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Cablegate: Costa Rica and Nicaragua: Uneasty Neighbors

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHSJ #1768/01 2672238
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 242238Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8935
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHDG/AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO PRIORITY 1560
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0758

C O N F I D E N T I A L SAN JOSE 001768

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/21/2017
TAGS: CS NU PGOV PREF PREL XK
SUBJECT: COSTA RICA AND NICARAGUA: UNEASTY NEIGHBORS

Classified By: DCM PETER BRENNAN PER 1.5(d)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Costa Rican-Nicaraguan relations remain
strained from a GOCR perspective. This was only slightly
improved by Presidents Arias and Ortega meeting in Managua on
August 21, although Arias reportedly returned with a written
commitment from Ortega to support Costa Rica,s UNSC election
in October. Ortega,s ties to Venezuela,s Hugo Chavez and
his interest in poaching business from Costa Rica should
CAFTA not be ratified here have not helped. The
long-standing Rio San Juan dispute and concerns about
Nicaraguan immigration also color GOCR thinking. As long as
the two historic contenders remain in office, bilateral
relations will remain cool and correct at best, but the GOCR
will continue working to keep relations as "normal" as
possible. END SUMMARY.

OLD CONCERNS; OLD RIVALS
========================

2. (SBU) Two familiar and long-standing reasons continue to
cloud Costa Rican-Nicaraguan relations. One is the Rio San
Juan controversy, which is now in the hands of the
International Court of Justice. The other is the continued
migration to Costa Rica of Nicaraguans, which may number as
many as 500,000, nearly half probably illegal. Costa Ricans
also continue to blame Nicaraguan immigrants (unjustly) for
the rise in the rate of violent crime and insist that
Nicaraguans take jobs from Costa Ricans.

3. (C) Added to these ingredients is the chilly personal
relationship between the two presidents. As Antonio Alarcon,
FM Stagno,s COS describes it, the two leaders are simply
"carrying too much historical baggage" for bilateral ties to
improve much, as long as they are both in office. Sergio
Ugalde and Arnold Brenes, the MFA,s veterans Nicaragua
watchers, claim that Ortega still resents Arias for taking
all the credit for the Esquipulas peace accords in 1986 and
for contributing to Ortega,s electoral defeat in 1990.

4. (C) According to Alarcon, Arias believes he has made his
mark in Central America, so his current foreign policy focus
is broader, more global. The president is therefore not
giving as much attention to immediate regional issues. The
one exception is Panama, a neighbor "carrying less baggage"
and therefore more receptive to improved relations with Costa
Rica. "Things are done differently there," Alarcon said
(i.e., easier than with Nicaragua). He indicated improved
ties with Panama would remain an Arias administration
priority.

NEW WORRIES
===========

5. (C) Alarcon recalls that Ortega had considerable public
support within Costa Rica in the 1980,s. Any vestige of
that support today is being eroded by concerns that Ortega is
deliberately courting businesses to leave Costa Rica should
CAFTA not be ratified here. (COMMENT: Althought we have seen
no signs of active Gov,t recruitment in Costa Rica, we
continue to hear anecdotal information from investors and
business people confirming this. END COMMENT.) Ortega,s
"unpredictability," supporting CAFTA one day and ALBA the
next, plus his "parroting" of Hugo Chavez, words and
policies, also trouble Costa Ricans in and out of government,
according to Alarcon. Ugalde and Brenes agree, adding that
Nicaragua,s opening with Iran, continued close ties to Cuba,
and potential interest in re-arming and further militarizing
worry the GOCR.

MEETING IN MANAGUA: LET,S GET IT OVER WITH
=====================================

6. (C) When finally Arias and Ortega met in Managua on August
21st, Arias,s visit to Managua in August, arranged by
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo to celebrate the 20th
anniversary of the Esquipulas accords, was thus in a "let,s
get this over with" vein, Alarcon said. The GOCR had reached
out several times before to schedule a summit, other MFA
sources told us, but all turned into a kabuki dance of
cancellations or "indefinite" postponements. Despite
cabinet-level visits, including by FM Stagno June 14-15 to
inaugurate the Costa Rica consulate in Rivas, and subsequent
visits at the end of June by MFA Nicaraguan desk personnel,
the GOCR made little progress in getting the two leaders
together. Then, Ortega snubbed Arias by declining to attend
the Esquipulas commemoration in San Jose on August 7.

7. (C) Arias expected some sort of Ortega "show," and
gritted his teeth to put up with it, Alarcon told us. (In
this case it was Ortega announcing only the day before that
he would meet privately with Arias, then picking him up at
the airport and driving him in his own vehicle to their
meeting venue.) Arias,s public remarks were deliberately
flowery, in an effort to reach out to the Nicaraguan people.

ONE TAKEAWAY: PLEDGE OF UNSC ELECTION SUPPORT
=========================================

8. (C) Little came from the August 21 meeting, nor did the
GOCR expect much, according to Alarcon. The binational
commission will resume meeting, and Ortega is supposed to
make a reciprocal visit to Costa Rica sometime between
November 2007 and January 2008. The commission meetings are
to resume with a session in Managua in the second quarter of
2008, with immigration, border development and Central
American integration on the agenda. The MFA reports,
however, that Ortega did provide Arias a written (and
not-publicized) commitment of Nicaraguan support for Costa
Rica,s UNSC election in October.

A LOCAL NICARAGUAN VIEW
=======================

9. (C) Nicaraguan Ambassador Harold Rivas confirmed to us
that the Binational Commission will resume late this year or
early in 2008, and that Ortega is to participate. Rivas
cautioned that this does not signal the dawning of improved
bilateral relations, but it does underscore a willingness to
begin to work towards improvement. Looking ahead, Rivas
pointed to gradually increasing Nicaraguan migration to El
Salvador (because of CAFTA-fueled growth) and Panama (because
of the new canal construction) in pursuit of better paying
jobs. If this trend continues, migration to Costa Rica and
all its attendant problems might be eased, and relations
improved, he predicted.

COMMENT
=======

10. (C) The GOCR seems to be maintaining low expectations for
relations with Nicaragua. Historical and personal
entanglements, primarily those between Ortega and Arias, will
continue to complicate the picture. Personal relations
between the two old rivals are unlikely to be warm,
especially as they both seek to adjust to a region that has
changed significantly since their heyday in the 1980,s.
Their initial meeting may have opened the way for some
thawing in official relations between the two countries, but
we expect relations overall to remain cool and correct.

LANGDALE
LANGDALE

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