When border disputes around the world. These


When traveling the world, there is
much learning that is done but more so when studying abroad; a lot of it
happens outside the classroom. Sometimes it happens outside of the destination
you are studying at or it is lessons you learn through presence and observance.
Understanding the stories behind the land you are in, helps piece history
together but understanding how the people of the land felt and still feel about
those stories in present day will help realize if those stories were good or
bad decisions and how one should deal with similar stories in the future.

This was the case when I studied
abroad in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The people was both countries talked about
the other country with certain dislike and extreme patriotism about their
country. I wanted to know where it came from. To understand what the countries
have against each other, I researched any disputes the countries have or have
had. Turns out, these two countries have a natural river border, the San Juan
River. At first glance, the border dispute is a prideful conflict in which both
countries could sort out with negotiations but the history behind the conflict
has many twists and turns that explain why the conflict has been going on for
almost two centuries.

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The understanding of how these two nations could both use
this natural border to equal advantage and settle their cultural differences,
which arose after the independence from Spain, vagueness of clauses in treaties
regarding navigational rights causing political controversies between the two
countries and immense migration from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, would help future
natural border disputes around the world. These three issues have been the
major reasons these two countries cannot be at peace with one another.

The first issue keeping these two countries at each other’s
neck regards post-Spanish independence. Most countries in Latin America gained
independence in 1821. Central America was left with very tense relationships
within itself because Spain made sure the countries did not trade with one
another while under their ruling. They did this so that the countries were
forced to trade directly with Spain. The countries did not have much to offer to
the world or one another after independence because they did were not rich in
minerals nor population (Herzog, 1992). The countries tried being
annexed by Mexico but that was hard for them because of the great distance
between all the country and lack of communication. The countries also tried to
build a Central American Federation but that also did not work out because
although the countries were all small, they all had mighty ideologies and
different governing methods. After the Central American nations of Guatemala,
El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, became fully independent, the
countries with greater influences discouraged the rest of the world to trade
with Central America to take advantage of any resources left. This made Central
America be stuck at square one because, “although political independence had
been won from Spain, economic dependence upon Great Britain remained to
frustrate the nationalistic hopes of Central America.” (Naylor, 1960). This
left the countries to try and fend for themselves since they were not used to
interacting with one another thus creating all the future disputes that still
play out today.

Another reason why the countries could not get along was
thanks to border disputes post-independence and endless territorial issues
because the Spanish did not leave set boundaries for these countries. There
were unclear boundaries between the various nation-states because the separationsevan
were not left completely defined (Orozco, 2003). This made it almost impossible
for any of the countries to be satisfied with the land that they thought was
theirs and their neighbor agreeing to the same borders. A country with
boundaries marked by a very general eye is bound to inherit many border
disagreements. This led to almost all the Central American countries being
unhappy with one another thanks to all the border disputes all of them kept

One of those disputes includes that of the Nicoya peninsula
annexing into Costa Rica. The peninsula belonged to Nicaragua but because
Nicaragua was so deep into civil war, the towns of Nicoya and Guanacaste
decided to take Costa Rica up on their offer and became a part of their
territory. For this, Nicaragua still holds a grudge because they saw this as
robbery since it lost a lot of land, but it was for the better of the people on
the peninsula because of the distance from the peninsula to Nicaragua anyway. Even
after all these years, Nicaragua is waiting for the day that Nicoya and
Guanacaste come back to Nicaragua.

The border dispute to focus on, is
the one regarding the San Juan River. The river of San Juan is a 119 miles
river that flows out of Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean Sea. Much of the
river serves as a border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It stretches all
along Nicaragua and Costa Rica and only has some land obstruction on the
Western side of Nicaragua leading into the Pacific Ocean. Back in the 19th
century, the river as well as the lake were a proposed route for the Nicaraguan
Canal. The plan to make a waterway useful to global trading and faster shipping
than even the Panama Canal, have always kept Nicaragua in the portfolios of the
United States and Europeans diplomats. Rapids at the villages of El Toro, El
Castillo, and Machuca impede navigation along the river. It also limits travel
to boats with shallow drafts. During the migration to California from Eastern
United States during the Gold Rush, travelers went from San Juan del Norte from
Atlantic streamers to small boats and went up and through Lake Nicaragua. From
there they traveled towards the Pacific port of San Juan del Sur.

There have been plenty treaties and court cases in which the
dispute over the river has affected the way the two countries and their
citizens get along. The Cañas-Jerez Treaty was a treaty signed on April 15, 1858.
This treaty had many articles, which contained appropriate borders and their
regulations. The treaty petty much claimed that the San Juan River was an
obvious point of separation and was easy to count as a border between both
countries. By signing, both nations agreed to the said compromise and were
going to oblige by said agreements. The treaty would have opened a range of
border tension between these two countries instead of solving it for the years
on after. The tricky part was that the river was mostly in Nicaragua making it
Nicaragua’s. But Costa Rica would get to use the river freely for commercial
use. The treaty also ensured that Nicaragua could not enter a deal regarding
any inter-oceanic canal projects without Costa Rica agreeing with the plan. Later,
the years in 1913, Nicaragua signed a treaty with the United States discussing
the start of an inter-oceanic canal. Costa Rica was did not agree to this
because the San Juan River canal would be used without giving anyrara rights
over the waters to Costa Rice (Evans, 1997).

