>Latin America File: Ortega admits troop deployment related to interoceanic canal; Costa Rica detains 86 Nicaraguans fleeing army enlistment

>– Costa Rica Issues Arrest Warrant for Dredging Boss Pastora, Files Suit at The Hague Demanding Nicaragua Cease Canal Construction

– Sandinista Legislator Urges Establishment of Military Post on Costa Rican Island

Events continue to unfold in the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border dispute that confirm our earliest contentions, namely that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is determined to build a “Nicaragua Canal” with help from other Communist Bloc states, and he is unifying Nicaraguan public opinion ahead of his illegal bid for re-election in 2011. Jaime Daremblum, senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Latin American Studies, a project of the Hudson Institute, makes the same observations:

The attempted land grab confirms, yet again, that Ortega (and his party) never really changed. Though he won election fairly as the Sandinista candidate in 2006, he’s still the same corrupt, authoritarian thug who ruled Nicaragua with an iron fist during the 1980s, a time when he was receiving significant aid from the Soviet Union. Back then, Ortega looked to Moscow for both economic assistance and ideological guidance. Today, he looks to Caracas. Indeed, with each passing month Nicaragua becomes more and more like Venezuela. ……

The Obama administration must take a firm stand against Nicaragua’s belligerence. The occupation of Calero Island represents, quite simply, a cross-border invasion. (Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla is not exaggerating when she uses that word.) If the U.S. and its democratic partners in Latin America don’t firmly and effectively pressure Nicaragua to leave the island and quit its warmongering, other pro-Chávez governments may feel emboldened to pursue similar adventurism.

While the stakes in the San Juan River dispute may appear small, they’re actually quite large. Ortega is testing the willpower of his democratic neighbors. Their response will have serious consequences for the entire region.

About one week ago, Costa Rican officials detained 86 Nicaraguans in the area of San Isidro de Pocosol, near the conflict zone. Although most of the illegal immigrants professed to be looking for work in Costa Rica, a number of them admitted that the group was in fact fleeing army enlistment ahead of a potential shooting war between Managua and San Jose. Some of the Nicaraguans–perhaps recalling similar fears more than two decades ago–worried that they might have to repel a US invasion.

“I’ve heard rumors that it is happening but I can’t confirm it is true,” said Alexis Núñez, assistant director of Costa Rica’s national police in the border town of Los Chiles. The Tico Times also quoted Nunez as saying: “I know that was what the Nicaraguan military did in the 1980s, but I have yet to hear of any confirmation of that thus far.”

The neo-Sandinista regime has deployed at least 50 soldiers to Isla Calero, at the mouth of the San Juan, supposedly to interdict narco-traffickers. In defiance of a resolution passed by the Organization of American States (OAS), Ortega, with Hugo Chavez’s imprimatur, refuses to recall the troops. Angered by their opposition to his schemes, “Comandante” accused Latin America’s center-left and center-right leaders of complicity with the region’s drug lords. Notably, he exempted his far-left allies in the hemisphere, such as Chavez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa, all of whom have evicted the US Drug Enforcement Administration from their countries.

Although Ortega has secured the support of the country’s other major parties in this obvious provocation against Costa Rica, on November 16 mass organizations affiliated with the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front marched in defense of the president and Nicaraguan sovereignty over the San Juan (pictured above, note obligatory “Che” mugshot on Cuban flag).

“The San Juan River is 100 percent Nica,” shouted pro-government demonstrators. “It’s clear that Nicaragua is the owner of the San Juan River, of its waters. There’s not the slightest doubt,” exclaimed Foreign Minister Samuel Santos Lopez to the demonstrators.

On November 17, in a move obviously designed to frustrate Ortega’s plans, the Costa Rican Prosecutor’s Office issued a warrant for the arrest of Edén Pastora, the Sandinista revolutionary hero in charge of dredging the San Juan. According to the Prosecutor’s Office, the warrant was issued in response to Pastora’s alleged acts of environmental damage that violate Costa Rica’s forestry law.

In recent weeks, the ministry of security in San Jose has produced several photos and videos of such damage near the mouth of the San Juan and Laguna de los Portillos. The alleged damage includes cutting down of trees, disruption of wetlands, and dumping of river sediment into Costa Rican territory. The Prosecutor’s Office has not yet explained how it will pursue the arrest of Pastora.

