San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua confident of win at The Hague

MANAGUA – Nicaraguan environmentalists and academics are already celebrating early victory in The Hague following the first two days of legal arguments before the International Court of Justice in the border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

“The arguments presented by Nicaragua were overwhelming and well presented and made Costa Rica’s foreign minister doubt his own belligerent position,” said renowned Nicaraguan conservationist and presidential advisor Jaime Incer. “I think that in the first round, Nicaragua refuted Costa Rica’s phantom arguments, and that gives us lots of hope.”

Costa Rica, he added, was “surprised” by the “brilliant” presentation by Nicaraguan representative Carlos Argüello.

“(The Ticos) have the concept that here in Nicaragua everyone is stupid, and they are the only intelligent ones. Just like here in Nicaragua we have the concept that Costa Ricans are not brave,” Incer said. “But based on that concept, Costa Rica didn’t expect us to have such a substantial and intelligent defense. So I think they are going to have to change their tactic, now that they’ve seen we have scientific, technical and legal arguments.”

Incer claims the real dispute over the San Juan is not about the three-square kilometers of contested swampland that Nicaragua is trying to reclaim, rather Costa Rica’s objection to Nicaragua dredging the river to recover the historic water flow that is currently diverted south into Costa Rica’s Río Colorado.

Incer also dismissed the findings from the recent report issued by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, which blamed Nicaragua for deforesting the area and causing environmental damages to clear an artificial canal as part of its river-dredging efforts.

“The (Ramsar) report was very superficial because they didn’t conduct any site inspection,” Incer told The Nica Times on Tuesday. “The report has no validity, and Nicaragua has asked Ramsar to come and visit the area to see how things really are, rather than unilaterally responding to the positions of one country.”

Incer also dismissed a series of satellite images released this week by UNITAR-UNOSAT, a U.N. environmental assessment body, which apparently shows deforestation caused by Nicaragua to cut an artificial channel from the San Juan River to Portillo Lagoon.

“There was no cutting of forest, what there was was a reopening of a water channel that was filled with sedimentation,” Incer said. “And, sure, to reopen it they had to extract mud and roots, but the environmental impact is minimum and ridiculous because Costa Rica has destroyed 200 kilometers of the San Juan River basin and now they are fighting for 800 meters of a reopened canal in Nicaraguan waters.”

Incer, the 2007 award winner of the National Geographic Society’s Leadership Prize in Conservation, has long maintained that the real damage to the Río San Juan has been caused by Costa Rica, not Nicaragua. The environmentalist says deforestation and uncontrolled development on the Costa Rican side of the watershed has resulted in massive sediment flow into the San Juan River, reducing the historic mouth of the river to one-third its original size 150 years ago.

“Costa Rica is using the Río San Juan as a gutter for its contaminants. And they’ve been doing it for more than 50 years,” Incer told The Nica Times in a previous interview last November.

Other Nicaraguan environmentalists are also celebrating Nicaragua’s defense this week in The Hague.

Ecologist Kamilo Lara blamed Costa Rica of trying to create an international conflict over the river by using “manipulative and arbitrary accusations.”

Costa Rica’s position is “more banana leaf than nacatamal,” Lara said, employing a folksy Nicaraguan metaphor to describe an argument without substance.

Adrian Mesa, executive director of the Nicaraguan University Network for Environmental Rights, accused the Ticos of having a “double standard” when it comes to conservation. He said that following the Tico government’s efforts to award a gold mine concession at Las Crucitas – a project that conservationists on both sides of the border warned would be devastating – Costa Rica’s attempts to defend the environment in the river basin now are “implicitly contradictory.”

Mesa said environmental groups in Nicaragua are not backing the Sandinista administration of Daniel Ortega for political reasons, but because “in this instance the government is right.”

The Ortega government has said it will respect the decision by the world court, expected as early as Friday.

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