San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias, Ortega Plan to Meet, Address Disputes

As yet another conflict takes its place on the list of divisive issues between Costa Rica and Nicaragua – and a vigorous back-andforth between President Oscar Arias and his Nicaraguan counterpart, Daniel Ortega, continues – the two leaders have announced they will sit down for the first bilateral meeting of their current administrations.

In the wake of a dispute over the maritime borders between the two countries, Costa Rican Ambassador to Nicaragua Antonio Tacsam announced Arias and Ortega will meet in August when the region’s leaders gather in Costa Rica to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Central American Peace Accords.

The two governments are now preparing the agenda, which will include “delicate” topics such as Costa Rican immigration reform, said Tacsam, who added that Ortega and Arias “are friends, not enemies.”

Asked about the invitation last week, Ortega said he was very interested in sitting down for a meeting with Arias, “but for that (to happen) we have to agree beforehand on issues of mutual interest.”

He explained that the treatment of Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica, as well as Costa Rica’s willingness (or lack thereof) to join institutions of regional integration such as the Central American Parliament (Parlacen), are among those issues.

Nicaragua’s new Ambassador to Costa Rica, Harold Rivas, spoke more positively in favor of a meeting when he presented his credentials to Arias last week.

Rivas told the daily La Nación following his meeting with Arias that he has high hopes for the potential of a bilateral meeting to iron out differences. The press has characterized the relationship between the two heads of state as chilly ever since Arias, when attending Ortega’s inauguration in January, received only a handshake from his former colleague while other visiting leaders received more attention. (The two leaders’ terms also coincided in the 1980s, when they and other Central American heads of state negotiated the Peace Accords; Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the process.)

The following month, Ortega, explaining why Nicaragua should not destroy its remaining SAM-7 missiles, said, “We have armies throughout Central America, including Costa Rica, which has a very powerful force they call the National Police.” Arias replied this suggestion “makes no sense” (TT, Feb. 9). In March, the Nicaraguan President said Arias’ Nobel Peace Prize should have gone to former Salvadoran head of state José Napoleón Duarte.

“If anyone receives that Nobel Prize, the person Central Americans really give it to from the heart is President Duarte,” Ortega said.

This week, Arias told Costa Rica’s Radio Monumental that leaders “have to be careful with the things we say because all war begins with a war of words… Ortega has been a little imprudent in the things he says.”Arias claimed he himself “lets (the comments) pass.”

Excerpts from the interview were published in the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario under the headline “‘Ortega Has Been Imprudent.’”

Amid this exchange, work to resolve ongoing differences between the two countries has moved slowly ahead. In March, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission dismissed a suit filed by the Nicaraguan government in 2005 in which Nicaragua accused Costa Rica of denying immigrants their basic human rights (TT,March 16).

The death of a Nicaraguan man attacked by Rottweilers while emergency workers looked on for nearly an hour (TT, Nov .18, 2005) and the death of another Nicaraguan man stabbed to death by angry Costa Ricans the following month (TT, Dec. 9, 2005) prompted the suit.

Another suit before an international arbitrator deals with navigation rights to the San Juan River, which belongs on Nicaragua. Costa Rica, which claims its police forces and tourism operators have the right to freely circulate on the river, has filed a suit before International Court of Justice at The Hague – a suit Ambassador Rivas said could be avoided with some conversation.

The most recent disagreement between the countries also deals with border issues: namely, the Costa Rica-Nicaragua marine border.

Last week, following Nicaraguan authorities’ capture of a Costa Rican boat in waters both nations claim as their own, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno proposed the countries ask the United Nations to send a team to establish the border and solve the conflict. Ortega rejected the idea later that week, saying, “international experts can’t come to delineate these borders.”


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