Costa Rica-Nicaragua Border Dispute

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To Our Readers:

A number of you have emailed to express your surprise over COHA’s silence on the recent eruption of the longstanding border dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Rest assured, the COHA staff has been following this issue closely; Director Larry Birns recently conducted a 20-minute interview with BBC on the subject, and a more in-depth analysis of the situation along the Rio San Juan will be published on the COHA website within a matter of days.

It is clear that the dispute has become a prominent campaign vehicle designed to fortify Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega’s shifting popularity at home. The opportunity to rally the Nicaraguan people around a nationalist cause rather than regional harmony may have been too much for the Sandinista leader to resist. At this point, Nicaragua remains obdurate that the status quo is more advantageous to its national interest than the principles of conciliation and mediation. For her part, Costa Rica’s President Laura Chinchilla is under pressure to use the dispute to prove herself as decisive a leader as her cagey and always ambitious predecessor Óscar Arias. Given each leader’s personal stake in the conflict, the prospects for a speedy resolution appear meager. Costa Rica has looked to the OAS to resolve the dispute, a move that has Ortega threatening to pull out of the organization altogether. In fact, one long-lasting consequence of the border dispute may be that it marks a definitive downward trend with respect to the scope of OAS influence.

Check back for a full analysis of the origins and implications of this conflict as part of an upcoming COHA study of border disputes throughout Latin America.