It appears that holiday cheer and neighborly goodwill aren’t enough to interrupt a territorial spat along the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Just four days before Christmas, officials from the Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry issued a formal diplomatic protest to their Costa Rican counterparts claiming that four Costa Rican boats and a small airplane had violated Nicaragua’s territorial sovereignty.
Costa Rica rejected the complaint.
According to a letter sent by the Nicaraguan government on Wednesday, Nicaraguan naval ships on Tuesday intercepted two Costa Rican boats near the town of San Juan de Nicaragua, formerly known as San Juan del Norte. The town lies two nautical miles northeast of Punta Castilla, which the Nicaraguan government considers to be the border between the two countries.
As naval ships approached, the Costa Rican vessels were joined by two more boats and returned to Costa Rican waters, according to the diplomatic complaint.
The same day, Nicaraguan soldiers stationed on the Río San Juan delta spotted a Costa Rican Cessna airplane allegedly flying into Nicaraguan airspace at 2:30 p.m. The plane returned to Costa Rican airspace shortly after.
The Nicaraguan Foreign Ministry described the incursions as “serious events.”
“Both of these acts are provocations that do not contribute to frank and open dialogue,” the letter said. “This ministry demands that the authorities of the honorable government of the Republic of Costa Rica avoid acts of this nature and the serious [consequences] that could result from them.”
Officials from Costa Rica’s Foreign Ministry said the diplomatic protest was not sent via acceptable diplomatic channels.
Costa Rican officials denied that government boats had ventured into Nicaraguan waters, and added that Nicaragua’s complaint misidentified Punta Castilla as the two countries’ border.
According to the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry, Article 4 of the 1858 Cañas-Jerez Treaty says, “The Bay of San Juan del Norte will be common to both republics, and therefore will be to your advantage and obligation to join together to defend it.”
Costa Rica also denied sending a plane into Nicaraguan airspace.
“The Costa Rican government would like to remind Nicaragua that it protests alleged flyovers while maintaining military occupation of Costa Rican territory on Isla Portillos, despite the recommendations of the [Organization of American States] to remove troops from the area in question,” the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry response said.
During a visit to San Juan de Nicaragua in early November, many residents of the small town of 2,000 people told The Tico Times that relations between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans are cordial and calm. Locals often cross the Río San Juan and enter Nicaragua to buy goods and visit friends.
“There is a river between us, but that doesn’t mean there is any tension between us,” San Juan de Nicaragua Mayor Misael Morales said last month. “We just hope this whole thing blows over as soon as possible.”