Thursday, February 24, 2011

San Juan River Dispute Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua Could Undermine Economic Development for Both Countries

Scoop, World: Dredging Up an Old Issue: Dispute Over the San Juan RiverTicoTimes: Edén Pastora: "One Day They Are Going To Declare Me A Hero in Costa Rica"
NicaTimes: Private Sector: Economy Before Politics
OgleEarth: About Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Their Mutual Border, and Google
TicoTimes: Google Maps Blamed for Conflict Between Costa Rica and Nicaragua
TicoTimes: Nicaragua Claims Disputed Land on New Map
A.M. CostaRica: Leading the Nation Must Be Frustrating at Times
TicoTimes: Why Is the Cost of Living in Costa Rica So High?

Tensions between Costa Rica and Nicaragua continue over a border dispute at the mouth of the San Juan River. Dispute over this section of the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua is nothing new. The focus of the dispute has been on a piece of territory named Isla Caleros at the mouth of the San Juan River. While Costa Rican officials do not dispute Nicaraguan sovereignty over the San Juan River, they object to Nicaraguan military presence on the island.

Despite the fact that both countries look to the same documents to determine the border—the Canas-Jerez Treaty and the Cleveland Award—the indefinite language of the treaty and the unaddressed border issues of both documents have caused the two countries to contest the last kilometers of the San Juan River border many times. Most recently, a 2005 ruling by the International Court of Justice held that Costa Rica cannot use the river to supply arms to its police posts at the border and that Nicaragua cannot demand that Costa Rican tourists traveling on the river present visas.

The cause of the current border dispute is the river dredging that Nicaragua began in October last year. The location of the dredging occurs where the San Juan River splits into a continuation of the river to the North of Isla Caleros and the beginning of the Colorado River to the South of the island. While Nicaraguan politician Eden Pastora (the initiator of the river dredging and Nicaraguan military presence on Isla Caleros) does not dispute that Isla Caleros belongs to Costa Rica, he does dispute the right of the Nicaraguan government to dredge the river. The river is undisputedly Nicaraguan territory under both the Canas-Jerez Treaty and the Cleveland Award. However, not all Nicaraguan government officials agree. Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos maintains that under both the treaty and the Cleveland Award, Isla Caleros is Nicaraguan territory. Yet up until February 1, of this year, official maps generated by the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies showed Isla Caleros as Costa Rican territory.

Regardless, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has ignored a resolution by the Organization of American States (“OAS”) that calls for both countries to remove forces from the disputed territory. President Ortega claims the OAS has no authority to decide border disputes. In response, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla stated that Costa Rica will not use force in this matter and instead filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice. However, a ruling from the Court will take years and an injunction against Nicaraguan river dredging will take months.

Critics of the dispute claim the border conflict is a convenient distraction from the economic and political problems present in both countries. Many believe Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has failed to adequately address the country’s fast-rising violent crime, infrastructural building delays, steep national debt, and the current wage freeze in the face of increasing inflation. On the Nicaraguan side, critics claim the border dispute has helped President Ortega increase his approval rating. Last year he was the least popular Central American President, and this year he has a 45% approval rating. Critics fear Ortega may use the swell of nationalistic support to run for a third term in violation of the Nicaraguan Constitution, which only allows for two non-consecutive presidential terms. An illegitimate election could deter continued foreign investments into the country, investments which have made Nicaragua the second fastest growing economy in Central America. This growth is much needed considering Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America. Pending the decision of the International Court of Justice, many believe it is in the best political and economic interests of both countries to solve this dispute through prompt and peaceful open dialogue.

1) Although Nicaraguan President Ortega is accused of using the border dispute to bolster potential candidacy for the next election, could any President in his position maintain public support without adamantly defending a border dispute? 2) Given the earlier 2005 ruling by the International Court of Justice which sought to resolve the border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, do you believe the Court’s ruling on the pending case will be any more successful in ending the border dispute?
3) Given the significance of establishing legitimate borders in securing trade, is the border dispute a hindrance to the economic growth of either countries, or a necessity to ensure its continued growth?

No comments: