>– Deceptive Sandinistas Withdraw Troops from Costa Rican Island while International Court of Justice Deliberates Border Row, Redeploy Soldiers after Hearing
– Sandinistas to Send Three More Dredges to San Juan River by February, Accelerate Construction of Inter-Oceanic Canal (with Silent Backing from Russia, Iran, Venezuela)
– Army-less Costa Rica Beefs Up Northern Border Defenses with Heliports, Antiaircraft Capabilities, River Barriers to Thwart Nicaraguan Boats
– Last December President Chinchilla Approached Obama and Clinton for Support in Border Row, Gets Cold Shoulder
– Former Interior Minister Tomas Borge Hosts Cuban Ambassador, Diplomats at Unveiling of Jose Marti Memorial at Masaya, Nicaragua
Although the political turmoil in the Arab world, especially Egypt, requires extensive reportage, developments in neo-Sandinista Nicaragua and its border row with Costa Rica deserve updated review and analysis.
Concurrently with the passage of new “national defense” bills that will enable Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to declare martial law ahead of this November’s elections, an independent survey from December showed Ortega leading in voter intention polls at an impressive 47.2 percent. Voter preference for Ortega was followed by undecided voters at 31 percent and, in third place, opposition candidate Fabio Gades at 14.4 percent.
Gades is a radio station owner and a deputy in the Central American Parliament for the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), which actually voted for Ortega’s incipient military government. Bringing up the rear in the survey was the hopelessly corrupt former president Arnoldo Aleman (1997-2002) at 7.4 percent. Like Gades, Aleman’s candidacy was approved by the PLC national convention.
Another poll, conducted in late January, suggests that Ortega’s surge in popularity dropped again, but he still came ahead of the other candidates. After reviewing the latest poll results, Aleman commented that the country’s divided opposition could conceivably beat Ortega and his leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) by forming an alliance.
Opposition lawmakers accuse Ortega of making a second run at transforming Nicaragua into a Cuban-style dictatorship, but have tried and failed to overturn a 2009 ruling in the Supreme Court that lifted a ban on re-election. The court, controlled by the FSLN, overturned a constitutional clause blocking consecutive terms.
In US State Department documents published by WikiLeaks, the Obama White House has accused Ortega of corruption and other crimes. One document states that Managua accepted “suitcases full of cash” from Communist Venezuela to fund the 2008 municipal elections, which sparked protests and accusations of fraud after they were swept by the Sandinistas.
Incidentally, Guatemala also votes for a new president in November as incumbent center-left President Alvaro Colom struggles to contain the increasingly violent activities of the Mexican drug cartels, such as Los Zetas, which have set up training camps in Guatemala’s northern jungles.
Ortega’s growing popularity may be attributable to Nicaragua’s unexpected economic resurgence. According to Nicaraguan economist Néstor Avendaño, the country has achieved a four percent economic growth rate, due mainly to increased exports, such as coffee, sugar, beef, and gold, especially to new markets like Russia and Venezuela. Avendaño predicted that exports will maintain an annual growth rate of around eight percent. For over 30 years, ever since the Sandinista Revolution and the subsequent civil war, Nicaragua has been the poorest country in Central America.
Meanwhile, the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, which we believe was manufactured to in part justify Ortega’s domestic power grab, continues to simmer.
Last October, Nicaragua began dredging operations in the San Juan River, provoking a fresh upswelling of animosity with neighbor Costa Rica. Putatively designed to remove sediment and improve navigability, Ortega later defiantly admitted his government’s intention of building a long-dreamed-of inter-oceanic canal. On January 10, 2011, the Nicaraguan daily La Prensa reported that the Sandinistas intend to deploy three more dredges on the San Juan by February 2011, bringing the total of machines in the area to four. According to Eden Pastora, the Sandinista revolutionary hero and official in charge of the task, the additional machines will reduce the dredging time from four years to one.
In spite of the planned arrival of more heavy equipment, last December Nicaraguan Colonel Juan Ramon Morales insisted that Managua does not intend to increase military forces along the river because “there is no situation that deserves more troops and soldiers in the area.” In late October at least 50 Nicaraguan soldiers set up camp on Isla Calero, which is situated at the river’s mouth but claimed by Costa Rica. On December 18, the Costa Rican Ministry of Public Security asserted that Nicaragua reinforced its military presence there with an additional 200 soldiers.
On January 11, the Nicaraguan army denounced alleged provocations by “dark interests tied to drug trafficking” in Costa Rica, such as invading Nicaragua and attacking military positions along the international border. Citing intelligence reports, Colonel Morales warned that “pertinent measures would be taken to repel any aggression on the sovereignty of Nicaragua.”
For its part, the government of President Laura Chinchilla has announced that it will “tighten security” along the border with 30 new outposts and patrols, mainly along the adjacent Colorado River, which is wholly in Costa Rican territory. Costa Rica has no military, but its National Police are well armed, a fact that long-time Moscow ally Ortega frequently highlights when he portrays Nicaragua as the “victim” of Costa Rican aggression.
