San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua Heats Ups Rhetoric

SAN CARLOS, Nicaragua – Emboldened by a feverish outbreak of patriotism and national unity over the Río San Juan, Nicaragua this week turned up the rhetorical attacks against Costa Rica by accusing the Ticos of generating the border conflict in a plot to steal the river.

While the Organization of American States (OAS) this week called for calm and measured dialogue to resolve the controversy over Nicaragua’s river-dredging efforts and its alleged military incursion into Costa Rican territory, Nicaragua responded by rallying the troops against what they consider expansionist aggression by Costa Rica.

“Nicaragua is the only country in the world that has lost territory to a smaller and weaker nation,” former guerrilla leader Edén Pastora told The Nica Times this week. “They call themselves our Central American brothers, but brotherhood doesn’t exist at this moment.”

Pastora, who is heading the Nicaraguan government’s efforts to restore the historic flow of the San Juan River, said the river-dredging efforts will continue “with more vigor” than before. And he said Costa Rica will have to accept it because Nicaragua is acting within the law and is united to defend its rights.

“Costa Rica is trembling because for the first time the Costa Ricans and their politicians see (in Nicaragua) a country of valiant and patriotic men and women who are united behind their government in defense of their sovereignty and national dignity,” Pastora said. “When people unite under one fist, no one can stop them.” 

In a special congressional session held Wednesday in the port town of San Carlos, on the banks of the San Juan River, 84 lawmakers from Nicaragua’s normally divided and bickering National Assembly unanimously backed a resolution pledging full support to President Daniel Ortega and his “actions in defense of national sovereignty and the dredging of our Río San Juan.”

The resolution also gives full support to the Nicaraguan Army and pledges more budget aid next year for increased river patrols.

Both politicians and military leaders stressed the importance of unifying the country to defend the river against Costa Rica’s “expansionist pretensions.” Even Nicaragua’s top military brass spoke with a political fervor seldom heard in times of peace.

“It is our patriotic duty to defend Nicaragua. We all need to unite against Costa Rica’s plans,” said Gen. Julio César Aviles, the Nicaraguan Army’s top general.

Aviles accused Costa Rica of “generating conflict and hostilities” at the border as part of a “systematic campaign” to usurp Nicaraguan territory. “Never again,” the general stressed, will Nicaragua allow Costa Rica to take “one inch” of its national territory.

Politicians also put the current river conflict in historical context. National Assembly President Rene Núñez said Costa Rica is trying once again to take advantage of Nicaragua’s political divisions to advance its expansionist agenda, as it did during the annexation of Guanacaste and Nicoya 186 years ago.

“We lost Guanacaste to the voraciousness of a neighbor that took advantage of Nicaragua’s weaknesses,” Núñez said.

But this time Nicaragua is circling the wagons to send a message of strength through unity.

“There are some who criticize the opposition for supporting the government, but I say they are wrong because the Río San Juan is a national issue, it’s not an issue for political games,” said opposition lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, head of the legislative commission on international relations. “When our national sovereignty and national integrity are at risk, the solidarity of the whole Nicaraguan family must prevail.”

Nicaragua: No Troops on Isla Calero

The Nicaraguan military this week repeated its insistence that it has not invaded a 151-square-kilometer swath of land that the Costa Ricans call “Isla Calero.”

OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza also downplayed Costa Rica’s claim this week, saying the occupied border area in dispute is a much smaller finca that couldn’t fit more than “30, 40 or 50 soldiers.”

Gen. Aviles presented military maps to the National Assembly on Wednesday and explained that the territory where Nicaraguan troops are located on the river mouth is a 3-square-kilometer piece of Nicaraguan land called Harbour Head or “Isla Portillo,” which is neighboring but separate from Isla Calero.

Though Insulza has called for Nicaraguan troops to withdraw from the disputed area until the border issue is sorted out, Nicaragua insists it hasn’t set foot in Costa Rican territory and therefore has no reason to retreat.

To assert that point, Gen. Aviles and the heads of the National Assembly flew in military helicopters to the disputed land on Thursday morning to meet with the Nicaraguan troops stationed there and hoist the Nicaraguan flag.

With the next meeting of the Costa Rica-Nicaragua Binational Commission only two weeks away, it appears increasingly likely that the controversy over the San Juan River could come to a boil beforehand.

In the meantime, Pastora says, the river-dredging mission will continue “with even more vigor than before.”  

“The dredging will continue up river and down river,” Pastora said, adding that two new dredges will be added to the river in the coming weeks.

Costa Rica, he said, is already “defeated” and is “going to have to think twice” if they plan to continue their protest against Nicaragua.

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