When border disputes around the world. These

 When traveling the world, there ismuch learning that is done but more so when studying abroad; a lot of ithappens outside the classroom. Sometimes it happens outside of the destinationyou are studying at or it is lessons you learn through presence and observance.

Understanding the stories behind the land you are in, helps piece historytogether but understanding how the people of the land felt and still feel aboutthose stories in present day will help realize if those stories were good orbad decisions and how one should deal with similar stories in the future. This was the case when I studiedabroad in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The people was both countries talked aboutthe other country with certain dislike and extreme patriotism about theircountry. I wanted to know where it came from. To understand what the countrieshave against each other, I researched any disputes the countries have or havehad. Turns out, these two countries have a natural river border, the San JuanRiver. At first glance, the border dispute is a prideful conflict in which bothcountries could sort out with negotiations but the history behind the conflicthas many twists and turns that explain why the conflict has been going on foralmost two centuries.

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The understanding of how these two nations could both usethis natural border to equal advantage and settle their cultural differences,which arose after the independence from Spain, vagueness of clauses in treatiesregarding navigational rights causing political controversies between the twocountries and immense migration from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, would help futurenatural border disputes around the world. These three issues have been themajor reasons these two countries cannot be at peace with one another. The first issue keeping these two countries at each other’sneck regards post-Spanish independence. Most countries in Latin America gainedindependence in 1821. Central America was left with very tense relationshipswithin itself because Spain made sure the countries did not trade with oneanother while under their ruling.

They did this so that the countries wereforced to trade directly with Spain. The countries did not have much to offer tothe world or one another after independence because they did were not rich inminerals nor population (Herzog, 1992). The countries tried beingannexed by Mexico but that was hard for them because of the great distancebetween all the country and lack of communication. The countries also tried tobuild a Central American Federation but that also did not work out becausealthough the countries were all small, they all had mighty ideologies anddifferent governing methods. After the Central American nations of Guatemala,El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, became fully independent, thecountries with greater influences discouraged the rest of the world to tradewith Central America to take advantage of any resources left. This made CentralAmerica be stuck at square one because, “although political independence hadbeen won from Spain, economic dependence upon Great Britain remained tofrustrate the nationalistic hopes of Central America.” (Naylor, 1960). Thisleft the countries to try and fend for themselves since they were not used tointeracting with one another thus creating all the future disputes that stillplay out today.

Another reason why the countries could not get along wasthanks to border disputes post-independence and endless territorial issuesbecause the Spanish did not leave set boundaries for these countries. Therewere unclear boundaries between the various nation-states because the separationsevanwere not left completely defined (Orozco, 2003). This made it almost impossiblefor any of the countries to be satisfied with the land that they thought wastheirs and their neighbor agreeing to the same borders. A country withboundaries marked by a very general eye is bound to inherit many borderdisagreements.

This led to almost all the Central American countries beingunhappy with one another thanks to all the border disputes all of them kepthaving.One of those disputes includes that of the Nicoya peninsulaannexing into Costa Rica. The peninsula belonged to Nicaragua but becauseNicaragua was so deep into civil war, the towns of Nicoya and Guanacastedecided to take Costa Rica up on their offer and became a part of theirterritory. For this, Nicaragua still holds a grudge because they saw this asrobbery since it lost a lot of land, but it was for the better of the people onthe peninsula because of the distance from the peninsula to Nicaragua anyway.

Evenafter all these years, Nicaragua is waiting for the day that Nicoya andGuanacaste come back to Nicaragua. The border dispute to focus on, isthe one regarding the San Juan River. The river of San Juan is a 119 milesriver that flows out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea. Much of theriver serves as a border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It stretches allalong Nicaragua and Costa Rica and only has some land obstruction on theWestern side of Nicaragua leading into the Pacific Ocean. Back in the 19thcentury, the river as well as the lake were a proposed route for the NicaraguanCanal.

The plan to make a waterway useful to global trading and faster shippingthan even the Panama Canal, have always kept Nicaragua in the portfolios of theUnited States and Europeans diplomats. Rapids at the villages of El Toro, ElCastillo, and Machuca impede navigation along the river. It also limits travelto boats with shallow drafts. During the migration to California from EasternUnited States during the Gold Rush, travelers went from San Juan del Norte fromAtlantic streamers to small boats and went up and through Lake Nicaragua. Fromthere they traveled towards the Pacific port of San Juan del Sur. There have been plenty treaties and court cases in which thedispute over the river has affected the way the two countries and theircitizens get along.

The Cañas-Jerez Treaty was a treaty signed on April 15, 1858.This treaty had many articles, which contained appropriate borders and theirregulations. The treaty petty much claimed that the San Juan River was anobvious point of separation and was easy to count as a border between bothcountries.

By signing, both nations agreed to the said compromise and weregoing to oblige by said agreements. The treaty would have opened a range ofborder tension between these two countries instead of solving it for the yearson after. The tricky part was that the river was mostly in Nicaragua making itNicaragua’s. But Costa Rica would get to use the river freely for commercialuse. The treaty also ensured that Nicaragua could not enter a deal regardingany inter-oceanic canal projects without Costa Rica agreeing with the plan.

