Despite the negative publicity he’s received over the affair, Edén Pastora promises that his Nicaraguan dredging project on the San Juan River, begun last year, will move forward. A second dredge is now in place, and Pastora says two more may be on the way by the end of the month. When completed, the shallow, muddy river will be transformed into a navigable waterway for larger boats, and Costa Ricans, says Pastora, will be grateful.
“Right now [Costa Ricans] want to kill me, but afterward they will call me a hero,” Pastora, who was also known as “Comandante Cero” (Commander Zero) during the Sandinista revolution in the 1970s and ’80s, told The Tico Times during a recent interview (TT, Feb. 18).
While both countries’ leaders await a ruling at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Netherlands, which could take years, President Laura Chinchilla took another shot at Pastora with a Feb. 15 opinion piece published in The Miami Herald, in which Chinchilla said Pastora “resorted to an incorrect Google map to support the occupation” of the Isla Calero (see story Page 6). Pastora denied to The Nica Times that he used Google maps to determine the border location in the (NT, Nov. 12, 2010).
“(Chinchilla) is someone that we as Nicaraguans respect a great deal,” Pastora said. “I’m astonished that Costa Ricans have put themselves in position to make a fool out of her.”
Pastora recently spoke with The Tico Times at the Río Indio Lodge in the small Nicaraguan village of San Juan del Nicaragua, near the border.
What is the motivation for the dredging? Is it tourism?
The fundamental reason for the cleaning of the river is for sovereignty. Another reason is for tourism. The other is for cultural, economic and social development. And when the river is completely clean, the ones who are going to have more tourism are the Ticos. They are better versed and more able to manage the science of tourism. Ticos should be thrilled! They should be helping us clean the river. This is why when Ticos are navigating and using a cleaner river, they are going to call me a hero.
Look at (former Central American general and politician) Francisco Morazón. They killed him, executed him. Afterwards he was declared a hero. Look at (General José María) Cañas. They killed him and afterwards named a city after him. Look at (former Costa Rican President Juan Rafael) Mora. They killed him and afterwards named a mountain Mora. Look at (former Costa Rican President Braulio) Carrillo. They executed him and then they named a port after him, Puerto Carrillo.
Right now they want to kill me but afterwards they will call me a hero.
It seems that on the Nicaraguan side of the river, people are excited about the opportunity for more tourism in their towns. On the Costa Rican side of the river, they don’t seem to think that way.
I am going to tell you one thing that Costa Ricans must know. There are more habitants on the Costa Rican side of the Río San Juan than on our side. They are going to benefit from the dredging. There are going to be Ticos on the river that are much happier than the Ticos in the Central Valley (laughs).
The Ticos on the river are going to benefit. The Ticos in the Central Valley are going to benefit as well, however they have yet to understand that they are going to benefit. They have been misled and cannot see the truth. The people that are going to most benefit from the dredging of the river are the Ticos. At least in tourism.
If the The Hague decides that Costa Rica is right, and that Nicaragua did indeed illegally enter Costa Rica territory, will the dredging project continue?
If The Hague says that Costa Rica is right, we are going to accept it immediately. We will continue to clean the river according to what The Hague rules, which is our border.
But if The Hague says the border begins at Harbor Head and the first tributary, that’s where we’re going to continue making the river.
The problem is that Costa Rica says that if The Hague doesn’t rule in favor of them, they will be a demoralized nation. So, why the hell did they even take it to The Hague? Why did they choose to go to The Hague? Why would they choose to risk that demoralization?
So are you going to continue to cut from the Laguna de los Portillos through the Isla Calero (or Harbor Head) to join the river?
Our plan is to clean the river from the first tributary, which is referred to as the border by the Alexander ruling. According to that ruling, the border begins at the first tributary. We plan to return the river as it was 200 years ago. We plan to return it to how it was when the Jerez-Cañas treaty was created. It’s very simple. I don’t know why it scares the Costa Ricans so much.
If you had to say something to the people of Costa Rica, as well as to the Costa Rican press, what would you say?
What would I say to the Costa Rican press? Don’t continue poisoning the minds of Costa Ricans.
What was your opinion of the arrest warrant issued by Costa Rica?
Something as stupid as that is as stupid as the person who said that there was going to be a canal built to connect the rivers of San Carlos, Sarapiquí and the Río Colorado.
I am not the one giving orders in Nicaragua.
Only (former Nicaraguan President Anastasio) Somoza and the government of Chinchilla have set out to arrest Edén. (Laughs) In my life, I only remember Somoza and now Chinchilla, ordering the capture of Edén Pastora. And Somoza, well, now he is gone from Nicaragua. It makes me laugh. It’s crazy.
Somoza in Nicaragua, ok. But Chinchilla? Imagine. Can you imagine if a government representative from Nicaragua issued a warrant for someone in Costa Rica? It’s just crazy. And, the reason they did it was because of a complaint from a drug trafficker from Finca Aragón.
The first news in Costa Rica about the problem was that members of the Nicaraguan army entered onto a farm in Sarapiquí or in San Carlos. They never knew that the complaints came from a swamp here. So when Costa Rica heard that Nicaraguan military was present, wherever they were present, Sarapiquí, San Carlos, Guápiles or wherever, the people of Costa Rica became very angry. All because of a complaint by a drug trafficker.
No one really seems to know how this conflict will end. In your opinion, what is the best possible result and the worst possible result of this conflict for Nicaragua?
The most positive result would be for The Hague to say that the Alexander ruling and Jerez-Cañas Treaty agree with our claim, and that we continue cleaning the river as planned. If Harbor Head is declared as Nicaraguan territory, that would be the optimal result.
The worst would be if The Hague says that Nicaragua is wrong and that Costa Rica is right. But even that isn’t that severe. It wouldn’t really affect us that much.
What would Nicaragua do if The Hague did rule in favor of Costa Rica? Would you have to pay for the damages?
We haven’t caused any damage. We haven’t done any damage.
Cutting down poles that don’t serve any purpose, not even for firewood, that isn’t damage.
What about the trees near the Laguna de los Portillos that have been cut down or land that has been altered by the dredging?
No, all of the trees cut down have been on the Nicaraguan side. But, of the millions and millions of trees in the world, the Ticos have cut down more than we have. Go down the Río San Juan and look to at the Costa Rica side. They have cut down millions and millions of trees.
What are 172 trees cut down in comparison to millions and millions of trees that Costa Ricans have cut down along the river? They are the ones that have done ecological damage for years. For decades.
Knowing what has happened during the last few months, if you had to start the project all over again, would you do anything different?
I would do exactly the same thing. What I am doing is in accord with the rulings of the treaties. I am sure that I haven’t caused any damage to Costa Rica. No personal damage, governmental damage, damage to the people, or to the environment.
It surprises me that Costa Rica makes so much noise about this but continues to praise Oscar Arias as the Nobel Peace Prize winner despite the scandal of the Crucitas gold mine, or the Caldera Highway, or all the other scandals he’s involved in.
And we are the ones paying the price in the press because we are trying to improve the lives of the Nicaraguan people.