Last Thursday, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla affirmed that her country respects the OAS resolution directing both countries to withdraw security forces from the conflict zone. She insists that San Jose no longer has a police presence there, nor are the national police performing aerial reconnaissance of Isla Calero. A Nicaraguan army official cast contempt on the ultimatum by retorting: “It’s not disputed territory; it’s Nicaraguan territory.”

On November 19, Nicaragua’s former foreign minister and now legislator, Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, responded to news of Costa Rica filing suit against Nicaragua with the International Court of Justice by warning that if the two countries cannot come to “some permanent agreement” on the ownership of the island, Nicaragua should install a permanent military post in the area. San Jose’s legal suit demands that Nicaragua cease “the construction of a canal on Costa Rican soil.”

This past Sunday, Ortega, flanked by his wife Rosario Murillo, admitted for the first time in a televised address that Nicaragua intends to build an interoceanic canal. “No one can prohibit us. No one,” challenged Ortega, adding: “Nicaragua reserves the right to build a canal along the San Juan River connected to Lake Nicaragua. It is a right.” He made no mention of the Nicaraguan troops on Isla Calero. “The river,” he continued, “according to the 1858 Jerez-Cañas treaty and confirmed by a ruling of the International Court of Justice at The Hague on July 2009, belongs to Nicaragua.”

While most of the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border is well defined along the San Juan’s south bank, at Isla Calero the south bank belongs to Costa Rica. Taking advantage of a Google Maps error, the neo-Sandinista regime decided that the “historic” path of the river is the real border, thus making the island its own, rather than following today’s flow, which would and does make the island Costa Rica’s. Referring to the 19th-century treaty, Ortega insisted that the Nicaraguan army has a “right” to enter Costa Rican territory, while Costa Rica has a right to be compensated.

In his TV speech, Ortega acknowledged that the dredging of the river and the building of the canal will cause some environmental damage, but then justified his army’s invasion of Costa Rica by suggesting that a hypothetical shipping disaster along an “undredged” San Juan could cause still more damage. He boasted that Nicaragua’s canal will be “better” than Panama’s since it will be a “modern” canal. The Panama Canal was built nearly a century ago, but will be widened by 2014 to double its capacity.

In a related development that is no doubt motivating “Comandante,” San Juan will also be the site for Nicaragua’s largest-ever electricity-generating plant. The 250 MW Brito hydroelectric dam will be completed in 2015 at a cost of US$600 million. Managua has hired a Brazilian company to conduct a feasibility study for the proposed dam. Clearly, Ortega intends to leave a lasting imprint on Nicaragua.

Army-less Costa Rica has no means to forcibly eject Nicaragua’s military presence on Isla Calero, but is holding out for an OAS-sponsored meeting of regional foreign minister to be held on December 7. Ortega has vowed his country will be a no-show. As for the ICJ case, this could take at least four years. Thus, San Jose continues its diplomatic activity at the OAS, while Chinchilla has vowed to take her country’s case all the way to the United Nations Security Council.

Thus far, the Russian Federation has been quiet about the Nicaragua-Costa Rica spat. Should the situation deteriorate, Moscow’s response, as usual, will be telling. In all likelihood, the Kremlin will side with its long time ally, the Sandinistas.

In a related story, the neo-Sandinista regime continues to portray itself as a serious partner in the eradication of the illicit drug trade, notwithstanding its collusion with Pablo Escobar in the 1980s. Over the weekend the Nicaraguan army and police intercepted a speedboat off the country’s Caribbean coast. The vessel, manned by five smugglers from Honduras, Panama, and Colombia, contained a ton and a half of cocaine. “During the arrest,” reports Voice of Russia, “the drug dealers put up a fierce resistance. As a result of the shootout one of the smugglers was killed.”

One response to “>Latin America File: Ortega admits troop deployment related to interoceanic canal; Costa Rica detains 86 Nicaraguans fleeing army enlistment

  1. mah29001 November 23, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    >Sounds like the Nicaraguans would rather live in Costa Rica than in their own country…who can blame them?

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