San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ortega, Arias Meet In San José

President Oscar Arias met with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega yesterday in San José to warm a frosty relationship and work toward reaching elusive agreements.

Arias said Costa Rica could forgive “an important part” of Nicaragua’s $630 million debt, while the Presidents will seek help from other developed countries in paying the rest.

The Presidents also decided to meet in Nicaragua in January to discuss tourism and the environment, among other issues.

Despite previous appeals from Ortega, Arias said he would not drop a case over navigation rights to the San Juan River, now under consideration in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Arias and Ortega are working to restart the Bilateral Commission, a 1990s project to create a permanent dialogue to address issues of common interest between the two nations. The Commission was suspended in 1997 during an escalation of tensions over the San Juan River (TT, Aug. 24).

Ortega arrived more than two hours late yesterday morning at the JuanSantamaríaInternationalAirport just outside San José, where he was greeted by Arias and a group of students carrying Nicaraguan and Costa Rican flags.

The two Presidents then met at the Foreign Ministry in downtown San José, accompanied by Ortega’s wife, Rosario Murillo, and the ambassadors and foreign ministers of both countries. The Presidents signed a list of general accords at a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Immigration cooperation, long a thorny issue for the two countries, was one item on the list. Ortega and Arias agreed to work on improving conditions for Nicaraguan immigrants here.

Both said they support a bill, now in the Legislative Assembly, that would allow foreigners to apply for residency from Costa Rica, instead of from their home country (TT, July 6). Ortega said a group of Nicaraguan politicians would visit Costa Rica to speak to legislators here about immigration issues.

Still, the differences between the two Presidents were clear yesterday. Arias, in his coat and tie, sat grinning as Ortega, in a windbreaker, gave rambling responses to journalists’ questions.

Ortega mentioned several times that Central America should work on integration – perhaps a jab at Arias’ unwillingness to join regional bodies such as the Central American Parliament (Parlacen). The Nicaraguan president also stressed that he opposes the Central American Free-Trade Agreement (CAFTA), perhaps the defining issue for Arias’ administration so far.

Personal and ideological tensions go back more than 20 years for Arias and Ortega, who were Presidents of their respective countries in the late 1980s.

This was the Presidents’ second meeting since their respective re-elections. The first took place in Managua in August. Arias was in Nicaragua then not at Ortega’s invitation, but at the request of Nicaraguan Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who organized an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Central American Peace Accords.


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