Border dispute with Nicaragua has Costa Rica rethinking its lack of army
The International Court of Justice is expected to rule any day on a Costa Rica-Nicaragua border dispute. The case has caused the 'Switzerland of Central America' to reexamine its commitment to disarmament.
Sixty-two years after Costa Rica made the historic decision to abolish its Army and entrust its sovereignty and national defense to the untested guardianship of international law, Central America’s standard bearer of peace and democracy is facing what it considers its greatest challenge to neutrality: an alleged border invasion by Nicaraguan troops.
“For our country, the armed invasion is a challenge to our way of life and the defense of our national sovereignty, which is based exclusively in multilateralism,” Costa Rican Foreign Minister René Castro told the Monitor in an e-mail.
“Costa Rica is a civilized and peaceful country,” he adds. “But sometimes, those ideals are challenged by reality and our principles are put to test.”
Costa Rica claims Nicaragua crossed into its territory last year while dredging the San Juan River – a Nicaraguan waterway that parallels their shared border. Nicaragua says Costa Rica is “inventing a border conflict" to disguise its own expansionist pretensions. Currently before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the dispute has forced Costa Rica – a country that prides itself on stability, neutrality, and a laid back “pura vida” approach to life – to reexamine its commitment to disarmament and confront the ghosts of its wimpy image.
“The decision will represent a crossroads in the history of Costa Rica, the history of Central America, and in the whole philosophy of disarmament,” says Daniel Camacho, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Costa Rica.
Unfavorable court ruling could be 'catastrophic'
The last 17 miles of the San Juan River divert mostly into a Costa Rican tributary due to sedimentation buildup on the Nicaraguan side. By unclogging that final stretch of river, Nicaragua hopes to redirect the waters back onto its side of the border – an undesired prospect for Costa Rican fishing lodges in the border region.
Foreign Minister Castro, who in January went on a five-country tour of Europe to drum up support for Costa Rica’s case, said his government is putting its faith in international law. He said he thinks the court’s ruling, expected any day, will be precedent-setting in determining the “efficiency of multilateralism.”