Nicaragua government praises ‘balanced’ ruling in border dispute with Costa Rica

December 16, 2015

The Nicaraguan government said Wednesday that it will respect the final ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the country’s long-running border dispute with Costa Rica. Official government spokeswoman and first lady Rosario Murillo told El Nuevo Diario the government found the decision “balanced” and that it was pleased the court “has recognized our rights to dredge our San Juan River.”

The ICJ, based in The Hague, issued its final decision Wednesday in the border squabble between the neighboring countries, which started with a dispute over a 2.5-square-kilometer wetland area and morphed into a battle of accusations over alleged sedimentation in the San Juan River that runs along the border, navigation rights on the river and an artificial canal built through the wetland area, among other issues.

Nicaragua’s representative at the world court, Carlos Argüello, also called the decision “balanced in certain aspects.”

“It could have been better for us and it could have been better for Costa Rica,” Argüello told the government-allied El Nuevo Diario. “Now we have to try and coexist.”

Argüello said Nicaragua could claim victory in two of the three major elements of the international court case: recognition of Nicaragua’s rights to dredge the San Juan River and confirmation that Costa Rica violated its obligation to conduct an environmental impact study before building a road along the river’s bank.

He said the only adverse outcome for Nicaragua was the ICJ’s decision to grant Costa Rica sovereignty over the wetland territory known variably as Isla Calero, Isla Portillos or Harbour Head.

“As for the disputed territory, unfortunately, the court took the easiest decision. [Justices] did not accept Nicaragua’s petition to conduct inspections on site in order to verify that the natural canal links the area to our territory as described by the Alexander treaty,” Argüello told El Nuevo Diario, referring to an 1897 arbitration decision.

Other Nicaraguan news outlets painted a less rosy picture of the justices’ decision, focusing on the disputed territory. Daily La Prensa noted on its website that “Nicaragua lost almost 3 km of wetlands and must pay Costa Rica.”

Periódico Hoy ran with the headline “Isla Calero belongs to Costa Rica,” while news channel 100% Noticias highlighted the parts of the ruling that favor Costa Rica, namely the upholding of Costa Rica’s sovereignty over Isla Calero, Nicaragua’s failure to prove environmental damage caused by Costa Rica’s border road and confirmation of Nicaragua’s violation of Costa Rican sovereignty via the presence of unauthorized military and government personnel.

Below is a timeline of events in the Costa Rica–Nicaragua border dispute: 

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