Costa Rica concerned by Nicaragua’s interest in boosting its military, says minister

September 5, 2014
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Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel González Sanz on Thursday expressed concern over the country’s chilly relations with the Sandinista administration of Daniel Ortega to the north. González spoke about Costa Rica-Nicaragua relations during a two-hour hearing at the Legislative Assembly’s International Affairs Commission.

“Relations with Nicaragua have been deteriorating, and as President Luis Guillermo Solís recently said, they are cold – respectful, but cold,” González told lawmakers.

Among González’s main concerns is the Nicaraguan military’s interest in boosting naval and air assets with support from Russia, a situation former Costa Rican Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo criticized last May.

“A country can spend its budget however it wants, but we believe the situation [the further militarization of Nicaragua] is a cause for concern, not only for us, but for the entire region,” González said.

Last year, international news media reported on Nicaragua’s interest in updating its naval fleet to “safeguard maritime territory.” Events included visits by Nicaraguan naval officers to Russian shipyards and the acquisition of eight new gunships.

“We ask the international community – particularly our friends – to stay informed on what is happening in Nicaragua,” the minister said.

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González also cited Nicaragua’s claim of rights over the Río Colorado, located entirely within Costa Rican territory, and the northwestern Costa Rican province of Guanacaste.

“These issues are not to be taken lightly,” González said.

The minister added that the Solís administration is increasingly concerned about the potential environmental consequences of the construction of an interoceanic canal in Nicaragua, which calls for an new airport near Costa Rica’s border that is large enough for military aircraft. González fears the airport – to be built in Nicaragua’s southwestern department of Rivas – could lead to “frequent violations of Costa Rica’s airspace.”

Costa Rica also opposes Ortega’s decision to send next year 15 more dredgers to the Río San Juan, which forms a natural border between the two countries. Tico officials warn that dredging could have significant environmental consequences in the area, but to date, Nicaragua has not shared environmental impact assessments of the project, if they exist.

González said one dredger already had caused environmental damage in Costa Rica, confirmed by international experts from the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, or Ramsar.

“The announcement [of 15 more dredgers] is deeply troubling, and it constitutes an open violation of provisional measures set by the International Court of Justice, which ordered Nicaragua to stop all dredging in the area,” the minister said.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua currently are arguing three legal disputes at The Hague-based world court. One involves the invasion by members of the Nicaraguan military of Isla Calero, a small, protected wetland that both countries claim as their own. Nicaragua filed a counterclaim against Costa Rica for the construction of a border road, known an Route 1856, that runs parallel to the San Juan River. Costa Rica then filed another claim over maritime limits. That case was prompted by Nicaragua’s efforts to grant oil-drilling concessions in a disputed area.

González told lawmakers that a final world court ruling on the the first two legal cases likely would take at least a year. The third case will take at least two years.

Members of the legislative commission responded to the testimony by unanimously approving a motion to support the Foreign Ministry’s efforts to mitigate the issues.

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