Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 354 | Enero 2011




Envío team

On January 11, Nicaragua and Costa Rica appeared before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague to present their positions on the latest flare-up in their ongoing border dispute. Costa Rica failed to convince the Court that dredging the Río San Juan was tantamount to a “military invasion” and “ecocide.” Nicaragua, in contrast, framed the case in its proper terms: a border dispute over a swampy area measuring less than three kilometers that Costa Rica calls Calero Island and neither country has paid any attention to previously. Costa Rica asked the Court to order Nicaragua to stop the dredging.

The international proportions this conflict has reached were revealed on Christmas Day when, in his message “urbi et orbi,” Pope Benedicto XVI advocated “a dialogue” between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, placing this issue on the same level as the grave conflicts affecting Somalia, Darfur, the Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Costa Rica has blown it out of all proportion in defense of its expansionist interests and to justify the purchase of armaments. Nicaragua’s President Ortega has done the same to feed nationalism and get fast-track approval on December 14 for three military laws of such importance they merited a national debate, which didn’t happen. Having achieved his objective, Ortega then played down the dispute: “Why don’t we just find a solution to a situation that has such miniscule dimensions...?”

By early December, Nicaragua had finished its bucket-and-pickaxe cleaning of the 1,000m x 6m “creek” that has defined the borderline between the two countries for over a hundred years but “disappeared” decades ago under tons of sediment. While 180 trees had to be cut in the operation, 1,800 others of native species were planted once the cleaning was done. Early last year Nicaragua announced that it would augment the dredging of the Río San Juan with three locally fabricated dredgers. “We’re going to recover our river’s 1858 depth,” declared Edén Pastora, who is directing the work.

In the opinion of Mauricio Herdocia, a Nicaraguan specialist on international law, “The most favorable scenario for both countries is to reach a bilateral agreement through diplomatic means and directly work out their differences as good neighbors who can’t keep on with this interminable cycle of tensions and conflicts. Both States are part of a regional integration process and must learn to resolve their differences.” According to Carlos Argüello, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the ICJ, “The problem is very serious: either we dredge the river or we give it up for lost. If we don’t dredge, there will be nothing left within another fifty years.” Referring to the last sediment-clogged stretch before the river flows into the sea, he noted that “during the dry season it’s impossible to navigate this part of the river. It’s easier to walk.”

On February 1, the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER) finally released a new map of Nicaragua, including the Harbour Head area at the mouth of the Río San Juan that originated the dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. According to the Costa Ricans, this area includes what they call Calero Island, which they insist belongs to them. Nicaraguan maps have not included this territory for over a century. INETER reported that the new official map was drawn up in the second half of 2010, when the dredging of the Río San Juan was begun, and follows the specifications of the Alexander Award of 1897 and other international treaties.

On January 26, former President Arnoldo Alemán (1998-2001) started appearing in publicity spots on different national TV channels in which he asked the audience to forgive him. It was a very ambiguous request since he didn’t say what he repented, despite the fact he was sentenced in December 2003 to 20 years in prison for acts of corruption, only to be freed over five years later after negotiating with Daniel Ortega having served very little time behind bars. “Today I ask you humbly to forgive as I have, without rancor and without any desire for revenge, with the firm intention that your pardon will open the doors of growth to a better country, ours…” stated Alemán. “I can honestly say that the errors of the past do not have and will not have any place in my heart and mind. Give me the opportunity to be and to grow with you, an opportunity to do, not to promise. That’s enough of words!” In the 2006 electoral campaign, then-candidate Daniel Ortega also asked for “an opportunity” to return to government, in his case to govern the country in peacetime.

According to a report by the Economic Council for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) for the Conference on Climate Change held in Cancun, Mexico, last December, 7% of the planet’s biodiversity is found in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, but these countries could lose 70% of this treasure in the next 40 years if the current trend in greenhouse effect gas emissions that are upsetting the world climate continues. This begs the question of what exactly we would lose. With respect to the animals in this wealth of diversity, biologist Antonio Mijail Pérez asked this question in envío in June 2007: “Do we Nicaraguans know with which animals we coexist? Not really. The first thing we need to understand is that invertebrates, which range from primitive protozoa to advanced insects and crustaceans, provide our planet’s greatest diversity. These animals are also the majority in Nicaragua.” Central America only emits 0.5% of the greenhouse effect gases into the atmosphere, but is one of the world’s regions most vulnerable to climate change. Research has already shown that the change will trigger floods, droughts, food insecurity, deforestation, damage to human health and the loss of ecosystems.

On December 17, just before Christmas vacation, seven FSLN justices and three PLC justices on the Supreme Court resolved to definitively close the case against all those involved in the collapse in 2000 of Interbank, which belonged to the FSLN business group. Two of those absolved of wrongdoing were the Centeno Roque brothers, who it has always been believed were the main figures behind the bank’s fraudulent bankruptcy. The sentence used the same terms as the equally definitive closure last September of the suit against those who bankrupted BANIC, in that case people close to former President Alemán, even though both groups were indicted with a mountain of evidence. Ten years after those scandals not a single person is serving time for such serious crimes. The justices argued in both cases that a recent law had extinguished any penal action by establishing a statute of limitations. “It is a legal, but completely immoral sentence,” said Alberto Novoa, attorney general during the Bolaños government, recalling that the law used to absolve them was passed in 2009 to save Alemán from the “guaca” case. “This law was passed to get a corrupt man out of his problems,” explained Novoa, “and is now being applied to benefit more corrupt people, leaving the Court in moral bankruptcy.” Covering the failure of these two banks cost the State—or Nicaraguan taxpayers, more properly stated—US$500 million, financed with the equally corruption-plagued CENI bond issue.

Likening Presidential Ortega’s candidacy to a power move by a barrio gang, Sandinista Renovation Movement representative in the National Assembly Víctor Hugo Tinoco explained that “Ortega is going into the elections at a legal disadvantage. His presidential candidacy is an inevitable reality, just like a gang in a barrio. Like it or not, the gang is there, has power and runs the neighborhood. What choice does that leave you? You have go figure out how to deal with the problem.”

In December, Attorney General Hernán Estrado sent the Norwegian ambassador in Nicaragua an evaluation of the current government’s efforts in the war on corruption. Norway is one of the main financial contributors to the anti-corruption struggle in Nicaragua. Estrada mentioned as achievements the approval of three new laws to ensure transparency and another four previously approved. None of these laws is being applied, however, except very occasionally and discretionally. Nonetheless, he stated emphatically in his letter that “the corrupt have to be clear that the government will tolerate no act by public officials that clashes with good administrative practices sealed by ethical values that pursue the common good at all times.” One month later, for a period of several days, El Nuevo Diario published a long and detailed list of the corrupt acts of Walter Porras, general director of Nicaragua’s tax office (DGI) and an Ortega yes man. The information was leaked by DGI officials, after which Porras fired a long list of people on suspicion of having reported his offences. A month after such overwhelming, scandalous information, Porras was still ensconced in his post.

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