Nicaragua, Costa Rica battle in court and in the media

Nicaragua and Costa Rica are back in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week to continue their expensive and aging argument over a worsening border conflict that allegedly has some Ticos wishing their country had never demilitarized.

The latest round of litigation comes at the urgent behest of Costa Rica, which claims it has “irrefutable proof” that Nicaragua has brazenly violated the ICJ’s 2011 provisional measures ordering both countries to withdraw all personnel from the disputed border region. Presenting photographic evidence before the court on Monday, Costa Rica argued that Nicaragua has continued to occupy the disputed territory with upwards of “10,000” Sandinista Youth over the past two years. Costa Rica also claims Nicaragua has carved two new “artificial canals” through Costa Rican territory in an effort to push the Río San Juan further south.

Costa Rica is asking the court to issue new provisional measures to protect its sovereignty from Nicaragua’s alleged encroachment.

Before photo, taken on June 30, shows no canal

Nicaragua denies Costa Rica’s allegations. The Sandinista government insists it is obeying international law because “Daniel Ortega has given orders for strict compliance.” Nicaraguan legal analysts say they think it’s unlikely the ICJ will issue new provisional measures at this time.

Costa Rica, however, is singing early victory after the first day of the proceedings. Tico lawyers claim Nicaragua essentially admitted to “repeatedly violating Costa Rica’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” by attempting to wiggle out of today’s hearing. In a press statement, Costa Rican Deputy Foreign Minister Gioconda Ubeda said Nicaragua argued that today’s proceedings were unnecessary because the Sandinista government “had already suspended all their work and removed all machinery and personnel” from the disputed area. That argument, she says, is equivalent to a tacit admission that Nicaragua has been “disobeying in a repeated manner the International Court of Justice and violating the sovereignty and territory of Costa Rica.”

“This is our first judicial victory,” said a confident Ubeda, following today’s hearings.

Nicaragua will present its full defense at The Hague on Tuesday. The ICJ magistrates are expected to rule as early as Thursday (see live proceedings here).

In the meantime, the border conflict between Nicaragua and Costa Rica continues to play itself out in the media. In recent weeks, a series of reports have alleged that groups of Costa Rican volunteers are training militia groups to defend their country against a suspected invasion by Nicaragua. Costa Rica says the reports of rearmament are a red herring.

“This is just a distraction by Nicaragua, and a crude one at that,” Costa Rica’s foreign ministry spokesman Miguel Diaz told The Nicaragua Dispatch today in an email. “Our only defense as a disarmed democracy is international law and diplomacy.”

Meanwhile, Nicaragua’s king of commotion, polemic former boxer and self-styled Sandinista activist Ricardo Mayorga, added his own circus sideshow this weekend by accusing Costa Rican police of persecuting him during his latest Mixed Martial Arts fiasco in San José. After losing his MMA match on Saturday, Mayorga claims he had to escape from Costa Rican police sneaking out the bathroom window at the gym, fleeing to the border on the back of a friend’s motorcycle and crossing illegally into Nicaragua. (Free at last! Free at last!)

Costa Rican police told La Prensa that they visited Mayorga before his fight on Saturday, but only to serve him with a notification to show up in court next week to face charges related to his alleged failure to pay child support in Costa Rica.