San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua’s Ortega Demands Navigation Rights to Costa Rican River

MANAGUA – Following Nicaragua’s diplomatic defeat in the Organization of American States (OAS) Friday night, President Daniel Ortega said Nicaragua will not withdraw its troops from the disputed border territory along the San Juan River, but may withdraw its membership in the OAS.

In a nationally televised address Saturday night, Ortega railed against the OAS for conducting a “rigged” vote to approve a resolution that, among other things, calls for Nicaragua to withdraw its troops from a three-square-kilometer piece of swampland disputed by the two countries.

Ortega insists Nicaragua will maintain troops in the area because he said the land belongs to Nicaragua and the soldiers are there to fight drug trafficking. The Nicaraguan president accused Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Mexico and Panama of defending the interests of drug traffickers in requesting Nicaragua’s withdrawal of troops.

“This proposal that the OAS approved last night says that we should leave this land free for drug trafficking. And we don’t accept that,” Ortega said in his address.

Ortega added, “Drug traffickers are directing Costa Rica’s foreign policy.”

In a quid pro quo for Costa Rica’s limited navigation rights on a 140-kilometer stretch of the San Juan River, Ortega announced his government will request similar navigation rights on Costa Rica’s Colorado River, which receives some 90 percent of its water flow from Nicaragua’s San Juan River.

Since the Nicaraguan government has never before expressed interest in navigation rights to the Río Colorado, Ortega’s demand – made amid a flurry of angry attacks – is most likely a red herring to put Costa Rica on the defensive.

Ortega also said  Nicaragua “is considering” withdrawing completely from the OAS. In any event, he said his government will not be attending a special meeting of foreign ministers convoked this week by Costa Rica.

“I ask myself, does it make any sense to still be in the OAS?” Ortega said.

In comments to The Nica Times last week, Nicaragua’s honorary Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto, a close adviser to Ortega, said, “The OAS has no reason to exist anymore.” D’Escoto called the international organization “an instrument controlled by you know who.”

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