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Border Spat Pits Costa Rica, Nicaragua Over Tourist Zone

By Adam Williams

Businessweek - Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla will lead a march today protesting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s bid to claim a tourist-rich province belonging to its southern neighbor.

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Chinchilla will join legislators, Cabinet members and protesters in a “march for the homeland” that begins in the town of Nicoya in the northwest province of Guanacaste. The province, home to some of Costa Rica’s most-visited beaches and hotels owned by Four Seasons Holdings Inc. and Hilton Worldwide Inc., is the country’s least populated and second-largest region, about the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Tensions between the Central American neighbors were heightened last week when Ortega said he may file a case with the International Court of Justice to “recover” Guanacaste, which he claimed was Nicaraguan territory. Guanacaste was annexed to form part of Costa Rica in 1824, about three years after Central America’s independence from Spain. The anniversary of the annexation is a Costa Rican holiday celebrated every July 25.

“We aren’t talking about a a tiny territory, we are talking about hundreds of kilometers,” Ortega said in an Aug. 13 speech. “This is something yet to be debated, and we should consider bringing a case to the International Court of Justice.”

Chinchilla, who is in the final year of her presidency, said Ortega’s threat ignored history and disrupted the “beautiful friendship” between Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans. Costa Rica issued a formal protest against the Nicaraguan government on Aug. 14.

“Traditional Enemy”

Costa Rica and Nicaragua have a history of border and territorial disputes. The ICJ ruled in 2011 that Nicaraguan soldiers had to evacuate a swath of land south of the San Juan River, which serves as the countries’ international border.

Ortega’s latest comments are meant to divert attention from Nicaragua’s $40 billion plan to build an inter-oceanic canal, according to Constantino Urcuyo, a political analyst at Ciapa, a policy research institute in San Jose, Costa Rica. Legislation granting a concession to build the canal was passed earlier this year by the Nicaraguan Congress, generating protests from opposition and environmental groups.

“Ortega has had a lot of opposition to the canal project and to calm it he looked for an easy target,” Urcuyo said in a phone interview from San Jose. “Every time Ortega needs to earn national support, he resorts to his traditional enemy.”

Officials at Nicaragua’s presidential palace didn’t respond to a message left by Bloomberg.

Costa Rica’s consulate in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, has been closed since Aug. 18, when protesters blocked its entrance, Ambassador Javier Sancho said in a phone interview.

“Some anti-Costa Rican sentiment has increased in recent days,” Sancho said. “Hopefully things will get back to normal shortly to the benefit of both the Costa Rican and Nicaraguan people.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Adam Williams in San Jose, Costa Rica at awilliams111@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net; Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

 

 

Border Bickering Over Guanacaste

Analyzing Nicaragua's Poker Face

Posted by Andrew Woodbury

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (right) and his wife, Rosario Murillo. Source: AFP/Juan Barreto

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega (right) and his wife, Rosario Murillo. Source: AFP/Juan Barreto

The soap opera that is the relationship between Costa Rica and Nicaragua took yet another turn for the bizarre last week. Less than a month after Ticos celebrated the annexation of their northwestern province of Guanacaste, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega threw everyone for a loop when he proclaimed his intention to reclaim the land that at one time belonged to Costa Rica’s northern neighbor.

The land now known as Guanacaste has almost as colorful a past as the two nations who continually engage in its custody battle. When Nicaragua and Costa Rica received independence from Spain in 1821, most of present day Guanacaste was in Nicaraguan territory. However, after Costa Rica aided its then ally in its National War of 1850, Nicaragua recognized Costa Rica’s annexation of Guanacaste as a thank you.

Sort of.

Parties on both sides still dispute the annexation. Some in Costa Rica say Guanacaste was never part of Nicaragua. Some counterparts in Nicaragua in turn argue that the province’s annexation in 1824 didn’t entail what Costa Rican officials thought it did. While ego may be more at play here than fact between the two rivals, the difficulty in finding the same argument twice is symbolic of the constant border spats between the two nations.

Ortega himself is a big point of frustration for Costa Rica. The renowned, socialist President of Nicaragua has sparked various border disputes over the years — the most prominent being over Isla Calero. Ortega has also continually accused Costa Rica of being unwilling to resolve border disputes diplomatically.

In reference to Guanacaste and his intention of taking matters to the International Court of Justice for a resolution, Ortega said last week “we are always willing to hold talks to search for an agreement, but as long as that path is not open and Costa Rica does not consider that a possibility, there is no other choice but to continue at the International Court of Justice.”

Despite the history of border bickering, the recent Guanacaste proclamations mark a new low in relations between the countries.

The question is, what does it mean? No one knows. Yet.

Some, like Nicaragua’s former foreign minister Francisco Xavier Aguirre Sacasa, say this is just another spat between the two nations that occurs every two or three years. Others think this is a precursor for bigger things to come.

Nicaragua has been picking up political momentum in recent months. With increased ties to political allies Iran and Venezuela, coupled with its mega-deal with Chinese investor Wang Jing to construct a Nicaraguan canal starting next year, its words are starting to have some beef behind them. Combine that with the still mysterious North Korean military ship that was intercepted, coming from Cuba, by Panama a few months ago, and the timing of Ortega’s Guanacaste declaration does have an odor to it.

If intimidation is the motive, Costa Rica isn’t taking the bait.

The initial response from Costa Rica has been strong and direct. As reported by the Tico Times, the Costa Rican Foreign Ministry sent a formal complaint to the Nicaraguan ambassador demanding that its northern neighbor “cease all intention to reclaim Costa Rican territory” and said Ortega’s declaration “severely damaged relations” between both countries.

Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla hasn’t backed down, either. In a statement released last week she described Ortega’s actions as “difficult to comprehend” and that “We do not accept talking to Nicaragua about Guanacaste. Costa Rica does not accept that they challenge its absolute rights over the province of Guanacaste.”

Whether this is simply an extension of ongoing border battles or is the first real attempt for Nicaragua to flex some new found muscle remains to be seen. What we do know is that it isn’t over.

Stay tuned. 

 Orignally published on the PanAmPost

About Andrew Woodbury

Originally from Toronto, Canada, Woodbury is the academic director of Global TESOL College Costa Rica, a show contributor on the Overseas Radio Network, and an independent writer based in Costa Rica. Follow him @A_W10.

 

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