Later,the years in 1913, Nicaragua signed a treaty with the United States discussingthe start of an inter-oceanic canal. Costa Rica was did not agree to thisbecause the San Juan River canal would be used without giving anyrara rightsover the waters to Costa Rice (Evans, 1997). This brings in the second issueregarding Costa Rica wanting to navigate the river without any trouble fromNicaragua. Even though both countries signed the Cañas-Jerez Treaty, bothcountries were not on the same page when it came to interpretation of thearticles in the treaty. Specifically, Article VI and Article VIII, were theones both parties had an issue with.Article VI claims, “The Republic ofNicaragua shall have exclusive dominion and the highest sovereignty over thewaters of the San Juan River from their issue out of the lake to theirdischarge into the Atlantic ; but the Republic of Costa Rica shall have inthose waters perpetual rights of free navigation from the said mouth of theriver up to a point three English miles below Castillo Viejo, for purposes ofcommerce, whether with Nicaragua or with the interior of Costa Rica, over theSan Carlos or Sarapiqui rivers or any other course starting from the part whichhas been established as belonging to that republic on the banks of the SanJuan.

The vessels of either country may touch at any part of the banks of theriver W here the navigation is common without paying any dues except such as may beestablished by agreement between the two governments.” (CostaRica v. Nicaragua 193)This meant that Nicaragua would have ownership of the river,but Costa Rica did have the right to travel it as well for commercial usepurpose whether the negotiations were with Nicaragua or with other CentralAmerican countries. This was bound to create trouble in paradise because itmeant both countries could access the river whenever both pleased.  Even though Costa Rica had the right totravel on the waters for commercial purposes, Nicaragua started a policy thatCosta Rica could only travel certain premises without visas. Otherwise, thepassengers traveling the water had to purchase visas and pay taxes for usingthe river.

This angered Costa Rica, and this also went up to the International Courtof Justice. The International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Costa Rica onthat one stating that “requiring Nicaraguan visas was “a breach of the Treatyright of free navigation”, that requiring tourist cards served no legitimate purpose,that charging fees for departure clearance certi?cates without providing aservice to boat operators was “unlawful”, and that charging fees for visas and touristcards was also impermissible since Nicaragua had no power to require theunderlying documents. (Lathrop 458) Another article that was unclear to bothparties that made matters worse was Article 8. Article VIII claims,              “If the contracts for canalization or transitentered into before the Nicaraguan government had knowledge of this conventionshould for any cause cease to be in force, Nicaragua agrees not to conclude ;any others relating to the objects above stated without ?rst hearing theopinion of the Costa Rican government respecting the disadvantages that mayresult to the two countries, provided that opinion be given within thirty day safter the request therefor shall have been received, in case that theNicaraguan government should indicate that a decision is urgent; and in the event that the enterpriseshould cause no injury to the natural rights of Costa Rica, that opinion shallbe advisory.” (“Costa Rica v. Nicaragua 193)This was so hard to interpret because Nicaragua thought ithad full sovereignty of the river, but Costa Rica interpreted this as they toohaving power or say over the happenings of the river. This became a bigger problemwhen Nicaragua was offered the chance to build an inter-oceanic canal thatwould run through the San Juan River.

Nicaragua was used during the Gold Rush in California by manyAmericans to get from the east coast of the United States to the west coast andit became very attractive because the route “offered cheaper transportation, ahealthier climate, and sometimes even abundant provisions” (Clayton 325). Thisis when it caught the eye of developed nations like United States and GreatBritain who were both anxious to “construct an interoceanic passagewaythrough Middle America on the basis of complete equality and “for thebenefit of man-kind.”” (Rodriguez 206) The reason the San Juan River and LakeNicaragua was so promising was because it was “able to provide a water passagefrom the Caribbean Sea to within 20 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean” (Randell107). This sounded like a recipe for an extremely successful project, but CostaRica did not think so because it would affect their side of the river.

In 1871, Nicaragua and Costa Rica reopened the dispute andNicaragua saw the plans for the canal fading. Any relation that the two sisternations had was beig affected by the different interpretations of theCañas-Jerez Treaty (Hill p. 207) This meant that Article 8 would have to belooked at one more time for both countries to have a clear understanding of thearticle.  Nicaragua went along with theplan that Costa Rica proposed because it wanted to seek sovereignty over theriver once and for all. If they were able to do this, the canal would finallyput Nicaragua on a progressive path to success. In 1888, the President of theUnited States, President Cleveland considered the treaty and decided to settleit himself. Arbitration was announced, and the Cleveland award was given to thetreaty. He validated the treaty signed in 1858.

He ruled that the Republic ofNicaragua remain bound not to make any grants for canal purposes across itsterritory without first asking the opinion of the Republic of Costa Rica assaid in Article 8. (Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua) The reason for this was because,and he states, “the rights which she possesses inso much of the river San Juan…and perhaps other rights not here particularlyspecified…are to be deemed injured in any case where the territory belonging tothe Republic of Costa Rica is occupied or flooded; where there is anencroachment upon either of the said harbors injurious to Costa Rica; or wherethere is such an obstruction or deviation of the River San Juan as to destroyor seriously impair the navigation of the said river or any of its branches atany point where Costa Rica is entitled to navigate the same…It would seem insuch cases that her consent is necessary, and that she may thereupon demandcompensation for the concession she is asked to make; but she is not entitledas a right to share in the profits that the Republic of Nicaragua may reservefor herself as a compensation for such favors and privileges as she, in herturn, may concede.” (Costa Rica vs.

Nicaragua, 194) Therefore,Nicaragua’s plan of a water way canal was voided.             Even though the treaties were lookedover and both countries understood the articles that had been “misinterpreted”,political hostility remained in both nations especially in the capitals. This meantthat whatever the capital believed, is what the people would manifest.


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