San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Chinchilla calls Nicaragua’s admission over border wetlands incursion a 'moral victory' for Costa Rica

The International Court of Justice will continue to hear Costa Rica and Nicaragua present their cases through Thursday at The Hague, but Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla has already declared a “moral victory.”

While the president celebrated Nicaragua’s perceived admission of guilt, the world court also agreed to hear Nicaragua’s countersuit that Costa Rica’s construction of a road caused environmental damage to the San Juan River, which serves as part of the border between the feuding countries.

During the hearings, Nicaragua acknowledged that its personnel entered the restricted wetland, Isla Portillos, at the center of the protracted border dispute between the two countries, violating the world court’s precautionary measure for both sides to vacate the area.

Nicaragua stopped short, however, of claiming responsibility for the dredging of two more canals, discovered on Sept. 5 by Costa Rica, and accused Edén Pastora, the Nicaraguan former guerrilla leader known as “Comandante Cero” who oversaw the original dredging in 2010, of acting alone. 

“Costa Rica has not provided any evidence to support its argument of irreparable harm,” said Nicaragua’s representative, U.S. attorney Paul S. Reicher.

Nicaragua argued that additional precautionary measures were not necessary because it had already decamped.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo disagreed: “They said they have left, but we don’t believe them.”

Chinchilla said that Nicaragua’s behavior was “misleading” and its actions demonstrated “bad faith” toward the world court.

Nicaragua will present its countersuit to the court the first week of November, when it is expected to accuse Costa Rica of committing environmental damage to the San Juan River with the construction of Route 1856. 

Costa Rica started construction on the frontier road as a defensive measure in 2011 in response to Nicaragua’s first dredging attempts in the Isla Portillos wetland in October 2010.

Reicher said that construction of the border road was launched without an environmental impact study, and he then asked the court, ”What is causing irreparable damage: a 150-meter canal or a 160-kilometer road?”

Nicaragua’s agent before the world court, Carlos Arguello, added that the alleged damage in the disputed territory “is caused not only by erosion, but by the construction of Costa Rica’s road, which caused significant environmental damage.”

Nicaragua’s advisers also contend that Costa Rica failed to provide strong evidence at the hearing, and “there is no certainty that the photos presented on Monday belong to Nicaraguan territory, or that the canals have been artificially built.”

Reicher stated that aerial and satellite photographs provided by Costa Rica to Nicaragua in its initial complaint were not the same as those presented to the court during the opening statements on Monday.

The Costa Rican president rebuffed the accusation, claiming that the countersuit was a “distraction.”

“Nicaragua’s position on the issue is unclear,” Chinchilla said after a weekly Cabinet meeting in San José on Tuesday. She highlighted Nicaragua’s admission of guilt for entering the area and the fact that Pastora was being blamed. 

Speaking to the daily La Prensa, international law expert Mauricio Herdocia, however, claimed a “Nicaraguan victory” after the first round of hearings, and highlighted that presentations by his country’s legal team “were strong in the sense that there was no real risk of imminent harm,” which he said was supported by reports by the University of Costa Rica and other specialists, who concluded that damage would occur only if Nicaragua had continued the project and reached the [Caribbean].

“Nicaragua’s good faith was evident and no further measures are required, as the country already complied with all previous court orders,” he added.

Costa Rica remains skeptical. “Can we believe Nicaragua going forward?” Chinchilla asked. “I can’t.”

AFP and The Tico Times’ L. Arias contributed to this report.

Contact Zach Dyer at

Comments are closed.