Could Higgins have changed the course of a bitter river dispute?
If the President had visited Nicaragua, perhaps he could have mediated in its border dispute with Costa Rica
President Higgins and Costa Rica’s president Laura Chinchilla walk to a joint news conference at the Presidential house in San Jose on October 28th. Mr Higgins largely steered clear of contentious political issues during his Latin American tour. Photograph: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters
Nicaragua and its southern neighbour Costa Rica are involved in a protracted dispute over their border. The President might have been able to help broker a compromise between his old buddy, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega, and Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla, one of the hosts on the tour.
The row between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over an area of wetlands south of the San Juan river, the border between the countries, has verged on the bizarre at times since the dispute began three years ago.
Costa Rica does not dispute that a 19th-century agreement grants Nicaragua rights over the river but it is up in arms after Nicaraguan soldiers crossed the river and pitched up on the disputed land.
A naturally occurring problem with the river is that it silts up. When it began dredging the river in 2010, Costa Rica claimed that Nicaragua had committed environmental crimes. The dredging led both countries to send security forces to the disputed area near the mouth of the river at the Caribbean, which is known to Costa Rica as Isla Portillos or Isla Calero, and to Nicaragua as Harbour Head.
Google Maps border
A Nicaraguan commander claimed in 2010 that the version of the border on Google Maps justified the country’s raid into what Costa Rica says is its territory.
Not wanting to be drawn into the dispute, Google consulted the US state department and conceded there was error “in the compilation of the source data, by up to 2.7km [1.7 miles]” on its map, putting the disputed land in Costa Rica and putting Nicaragua in the wrong. Google said the map would be corrected to take account of a demarcation laid out in an 1897 arbitration of a previous border treaty.
Nicaragua challenged Google not to accept Costa Rica’s request to modify the border, believing the internet giant’s first drawing of it was “correct”.
More recently, Costa Rica, using satellite images and aerial photographs, has claimed Nicaragua is responsible for dredging two more canals in Costa Rican territory designed to link the San Juan river with the Caribbean.
In September, the dispute between the countries turned personal as former Sandinista guerrilla leader Edén Pastora, who is leading the Nicaraguan government’s excavation of the river, exchanged insults with Costa Rican communications minister Carlos Roverssi in television interviews. Pastora, also known as Comandante Cero, responded to images of the dredging by labelling Chinchilla and administration officials “crazy and liars”, claiming that the country’s statements were “mere inventions”. He claimed that the two new canals did not exist and there was only one canal, which was “naturally formed by recent rains in the area”.