BARRA DEL COLORADO, Limón – The arrival of a contingent of Costa Rican National Police at the Nicaraguan border along the Río San Juan and a formal protest by the government of Costa Rica have prompted the halt of a controversial Nicaraguan project to dredge the river. Police were deployed to the town of Barra del Colorado, in the Northeastern corner of Costa Rica, on Friday, in response to reports that members of the Nicaraguan military were entering Costa Rican territory without authorization and that the dredging was causing damages to the properties of Costa Ricans.
On Friday morning, Edén Pastora, the Sandinista revolutionary hero and former Contra who is charge of the project to dredge the border river, was overheard on a public radio channel urgently ordering that a pipe which was dumping sediment from the dredging be redirected from the Costa Rican side of the river to the Nicaraguan side.
“He was yelling and telling them ‘Move it! Move it now!'" said a Mexican sport fisherman visiting the Río Colorado Lodge in Barra del Colorado.
The call was confirmed by other fishermen in the area Friday morning, including a guide at the Río Colorado Lodge who said he was a friend of Pastora’s in the 1980s, when Pastora, known as Comandante Cero, was a Contra rebel leader operating in the zone. “I recognized Pastora’s voice and tried to respond to him, but he couldn’t hear me,” said the guide, who asked that he not be identified. “Everyone on the boat could hear him telling people to move the dredge pipe off the Costa Rican side of the river and back to the Nicaraguan side,” he said.
The Costa Rican Foreign Ministry submitted a formal protest to the government of Nicaragua on Thursday evening after several Costa Rican farm owners along the Río San Juan reported damages to their property stemming from the dredging, including excessive amounts of sediment being directed to the Costa Rican side of the river.
Among the Costa Ricans affected by the dredging is Marco Reyes, a landowner who told The Tico Times on Thursday that members of the Nicaraguan military arrived on his property and announced that the land belonged to Nicaragua. Reyes said that after he asked them to leave his property, several of Reyes’s cows were slaughtered and two of the workers on his farm went missing.
During a flyover of the property by The Tico Times on Sunday, it was evident that the dredge, then located only a few hundred meters west of Reyes’ land on the Nicaraguan riverbank, had cut through a corner of his property, displacing dirt and knocking down dozens of trees.
By Sunday, tensions near the border appeared to be easing. Although Costa Rican Coast Guard boats are present near the mouth of the Río San Juan, a number of the 90 or so National Police in Barra del Colorado boarded a police transport plane Sunday morning to return to San José.
“At this time the situation is at a standstill,” National Police Director Juan José Andrade told The Tico Times. “Police will remain [in Barra del Colorado] for approximately 15 to 20 more days and will be monitoring activity along the river daily. The dredge is currently stopped and will remain so until the two governments come to a decision regarding the dredging.”
The large Caribou supply plane that evacuated part of the police contingent Sunday returned with weeks’ worth of supplies for the remaining policemen. These included sheets of new metal roofing for the small town’s community center, where a number of the police are stationed. Others are based at the school and a small hotel and restaurant adjacent to the airstrip in the center of the town.
Nicaragua is dredging the river to increase its navigability, as well as to increase the flow of water from Lake Cocibolca (also known as Lake Nicaragua) to the Caribbean Sea. Nicaragua is planning to build a large hydroelectric dam on the river near the town of El Castillo.
For further updates on the controversy over the Río San Juan, visit www.ticotimes.net.