Verbal Sparring Continues Over San Juan River

November 4, 2005

NICARAGUAN President EnriqueBolaños accused Costa Rica on Mondayof having “an appetite” for the San JuanRiver, which separates Nicaragua fromCosta Rica. Relations between the twocountries have become strained sinceCosta Rica turned to the InternationalCourt of Justice at The Hague, in theNetherlands, to resolve the long-standingdispute over Costa Rica’s navigationrights to the river, which belongs toNicaragua (TT, Sept. 30).“Costa Rica historically used the SanJuan River to export its coffee and importthings that it needed. It has always had anappetite for the San Juan River and for(Lake Nicaragua),” Bolaños said in aninterview with local media.President Abel Pacheco respondedTuesday at the press conference followinghis weekly Cabinet meeting by sayingthat Costa Rica only wants its legal rightsto use the river. Pacheco attributedBolaños’ statement to stress, saying theNicaraguan leader is under “terrible pressure”and has been battered by “naturaldisasters and political hurricanes.”“I believe that, deep down, donEnrique knows Costa Rica doesn’t havethe least interest in taking over the SanJuan River,” Pacheco said.Since Costa Rica announced it wasturning to the international court,Nicaragua has reinstated a 20% tax ontruckers bringing in Costa Rican goods;required that all boats navigating the riverdisplay the Nicaraguan flag; and requiredthat Costa Ricans obtain a $25 visa toenter the country. Nicaragua has alsothreatened to impose a 35% tariff on allCosta Rican goods brought intoNicaragua and, according to a report inthe daily La Nación, Nicaraguan officialshave been informing Costa Ricans in theborder zone that they will soon berequired to have a passport and $20 visato navigate the river.Nicaraguan officials say the measuresare reciprocation for what Costa Ricacharges Nicaraguans to enter ($20), andto pay for the costs associated with arguingthe case in The Hague.The dispute centers on differing interpretationsof treaties signed by both sidesin the late 1800s that give ownership of theriver to Nicaragua but allow Costa Rica tonavigate it. Nicaragua claims Costa Ricacan only use the river for transportingcommercial goods, and in 2001 prohibitedCosta Rican police from navigating thewaterway with arms. Costa Rica claims itspolice need to use the river to arrive atposts that are difficult to reach by land, andit has the right to travel the river for commercial purposes and services.In 2002, the two sides agreed to athree-year negotiation period whichexpired this year, prompting CostaRica’s decision to turn to theInternational Court (TT, Sept. 30).

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