By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Published Dec 5, 2010 10:22 PM
The latest conflict in Central America is a dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It has hardly been covered in the U.S. media. Still it could increase U.S. military intervention and have dangerous consequences for the region’s stability.
One simple issue stands out: the two countries’ alliances. Costa Rica’s government is aligned with U.S. imperialism. Nicaragua is a member of the Bolivarian Alliance for Our America or ALBA, which includes Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda. The U.S. State Department considers ALBA hostile to U.S. interests.
Nicaragua’s government is led by President Daniel Ortega, who also led the country during 1979-1990 after the Sandinistas (FSLN) overthrew the pro-U.S. Somoza dictatorship. Ortega faces election in 2011, one Washington would like to see him lose.
Washington has been able to use Costa Rica against its neighbors in the past. The U.S.-backed anti-Sandinista contras in the 1980s used Costa Rica as a safe base. In June 2009 the U.S.-sanctioned coup-makers in Honduras kidnapped President Manuel Zelaya and flew him to Costa Rica. Zelaya had also signed his country into ALBA.
Facts behind the border dispute
On Oct. 18 the Nicaraguan government began dredging the San Juan River, which flows from Lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean through Nicaragua. Part of it forms the Nicaragua-Costa Rica border. Residue accumulated over the years made river transport to and from the Caribbean coast nearly impossible.
Nicaragua has been ravaged first by the 1980-1990 U.S.-Contra war against the Sandinista government and then by the next administration’s neoliberal policies. This history has left 75 percent of Nicaragua’s 6 million people in poverty.
To improve the economy of this extremely poor country, the government began developing transportation to increase exports, particularly to South America and other ALBA countries.
On Oct. 21 the Costa Rican government, led by right-wing President Laura Chinchilla, falsely accused Nicaragua of invading its territory and occupying Costa Rica’s Calero Island. On Oct. 22 Chinchilla sent a military contingent to the Nicaragua border and demanded Nicaragua stop dredging, which she claimed damaged the environment and violated Costa Rica’s sovereignty.
Costa Rica complained to the Organization of American States, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and the Ramsar Convention, which deals with wetlands around the world, and requested a U.N. meeting on Nov. 29. Similar border disputes go back centuries. The one over the San Juan River, in particular, has always been ruled in Nicaragua’s favor.
An OAS team flew over Calero Island on Nov. 8 and reported that neither the Nicaraguan flag nor its army was there. Nevertheless, the Chinchilla government continues the accusations.
It’s also still fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia against Nicaragua, and the half-million Nicaraguans living and working in wealthier Costa Rica face discrimination. However, Costa Rican groups, unions and political parties are not participating in this and are opposing their government’s actions.
Up to now, the Costa Rican government has refused Ortega’s request to begin bilateral negotiations.
Though the Costa Rican government promotes the country as an “ecological paradise,” there are contradictions. There are plans for open-air exploitation of a gold mine close to the San Juan River that would poison the waters with cyanide and other toxic chemicals. That activity is opposed by both Nicaraguan and Costa Rican environmental organizations working together. The timber industry and cattle raising are abundant in northern Costa Rica, causing environmental damage.
Even though Costa Rica does not have a formal army, according to a report published in “El Libro Blanco” (“The White Book: The Truths That Costa Rica Hides”), $240.3 million per year is spent on the military — five times more than by Nicaragua. (el19digital.com)
The Nicaraguan military does patrol the San Juan River, intercepting any drug traffic that goes through the area. In early October the Nicaraguan army broke up a drug trafficking team in the river, arresting six people and informing Costa Rican authorities, since the team was operating from Costa Rica.
The major threat not only to Nicaragua but to the whole region is the deployment last July of 46 war ships, along with 7,000 U.S. troops, to Costa Rica on the pretext of fighting drug trafficking. Costa Rica has been on the U.S. president’s list of countries with the most illicit drug trafficking.
This has turned Costa Rica into a U.S. military base. U.S. troops can move, armed to the teeth, throughout the whole country and enjoy the characteristic impunity to any of their crimes that accompanies these imperialist enforcers throughout the world. Their contract to patrol ends at the end of 2010, but there are many places the U.S. military, once in, has refused to leave.
This move into Costa Rica fits with the increased U.S. military role in Latin America, including the re-establishment of the Fourth Naval Fleet, the Pentagon’s deal to use seven military bases in Colombia, the occupation of Haiti, new bases in Panama, and an additional U.S. base in Honduras. It is part of Washington’s confrontation with the ALBA countries, including the recent coup attempt in Ecuador.
It is crucially important for the progressive and anti-war movement in the U.S. to actively oppose the U.S. government’s hostile actions in Latin America and the Caribbean. This should not be separated from the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan and the threats against Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Washington should not be allowed to use a border dispute to wage war against the peoples of Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
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