Footage of the Nicaraguan dredge on the Río San Juan. The machine comes into view at the 20-second mark of the video. Nicaragua plans to send two more dredges to the area in order to complete the project.
Edén Pastora (blue shirt) supervises the dredging of the Río San Juan. Tensions on the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border grew Thursday evening after Nicaraguans began dredging the river, which lies on the countries’ border. Costa Rican authorities are accusing the neighboring country of dumping sediments on their side while residents of the area have reported Nicaraguan intrusion.
Marco Reyes, owner of a 210 hectare farm on the Costa Rican side of the Río San Juan, told The Tico Times on Thursday that Edén Pastora, well known in Nicaragua as Comandante Cero, a hero of the Sandinista Revolution, entered his property this week and announced that the farm was the property of Nicaragua. Reyes, who is a Costa Rican citizen, said that since he told Pastora that the farm was the property of a Costa Rican, some of the farm’s employees have been beaten, several of the farm’s cows have been slaughtered and two of his workers have gone missing.
“Mr. Pastora told us that the land belonged to Nicaragua and that they would need it to complete the dredging of the Río San Juan,” Reyes told The Tico Times. “We’ve told them that this is Costa Rican territory but they are ignoring us. They are pulling up trees and killing our animals. They are following through with their plan to dredge the river on our property.”
Reyes also said that his property contains the large poles (mojones) that indicate the international boundary between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. He says that although he has not been to the location on his property to observe the status of the markers, he assumes they have been removed as well.
“If they are pulling up our trees along the river, they have to pull out the mojones as well,” Reyes said.
Reyes’ complaint is the most egregious example of the border violations that have reportedly occurred this week along the Río San Juan, the river that serves as the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Several other complaints have been filed with National Police and legislators about the Nicaraguan military entering Costa Rican territory since the dredging of the Río San Juan began Monday, near the town of San Juan del Norte on Nicaragua’s southern Caribbean coast. Nicaragua is dredging the Río San Juan to reduce sediment buildup and improve the flow of the river, reportedly to improve the flow of water to a planned $600 million hydroelectric plant near the southern Nicaraguan town of El Castillo.
The Reyes family, which hired a lawyer and filed a complaint with the Security Ministry this week, says they have yet to receive any government response to their complaint.
“We’re worried,” Reyes said. “They are killing our animals and threatening our workers and my family. Mr. Pastora is very well known in Nicaragua and is a known friend of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. At this point, we can’t do anything but wait for help. We plan on filing a complaint with the Comptroller General’s Office tomorrow.”
A Concerned Legislator
Claudio Monge, a legislator with the Citizen’s Action Party (PAC), says he traveled the Río San Juan last week as a tourist, without announcing his occupation. He said he talked with people in the northeast town of Barra del Colorado as well as along the Costa Rican side of the Río San Juan.
“Everyone in that area of the country is concerned about the effects of the dredging of the river, except for the members of the Legislative Assembly,” Monge said. “I don’t think people understand how important that part of the country is. But the dredging of the river isn’t only going to affect that area; it’s going to affect the environment of the entire northern zone of the country.”
Monge said that when he returned from his trip along the river, he announced the concerns of the people along the river to other members of the Legislative Assembly, but received little response or encouragement.
“I was told that because there are so many legislators traveling in China, we should stay here in case we needed on the floor of the legislature instead of taking a group of legislators to the river,”
The Costa Rican Response On Thursday night, the foreign minister’s office and the Security Ministry announced that a formal protest had been submitted to the Nicaraguan government requesting an immediate halt to the damaging activities caused by the dredging of the river. It was also announced that members of the National Police, Foreign Ministry and Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET) have been ordered to arrive in the area as quickly as possible.
“A few minutes ago, we spoke with the Nicaraguan Ambassador to Costa Rica to inform him of the protest and of the concern of the government and the Republic of Costa Rica regarding the violation and disturbance that Nicaragua has caused in our territory,” said Interim Foreign Minister Marta Núñez.
Security Minister José María Tijerino, who was raised in Nicaragua, announced that photos and videos taken by the ministry confirmed that the dredging of the river taking place very close to Costa Rican territory and that the process was pushing sediment onto the riverbank in Costa Rican territory. Tijerino also confirmed that residents on the Costa Rican side of the river had presented “clear reports” of disturbances to their land and goods caused by the dredging.
“Yesterday we flew a helicopter over the area with several members of the ministry and took pictures and videos of the dredging process,” Tijerino said. “Today we reviewed the photos and video and it is evident that the dredging is taking place very close to the Costa Rican riverbank and that it is depositing sediment into Costa Rican territory. … In the next few days, the National Police and the Security Ministry will conduct further studies in the area to examine the extent of the impact the dredging process is having in the national territory.”
The ownership and rights to the use of the Río San Juan have long been a bone of contention between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In 2009, the question went before the International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, which ruled that although the river belongs to Nicaragua, Costa Rica is allowed to navigate it freely (TT, July 13 2009).
In July, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega announced plans to dredge the river, which will widen and deepen it. In September, Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro gave approval for Nicaragua to dredge the Río San Juan “as long as it does not cause damage in Costa Rican territory, [nor] can it affect Costa Rica’s right of navigation on the San Juan or its tributaries such as the Río Colorado.”
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