Cablegate: The Rio San Juan Controversy: Still a Sore Point


DE RUEHSJ #1451/01 2132243
P 012243Z AUG 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

(1) SUMMARY: For years, the GOCR and the GON have sought an
agreement over the controversial interpretation of a treaty
subscribed by both nations in 1858. This treaty defined
Nicaraguan sovereignty over the Rio San Juan (which is for
the most, the border designation of most of Northern Costa
Rica), while giving the GOCR the right to navigate its waters
for the purpose of commerce and trade. Representatives of
both governments have been trying to clarify in a more
equitable manner this treaty and the boiling point was
reached when the GON did not allow GOCR police forces to
patrol the river for the protection of the Costarican
population. After several attempts to resolve this issue,
the GOCR sued in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in
Le Hague seeking to obtain sovereignty rights over their side
of the river. The case is currently pending. This controversy
is exacerbated by the influx of illegal Nicaraguans into
Costa Rica who are taxing its resources in social services,
and to whom the population of Costa Rica attributes the
increased incidence of crime and violence. The Nicaraguans
on the other side, feel they are discriminated against and
have brought claims of discrimination in the International
Court of Civil Rights. The controversy is not near an end,
and in the meantime, relations between the two countries are
strained. END SUMMARY.

(2) For some time now, the GOCR took a conciliatory approach
toward this controversy, fostering dialogue at the highest
levels. In the first half of this year, several officials of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), to include the Bruno
Stagno, the Minister himself, visited their counterparts in
Nicaragua and hoped to arrange a presidential meeting to
resolve the issue. At some time, these talks seemed to head
toward a meeting of the heads of state, MFA officials were
confident that the Rio San Juan controversy would be the main
topic of the talks. However, as of the end of June all hopes
of a meeting between them vanished.

(3) The last visit of Stagno to Nicaragua was in late May,
when he traveled to Rios for the opening of a GOCR consulate
there. MFA officiqals did travel during the month of June to
hold talks with their counterparts. Additionally, President
Arias sought to ease the strained ralations by inviting
several regional presidents to a celebration of the 20 years
of the signature of the Esquipulas peace treaty which
effectively ended the Nicaraguan war. The celebration is to
occur on August 8 in San Jose and so far, all Central
American presidents have confirmed attendance with the
exception of President Ortega of Nicaragua. As the main
reason for his non-attendance is the planned visit of the
president of Brazil, Inacio Lula da Silva to Nicaragua on
August 7. His excused absence has not helped to diffuse the
already strained relations between the two countries.

(4) On June 28 the ICJ heard the parties and signaled the
start of the written phase of the process, in which each
party will have six months (consecutive, starting with the
plaintiff, Costa Rica) to submit the closing arguments.
Immediately following that meeting, the Nicaraguan Minister
of Foreign Affairs, Samuel Santos in a telephone press
conference announced that they (the partied) had agreed to
wait until September in order to attempt again a mutually
agreed resolution to the controversy. He added that all due
consideration would be given to Costa Rica for the commercial
utilization of the river. The GOCR's response was swift and
on the 29 of June they announced they would be presenting
their case to the court without any further negotiations.

(5) A stumbling block in the relations has been the increased
influence of the President Chavez of Venezuela in the
industrial and economic fields in Nicaragua. The GOV has
awarded sizable credit to Nicaraguan businesses (Promised
economic help surpasses USD 400 million per year) and the GOV
has granted USD 32 million of debt relief to Nicaragua.
Additionally, they are jointly building an oil refinery in
Nicaraguan soil, capable of processing up to 150,000 barrels
of Venezuelan oil per day. Since then, President Ortega has
been more reluctant to meet his Costarican counterpart and
has gone as far as to encourage the GOCR to reject the
CAFTA-DR agreement (of which Nicaragua is already a
signatory) while offering all the free trade agreement
advantages to Costarican businesses that relocate to

(6) All of these have not seen with good eyes by the GOCR and
it seems that the possibility of a mutual agreement
concerning the Rio San Juan controversy has all but
disappeared. Costa Rica, in view of President Ortegas's
actions is changing his conciliatory approach to a more
pragmatic, rigid approach, thus favoring the judicial
resolution at the ICJ of their boundary dispute.

SAN JOSE 00001451 002 OF 002


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