San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Isla Calero

Costa Rica seeks $6 million in environmental damages from Nicaragua in border dispute

Costa Rica formally announced Tuesday it will seek more than $6 million in compensation from Nicaragua over environmental damages and other costs associated with Nicaragua’s illegal dredging of the Isla Calero wetlands in 2010.

The multi-million-dollar price tag on the damages to the wetlands near the Caribbean border of both countries comes after the International Court of Justice ruled in December 2015 that the 2.5-square-kilometer piece of land belongs to Costa Rica and that Nicaragua violated Costa Rica’s sovereignty when it dredged an artificial canal through Isla Calero, also known as Isla Portillos or Harbour Head Island.

Costa Rica’s ambassador to the Netherlands, Sergio Ugalde, presented the formal request for compensation to his Nicaraguan counterpart, Carlos Arguello, on Tuesday at The Hague, where the ICJ is located. The San José-based Fundación Neotrópica donated its services to the Foreign Ministry to estimate the value of the environmental damage.

“I hope Nicaragua responds positively to the serious and well-founded work done by Costa Rica,” Foreign Minister Manuel González said in a statement Tuesday, “so that both countries can close this chapter and, eventually, once again be good neighbors and brothers without the need to return to the International Court of Justice.”

But a quick return to fraternal relations might still be a ways off, according to Carlos Cascante, director of the School of International Relations at the National University.

Cascante said that the decision to publicize the requested amount of the indemnity months before Nicaragua’s presidential elections in November could make it difficult to proceed with negotiations between the two countries. He said it would be in the interest of President Daniel Ortega, who’s seeking reelection, to make the requested $6 million a campaign issue and thwart the negotiations.

Publicizing the indemnity could also reflect poorly on the government’s bargaining abilities in the long run, he said. The amount and method of payment for the damages is a negotiation between both parties and Costa Rica will almost certainly get less than the $6 million it’s asking — unless the court decides otherwise.

Both sides have another six months to come to an agreement on the amount and method of payment, according to the Court’s 2015 ruling. If they can’t reach an agreement, the court will determine the amount.

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

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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