In early January, Public Security Minister José Maria Tijerino announced that a series of heliports will be constructed near Nicaragua to establish a system of national defense. Tijerino explained that the heliports are defended by tactical forces of the National Police and have their own antiaircraft defense. Costa Rica has decided to erect barriers at the mouths of the Colorado, Sarapiqui, and San Carlos rivers to prevent the possible entrance of Nicaraguan boats. The barriers consist of piles and steel cables that form a fence along the three rivers, where patrol and toll posts are expected to limit navigation along some parts of the river.
On the diplomatic front, Costa Rica has brought several charges against Nicaragua before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), including environmental damage, not to mention military invasion of the area. A hearing is underway at The Hague, but a full court case could be years before it is heard. Ortega, who demands discussions “without conditions,” has failed to attend several regionally mediated encounters with Costa Rican counterpart Chinchilla in order to resolve the border dispute.
In general, Washington has heaved a great big sigh of disinterest over the new conflicts in Central America. Last December, Chinchilla telephoned US counterpart Barack Hussein Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to secure their support in her dispute with Ortega, but the White House expressed little interest.
The deceptive intentions of the neo-Sandinista regime were again evident over the past week, when the Costa Rican public security minister announced that the Nicaraguan soldiers had “vanished” from the disputed Isla Calero, even as ICJ justices debated the merits of the conflicting cases presented by both countries.
After conducting flyovers of the San Juan River and Isla Calero on January 29 and January 31, Tijerino, flanked by Foreign Minister René Castro, announced that Nicaraguan soldiers were no longer present on the island. Nevertheless, both Tijerino and Castro alluded to their possible return: “[The absence of troops] does not necessarily mean that Nicaragua has abandoned the area. It could mean that the forces are hidden. On previous occasions they have come and gone… and this does not guarantee that it is safe for Costa Ricans to return to navigate the river region.” Castro labeled the supposed withdrawal a Nicaraguan “ploy,” remarking: “No announcement had been made by Managua of the apparent withdrawal of Nicaraguan forces. Nicaragua has a history of acting in bad faith.”
However, over the weekend of February 5-6, journalists from The Tico Times “observed several armed, camouflaged soldiers located on the south side of the Río San Juan on the disputed strip of land known as Isla Calero.” The English-language Costa Rican news source continues:
The white and blue Nicaraguan flag, which was absent from the photos produced by the Security Ministry last week, is again waving high on the south side of the river. The Nicaraguan outpost on the south side of the Río San Juan consists of three small houses that face the river, and is occupied by several soldiers. More soldiers are also present in a small white house further east of the larger outpost. Between the houses, soldiers with binoculars monitor traffic from several wooded, makeshift watchtowers overlooking the river.
In a related story, Ortega’s red buddies in Havana may be closely monitoring the San Juan River dispute, since Cuba’s Ernesto Che Guevara Medical Team is presently operating in Nicaragua’s South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), where the border row with Costa Rica is most intense. Officially tasked with providing medical services to leftist allies throughout the world, Havana’s health professionals also practice espionage and propagate Marxism-Leninism.
In yet another signal of the revived relationship between Communist Cuba and neo-Sandinista Nicaragua, a monument to Cuban national hero Jose Marti was unveiled in Masaya, a small city south of Managua. At the unveiling ceremony, Cuban Ambassador Eduardo Martinez Borbonet and other Cuban diplomats and “solidarity workers” were welcomed by Maoist and KGB asset Tomas Borge, the only living founder of the FSLN. In a speech, Borge extolled Marti’s life and work and his influence on generations of revolutionaries, especially fellow octogenarian Fidel Castro. “We are all Marti’s children because we have been forged as revolutionaries following Fidel Castro’s example,” Borge gushed.
Interior minister during the 1980s, the once dreaded Borge is currently Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru. In a 2004 article, J. Michael Waller describes Borge’s interior ministry as a literal extension of the Soviet KGB, East German Stasi, and Cuban DGI:
The MINT was not an indigenous force. Rather, it was modeled after the East German Ministry for State Security (MfS). Organizing and operating such a large apparatus in a short period of time required officers and advisers from the MfS, Soviet KGB, the Cuban DGI, and other Soviet bloc internal security services. These apparatchiks not only acted as advisers, but actually staffed the MINT and ran several of its day-to-day operations.
Cuban officers aided MINT operational work, and East German personnel provided technical support. Cuban personnel operated at all levels of the Defense and Interior ministries, from the general staff to the battalion and, in some cases, to the company levels. Some foreign advisers, such as Cuban Interior Ministry Colonel Renan Montero, who ran Sandinista foreign intelligence, were given citizenship so they could function as Nicaraguans.
The new “national defense” laws that Ortega rammed through the National Assembly this past December will likely resurrect the Sandinista police state. Hundreds of Soviet, East German, and Cuban agents and “military advisers” milled about Managua during the first Sandinista regime in the 1980s. According to current estimates, there are as many as 65,000 Cuban agents in Communist Venezuela, some in important posts in the military, security, and intelligence apparatus.