San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Negotiation Choice Causes Dispute

A new, somewhat bizarre chapter in the story of frazzled relations between Costa Rica and Nicaragua unfolded this week, this time a regional dispute also involving Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The four latter countries named Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Norman Caldera as coordinator of negotiations for an association agreement between the European Union and Central America.

These four member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) went behind fellow member Costa Rica s back in naming Caldera, according to Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno though Nicaragua s Foreign Ministry maintains Stagno had been informed of the plan.

At no time was Costa Rica consulted, Stagno told the press Wednesday, explaining that the presidents of Guatemala, Oscar Berger; El Salvador,Tony Saca;Honduras,Manuel Zelaya; and Nicaragua, Enrique Bolaños, signed an agreement placing Caldera at the helm of negotiations during the swearing-in ceremony of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe July 11. Arias was in Colombia for the event, but was not consulted, Stagno said.

He added it has always been clear that the association agreement would not take effect without the signature of the five SICA member countries.

By this token, Costa Rica does not see the naming of Caldera as coordinator binding, he said, since it has not been signed by Arias.

Costa Rica really wants this agreement, but it must be made through transparent and consensual means, Stagno said.

He offered no explanation as to why these four countries would make a decision without  consulting Costa Rica, which accounts for 60% of the region s trade with the European Union, but remarked that without Costa Rica, there is no association agreement.

He spelled out Costa Rica s position in a letter sent Wednesday to Central American foreign ministers and the E.U. headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Negotiations for the agreement, which could establish trade benefits and political cooperation between the two regions, are scheduled to begin next year (TT, Aug. 18).

Meetings are scheduled this month and next to discuss SICA s plans for the negotiations.

The same format Central American countries used to negotiate the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) should be put in practice again, Stagno said.

Nicaragua Disagrees

Nicaragua s Foreign Ministry tells a different version of this story.

Caldera, an economist with a master s in foreign trade and experience working with the World Trade Organization (WTO), was named by SICA for his experience, but won t represent Nicaragua specifically, García said.

Caldera will merely act as a facilitator during the negotiations, and each country will be represented by its own negotiating team.

Caldera s nomination should have come as no surprise to Costa Rica, since Stagno and Caldera discussed the possibility during a recent meeting, García told The Nica Times.

The two foreign ministers met in San José in late July to discuss plans to resume meetings of a Binational Commission (TT, Aug. 11).

At no time was the intention to leave out Costa Rica, or do anything behind its back, especially when we are trying to get them more involved in Central American integration, García said. Costa Rica already knew this was going to happen, so I don t know what the problem is.

Just days before this most recent dispute, Foreign Vice-Minister Edgar Ugalde presented Costa Rica s suit against Nicaragua over navigation rights to the San Juan River, which forms part of the border between the two countries, to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

The suit consists of 150 copies of a sixvolume, 1,290 page document outlining and supporting Costa Rica s arguments, according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry.

Now that Costa Rica has presented the suit, Nicaragua has three months to submit its defense and conclude the written portion of the case. Afterwards, the court will establish dates for hearings that usually stretch anywhere from 20 to 60 sessions, Stagno said Tuesday. Costa Rica first presented the case before The Hague in September 2005 (TT, Sept. 30, 2005).

Conflict over the San Juan River, which belongs to Nicaragua, emerged in 1998 when former Nicaraguan president Arnoldo Alemán prohibited Costa Rican police bearing arms from navigating the river.


Nica Times Editor Tim Rogers and TicoTimes reporter María Gabriela Díaz contributed to this report.


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