Nicaragua denies armed incursion into Costa Rica at strategic San Juan River

On Oct. 22, Costa Rica dispatched a group of some 70 heavily armed national police to the northern border following claims of an incursion by Nicaraguan soldiers, who were reported to be causing damage to local properties. The police troops apparently found no evidence of an incursion, but Costa Rican Public Security Minister José María Tejerino said a contingent will be permanently stationed at Barra del Colorado border outpost as a preventative measure.

The incursion claims reportedly first arose from Marco Reyes, a large property owner on the Costa Rican side, who told authorities that a force led by EdĂ©n Pastora, a large property owner on the Nicaraguan side, had crossed onto his land. EdĂ©n Pastora, the former “Commander Zero,” was first a Sandinista revolutionary and then a leader of the anti-Sandinista counter-revolutionary (“contra”) force that operated out of northern Costa Rica in the 1980s. He is today apparently overseeing the dredging of the RĂ­o San Juan, which forms the border, and adjoins both his and Reyes’ properties. The Costa Rican police force reported finding only two Nicaraguan soldiers at the scene—both guarding the dredging operation on the Nicaraguan side of the river.

Pastora himself told Nicaragua’s La Prensa TV that the dredging operation impacted an island in the river—but that the land in question, Isla Calero, “doesn’t belong to anyone” and that “no one had defined the border” between the two countries.

Col. Juan RamĂłn Morales, public relations chief for the Nicaraguan army, strongly denied that any incursion had occurred: “We want to categorically reaffirm that at no moment, under no circumstances, has the army of Nicaragua occupied any part of this territory.” He asserted that a local Nicaraguan family that has illegally established itself on the Costa Rican side of the border to facilitate drug trafficking, led by patriarch AgustĂ­n Reyes AragĂłn, was the source of the charges.

One day before the supposed incursion, Costa Rica’s foreign ministry submitted a formal protest to the Nicaraguan ambassador, demanding that the dredging cease until the environmental impacts have been assessed. The protest claimed that the dredging had resulted in large amounts of sediments being pushed to the Costa Rican side of the river, and that several Costa Rican citizens had reported damages to their property.

The San Juan River belongs to Nicaragua, while Costa Rica has navigational rights accorded by an agreement signed by both countries. Nicaragua says that the dredging is necessary to maintain navigation of the river that runs from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean coast. (Inside Costa Rica, Oct. 24; Nuevo Diario, Nicaragua, Oct. 23; Tico Times, Costa Rica, Oct. 22)

The San Juan river basin has long been a source of tension between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and is being openly eyed by transnational interests as a route for a new inter-oceanic canal. Similar issues are in play in recent tensions over Nicaragua’s maritime border disputes with Honduras and Colombia.

See our last posts on Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the struggle in Central America.

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  1. Costa Rica requests OAS action on alleged Nicaraguan incursion
    Costa Rica has requested a meeting of the permanent council of the Organization of American States to address the alleged presence of the Nicaraguan military on its territory. A reconnaissance flight Nov. 1 reportedly spotted some 50 Nicaraguan soldiers on Isla Calero in the San Juan River, which is claimed by Costa Rica. The troops had even raised a Nicaraguan flag, Costa Rican Foreign Minister Rene Castro and Security Minister Jose Maria Tijerino told a press conference. (EFE, Tico Times, Nov. 1)