San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Countries Disagree Over OAS Support

THE dream of unanimous hemispheric support for ex-President Miguel Angel Rodríguez (1998-2002) in his bid to become Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) ran into a stumbling block this week after Nicaragua imposed conditions on a vote in favor of the Costa Rican candidate.

On Tuesday, four days after Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños chided Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco for allegedly forgetting a previous agreement they had made – triggering tit-for-tat bickering through the media of both countries – Costa Rica apparently gave up on a vote from its northern neighbor.

Costa Rica said it would rather go without Nicaragua’s vote than capitulate to its conditions for supporting Rodríguez.

FOREIGN Minister Roberto Tovar sent a letter to that effect to the Nicaraguan Embassy in San José this week to forward to Nicaragua’s Foreign Minister, Norman Caldera.

In it, Tovar told the Nicaraguan government to consider its support for Rodríguez “not delivered.”

“The fundamental reason is because Costa Rica can not and will not accept a conditional vote for our candidate…”

Tovar explained. “Costa Rica is worth a lot, Rodríguez is worth a lot, and that is why we have already received the votes of 32 of the 34 American states (in the OAS).

So if Nicaragua decides not to take part in a hemispheric consensus, the consensus of all the Americas, that is a sovereign decision that only Nicaragua can make and that is its right.”

Tovar said relations with Nicaragua will continue developing normally in bilateral areas, “but we won’t request a vote from Nicaragua anymore.”

IN a televised interview in Managua on Saturday, Bolaños had said his country’s support for Rodríguez depends on “certain things that Nicaragua needs,” such as solutions to immigration issues with Costa Rica and navigation problems on the San Juan River, which forms part of the border with Costa Rica.

His statement came on the heels of Pacheco’s condemnation of El Salvador and Nicaragua for not yet committing to support the Costa Rican candidate.

The President-elect of El Salvador, Elías Antonio Saca, said Wednesday during a whirlwind visit to Nicaragua in the morning and Costa Rica in the afternoon that he will announce his position on Rodríguez’s candidacy in June, after he takes office.

“I aspire to have a candidate elected by consensus, that all of us support,” he told the press. “I believe that Central America must be united in everything, and in this case integration must prevail.”

Representatives of the OAS’ 34 member states will meet in Quito, Ecuador, in June to elect the organization’s next secretary general.

Rodríguez has had the necessary simple majority for the top OAS post since last December, when he received the official backing of the 14-member Caribbean Community (TT, Dec. 19, 2003) He has run uncontested since his only official competitor, former Chilean Foreign Minister José Miguel Insulza, announced in February he was dropping out of the race.

IN Nicaragua, Bolaños said Pacheco’s comments were “strange” because they had reached an agreement to negotiate the OAS vote through solutions to immigration and border problems of interest to Nicaragua.

“We had reached an agreement and found a solution that maybe Pacheco forgot, or his blood sugar rose, or he had a diabetic attack, or who knows what, and was not aware of what he said. It has already been arranged with Costa Rica that they will have (the Nicaraguan) vote,” he said Saturday.

He alluded to health problems given as the reason Pacheco did not attend the summit of Central American presidents in Managua last month.

PACHECO this week denied any such agreement had ever been reached and responded to Bolaños’ diabetes reference by saying he hopes Bolaños never has to suffer from the disease.

Diay, I’m very sweet,” he joked at his weekly Cabinet meeting press conference on Tuesday. “But it’s tiring to have diabetes. There’s also the danger of becoming blind and that they might cut my feet off. It’s a very serious disease.”

He also deflated the Nicaraguan position, saying, “I don’t see the importance of this country’s vote.”

Despite that, Pacheco apparently tried to clear the air between the two neighbor countries, saying on Tuesday, “We are brothers… we don’t have to fight. Let’s see the positive side. We are Siamese twins who can’t be separated. I beg the press to foster friendship and understanding between us.”

PACHECO also denied rumors that he had cut a deal with the Caribbean nations, and denied that Costa Rica’s support of Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, as the proposed site of the secretariat of the Free-Trade Area of the Americas, was given in exchange for votes for Rodríguez.

“Buying votes would be an act of corruption, a bastard act,” he said. “We’ve shown absolute transparency.”

IN February, Bolaños visited Costa Rica after the roundup and detention of hundreds of Nicaraguan immigrants in La Carpio, an impoverished neighborhood in San José.

At the time, interim Nicaraguan ambassador to Costa Rica Nestor Membreño claimed the operation was part of a strategy by the Costa Rican government to deter the influx of immigrants from Nicaragua.

“I believe that what the government of Costa Rica is doing is, in a way, pressuring Nicaraguans for two things. First, that they go and get their documents in order. The other is to instill, it seems to me, a type of fear among the people so they won’t believe things are so good here and won’t continue coming,” Membreño said.

Security Minister Rogelio Ramos said, “It was not an operation against Nicaraguans nor any foreigner. They applied a police strategy to prevent crime and combat criminal activity in troubled communities” (TT, Feb. 6).

COSTA Rica and Nicaragua also have fumed over river navigation rights since Nicaragua passed a law in 1998 that prohibits Costa Rican police from using the river while armed, unless they have prior authorization.

The 1858 Treaty of Cañas-Jerez grants Nicaragua sovereignty over the river, but guarantees Costa Rica navigation rights.

The interpretation of that treaty has been at the heart of the ongoing dispute.

Costa Rica has maintained its police need to transport supplies to its four border posts along the river. Nicaragua has replied that foreign forces cannot bear arms within its sovereign territory.

Both countries have threatened blockades of each other’s commercial products and Costa Rica at one time proposed billing Managua for social services it provides to its substantial Nicaraguan immigrant population (TT, May 10, 2002).


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