Costa Rica adds yet another claim to ongoing border dispute with Nicaragua

November 14, 2014

Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Manuel González on Thursday sent a formal protest to Managua after confirming evidence of logging on Costa Rican land by Nicaraguans traveling on the Río San Juan, a natural border between the two countries.

Nicaragua’s representative before the International Court of Justice, Carlos Argüello, dismissed the complaint, which alleges new land invasions and environmental damage in Costa Rican territory.

González on Thursday evening said officials from Costa Rica’s Public Security Ministry and border community residents had witnessed in recent days “Nicaraguans cutting trees on the right bank of the San Juan, where Costa Rican territory begins.”

He added that Costa Rica had not received any notification from Nicaraguan officials regarding the work. The minister called the development “unacceptable” and said a formal protest note had been sent to Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Samuel Santos.

“We want the Nicaraguan government to confirm if they ordered this work or not,” he said.

González said Costa Rican authorities are conducting surveillance patrols along the border, and any “foreigners with irregular immigration statuses” would be sent to court and prosecuted for environmental crimes.

Nicaragüa’s Argüello acknowledged in a television interview that some projects are being carried out along the river, but “Costa Rica cannot ban us from getting close [to the riverbank].” He said Nicaragua has sovereign rights over the San Juan, and the country is entitled to “clean it up.”

Argüello argued that Nicaragua was forced to clean up the San Juan “because soil from Costa Rican territory is blocking the river’s flow due to the construction by the Costa Rican government of a parallel road.” He alleged that Costa Rica has had a strategy in place since the mid-20th century of “tossing trees into the San Juan to accumulate sediment in order to extend [Costa Rica’s] territory to the north.”

Nicaragua has conducted dredging work on the San Juan since 2010. This year, the Sandinista government allocated $4 million to continue the dredging through 2015. Last August, Nicaraguan officials announced they would add 13 more dredging ships to the group of two already working on the river.

Both countries have accused each other of wrongdoing at the world court in The Hague, Netherlands, beginning in October 2010. Costa Rica accused Nicaragua of invading a territory that both countries claim as their own. Meanwhile, the court has ordered Nicaragua to withdraw entirely from the disputed border territory, known by Costa Ricans as Isla Calero or Isla Portillos. Last February, Costa Rica filed another claim over maritime limits after Nicaragua attempted to grant oil-drilling concessions in a disputed marine area.

Rulings on all of the complaints – including Nicaragua’s allegations against Costa Rica of environmental damage caused by the construction of a 160-kilometer road parallel to the San Juan – are still pending.

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