed to set foot on the disputed section of the Isla Calero. The decision Friday basically had the court knocking down flak that Nicaragua has thrown up as part of the continuing court case.

The real meaning of both cases bodes ill for compliance with a future decision. In both cases, Nicaragua was tweaking the nose of the World Court. The dredging crew opened channels at a time when no work was supposed to be done in the area.

Then when the court told Nicaragua to fill in the channels, the job was done grudgingly and badly.

The claim that Costa Rica was pouring sediment into the river was a flimsy case at best, and, as the court noted Friday, even Nicaragua’s expert estimated the sediment at no more than 3 percent of the total load in the river.

What Nicaragua was doing was playing for time so that the river would punch through a new mouth making the San Juan more accessible for boat traffic. The initial 40 winding kilometers of the river are silted heavily. The best hope for Managua is a flooding San Juan making a new mouth at a river bend that is very close to the Caribbean. Never mind that this would take some of Costa Rica’s land.

President Laura Chinchilla and her administration have extraordinary respect for international law. The administration fully expects Nicaragua to comply with whatever the World Court says when it renders a final decision.

Meanwhile, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is playing for wide access to the Caribbean and the possibility of millions in new development at the east end of the Río San Juan. Casa Presidential is trying to save some mangroves and some lagoons. Clearly, Ortega has the strongest motives.

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