As the border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua went before the International Court of Justice this week in the Netherlands, Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla and Public Security Minister José María Tijerino took steps at home that indicate an increased concern for security along the border.
Last weekend, Tijerino announced that work had begun in late December to enhance security along three Costa Rican rivers that join the Río San Juan, which serves as the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The Costa Rican government will set up heliports where the Colorado, Saripiquí and San Carlos rivers join the Río San Juan. Tijerino said the heliports will be used to facilitate government air traffic and to monitor security along the border. The only existing airstrip near the border is located in Barra del Colorado, in the northeast corner of the Limón province on the Colorado River.
“If Costa Rica doesn’t take seriously the need to protect its territory, not only we are going to continue living in situations as terrible as the last few months, but also drug trafficking will continue unabated,” Chinchilla said Tuesday.
The Public Security Ministry also announced plans to install fences around the border’s river deltas to control access in an around the area. New roads will provide better access to border regions. According to the Public Works Ministry, an estimated $2 million will be invested on infrastructure projects to facilitate travel to border communities near the conflict zone, which are currently only accessible by boat.
“We will do whatever it takes,” Tijerino told the daily La Nación. “The government has decided to defend territorial integrity. We will be thorough with our defense efforts to defend the sovereignty of national territory.”
Tijerino added that the added security measures would be permanent, and any unidentified boats entering Costa Rican territory would be intercepted.
In addition to the new security measures along the border, Chinchilla told members of the press on Tuesday that a potential “national defense tax” may be created to pay for the cost of the increased border security efforts.
Chinchilla said that the number of police forces on the border will likely increase in the next two months. In 2008, former President Oscar Arias reduced the number of border police.
“This government’s goal is to have a trained police force along the border,” Chinchilla said Tuesday. “To do so, it is very probable that part of the upcoming fiscal reform will include a national defense tax to fund these efforts.”
In many border towns, including Barra del Colorado, police presence is scarce in normal times, and those officers that are working there say they often feel powerless to stop crime. Last October, the police force in Barra del Colorado dropped from three to two for a population of 3,000 residents (TT, Oct. 15, 2010).
The Costa Rican plan to boost border security comes only weeks after Nicaraguan lawmakers passed a defense-law package that included a National Defense Law, National Security Law and Border Law. Those laws could result in further militarization of the Nicaraguan side of the border (NT, Dec. 14, 2010).
Will Court Ruling Help?
On Tuesday, Costa Rica presented its case against Nicaragua at the world court in The Hague. The Costa Rican delegation presented satellite imagery contained in a report by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Costa Rica commissioned the UNITAR report late last year, and shared it with a handful of Costa Rican environmentalists who signed non-disclosure forms that prevented them from commenting before the case went to trial.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro hoped input from local environmentalists would help boost the country’s case against Nicaragua’s destruction of protected wetlands near the border (TT, Dec. 24, Dec. 17, 2010).
The UNITAR report compares satellite images of the Isla Calero during a time frame from 1979 to 2010 to reveal recent environmental alteration to the region, while also alluding to potential effects of the river dredging.
“There is apparently an area of active land removal on a [bend] of the San Juan River approximately 400 meters to the south of the newly created channel,” the report says. “If the removal continues, it could redirect the flow of San Juan approximately 175 meters to the west, likely increasing river flow velocity downstream; such an increase in water velocity could also have the effect of accelerating erosion along the newly created river channel to the north.”
The report noted that a morphological review of the area was conducted in 1979, 1986, 2005, and from 2007 to 2010. The images show that the area had been relatively stable during the last 30 years, with few indications of change until the late months of 2010.
“Based on an analysis of satellite imagery recorded on Nov. 19 and Dec. 14, 2010, there is strong evidence that a new river channel leading from the San Juan River to the Los Portillos lagoon was constructed between August and November 2010.”
Castro posted on his Facebook page that “there aren’t rivers, nor have there ever been rivers between the San Juan and the Los Portillos lagoon on the Isla Calero.”
Nicaragua also presented its case, claiming that Costa Rica “creates a dispute” every time Nicaragua begins work on the Río San Juan” (see separate story, P. 7). Carlos Argüello, a member of the Nicaraguan delegation, said undefined international borders caused the dispute.
After Tuesday’s hearings, Castro said he was confident Costa Rica had presented a strong case during its first day of court.
“We laid out our arguments,” he said. “There has been irreversable damage done to Costa Rican territory and we feel the court has heard our arguments. Our position is very consistent, as it has been since this issue began.”
President Chinchilla agreed: “The more the world knows about this situation, the more the world will agree with Costa Rica,” she said.