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Cablegate: Costa Rican and Nicaraguan Foreign Ministers Meet,

VZCZCXYZ0047
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1665 2151454
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 031454Z AUG 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5696
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

UNCLAS SAN JOSE 001665

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN FOR JASON MACK

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PBTS PREL NU CS
SUBJECT: COSTA RICAN AND NICARAGUAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET,
AVOID CONTENTIOUS ISSUES

REF: A. SAN JOSE 1529

B. 05 SAN JOSE 1746

1. Summary: The Foreign Ministers of Costa Rica and
Nicaragua met in San Jose to discuss bilateral issues on July
26, 2006. They agreed to renew a Binational Commission that
has not met for nine years. They avoided discussion of the
two most contentious issues between the two countries, Costa
Rican navigation rights on the San Juan River and the alleged
mistreatment of Nicaraguan immigrants in Costa Rica. These
two issues have been brought before international tribunals,
but remain unresolved. End Summary.

2. Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno and his
Nicaraguan counterpart, Norman Caldera, had a three-hour
meeting in San Jose to discuss bilateral issues. Caldera was
supportive of the Arias Administration's recent efforts to
delay implementation of a tough immigration law passed by the
previous legislature and scheduled to take effect in August
2006 (reftel A). The bill's strong immigration enforcement
mandates are widely unpopular in Nicaragua. The Foreign
Ministers agreed to renew the Binational Commission meetings
between their two countries that have not occurred since
1997. According to Costa Rican media reports, the Ministers
avoided two of the most contentious issues that complicate
the relationship between their countries - Costa Rican
navigational rights on the San Juan River and Nicaraguan
complaints that their citizens face mistreatment and
discrimination in Costa Rica. These two issues have recently
pitted the countries against each other in international
tribunals.

3. Costa Rican navigational rights on the San Juan River,
which forms 80 miles of the eastern Costa Rican/Nicaraguan
border, have long been a point of dispute between the two
countries (reftel B). While there is no question that
sovereignty over the river and both banks belong to
Nicaragua, Costa Rica claims that a 1888 arbitration ruling
gives it the right of free passage. The point of friction
relates to whether Costa Rican police have the right to
travel from one post to another on the river while armed.
Nicaragua's view is that the movement of armed Costa Rican
security officials on the river directly impinges on its
sovereignty. Several years of wrangling over the issue led
Costa Rica to present its case before the International Court
of Justice in the Hague in September, 2005. Costa Rica wants
to have the case decided by third-party arbitration. The
dispute pits Nicaraguan nationalism against Costa Rica's
desire to police its northern border, a human, drug, and
arms-smuggling zone. The case is still under review by the
Hague.

4. On July 18, 2006 Nicaragua denounced Costa Rica at the
Interamerican Commission of Human Rights in Guatemala.
Claiming that its citizens living in Costa Rica face
xenophobia, discrimination, and prejudice, Nicaragua wants
the Commission to accept the petition for a full hearing at
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in San Jose.
Nicaragua used two recent and widely-publicized events to
bolster its claim. In the first incident, a Nicaraguan who
tried to unlawfully enter a house was mauled to death by two
guard dogs while seven Costa Rican public security officers
who witnessed the attack failed to intervene for over an
hour. In the second incident, five Nicaraguans exiting a bar
near San Jose were attacked, with one dying from stab wounds.
Both cases are still under investigation by Costa Rican
justice officials. Costa Rican representatives from the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs characterized the denunciation as
"bad faith" on the part of Nicaragua, pointing out that the
denunciation was filed before the Costa Rican judicial system
has reviewed the investigation results.

5. COMMENT: Relations between the two nations are generally
good, especially at the upper levels of government. Although
the respective governments apparently prefer to use
international tribunals, rather than direct negotiation, to
settle their differences, the reintroduction of the
Binational Commission is a good sign that may lead to
opportunities for the governments to settle differences in a
more direct manner in the future. END COMMENT
LANGDALE

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