This brings in the second issue
regarding Costa Rica wanting to navigate the river without any trouble from
Nicaragua. Even though both countries signed the Cañas-Jerez Treaty, both
countries were not on the same page when it came to interpretation of the
articles in the treaty. Specifically, Article VI and Article VIII, were the
ones both parties had an issue with.

Article VI claims,


“The Republic of
Nicaragua shall have exclusive dominion and the highest sovereignty over the
waters of the San Juan River from their issue out of the lake to their
discharge into the Atlantic ; but the Republic of Costa Rica shall have in
those waters perpetual rights of free navigation from the said mouth of the
river up to a point three English miles below Castillo Viejo, for purposes of
commerce, whether with Nicaragua or with the interior of Costa Rica, over the
San Carlos or Sarapiqui rivers or any other course starting from the part which
has been established as belonging to that republic on the banks of the San
Juan. The vessels of either country may touch at any part of the banks of the
river W here the navigation is common without paying any dues except such as may be
established by agreement between the two governments.” (Costa
Rica 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 use
purpose whether the negotiations were with Nicaragua or with other Central
American countries. This was bound to create trouble in paradise because it
meant both countries could access the river whenever both pleased.  Even though Costa Rica had the right to
travel on the waters for commercial purposes, Nicaragua started a policy that
Costa Rica could only travel certain premises without visas. Otherwise, the
passengers traveling the water had to purchase visas and pay taxes for using
the river. This angered Costa Rica, and this also went up to the International Court
of Justice. The International Court of Justice ruled in favor of Costa Rica on
that one stating that “requiring Nicaraguan visas was “a breach of the Treaty
right of free navigation”, that requiring tourist cards served no legitimate purpose,
that charging fees for departure clearance certi?cates without providing a
service to boat operators was “unlawful”, and that charging fees for visas and tourist
cards was also impermissible since Nicaragua had no power to require the
underlying documents. (Lathrop 458) Another article that was unclear to both
parties that made matters worse was Article 8.

Article VIII claims,

             “If the contracts for canalization or transit
entered into before the Nicaraguan government had knowledge of this convention
should for any cause cease to be in force, Nicaragua agrees not to conclude ;
any others relating to the objects above stated without ?rst hearing the
opinion of the Costa Rican government respecting the disadvantages that may
result to the two countries, provided that opinion be given within thirty day s
after the request therefor shall have been received, in case that the
Nicaraguan government should indicate that a decision is urgent; and in the event that the enterprise
should cause no injury to the natural rights of Costa Rica, that opinion shall
be advisory.” (“Costa Rica v. Nicaragua 193)

This was so hard to interpret because Nicaragua thought it
had full sovereignty of the river, but Costa Rica interpreted this as they too
having power or say over the happenings of the river. This became a bigger problem
when Nicaragua was offered the chance to build an inter-oceanic canal that
would run through the San Juan River. Nicaragua was used during the Gold Rush in California by many
Americans to get from the east coast of the United States to the west coast and
it became very attractive because the route “offered cheaper transportation, a
healthier climate, and sometimes even abundant provisions” (Clayton 325). This
is when it caught the eye of developed nations like United States and Great
Britain who were both anxious to “construct an interoceanic passageway
through Middle America on the basis of complete equality and “for the
benefit of man-kind.”” (Rodriguez 206) The reason the San Juan River and Lake
Nicaragua was so promising was because it was “able to provide a water passage
from the Caribbean Sea to within 20 kilometers of the Pacific Ocean” (Randell
107). This sounded like a recipe for an extremely successful project, but Costa
Rica did not think so because it would affect their side of the river.

In 1871, Nicaragua and Costa Rica reopened the dispute and
Nicaragua saw the plans for the canal fading. Any relation that the two sister
nations had was beig affected by the different interpretations of the
Cañas-Jerez Treaty (Hill p. 207) This meant that Article 8 would have to be
looked at one more time for both countries to have a clear understanding of the
article.  Nicaragua went along with the
plan that Costa Rica proposed because it wanted to seek sovereignty over the
river once and for all. If they were able to do this, the canal would finally
put Nicaragua on a progressive path to success. In 1888, the President of the
United States, President Cleveland considered the treaty and decided to settle
it himself. Arbitration was announced, and the Cleveland award was given to the
treaty. He validated the treaty signed in 1858. He ruled that the Republic of
Nicaragua remain bound not to make any grants for canal purposes across its
territory without first asking the opinion of the Republic of Costa Rica as
said in Article 8. (Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua) The reason for this was because,
and he states,

“the rights which she possesses in
so much of the river San Juan…and perhaps other rights not here particularly
specified…are to be deemed injured in any case where the territory belonging to
the Republic of Costa Rica is occupied or flooded; where there is an
encroachment upon either of the said harbors injurious to Costa Rica; or where
there is such an obstruction or deviation of the River San Juan as to destroy
or seriously impair the navigation of the said river or any of its branches at
any point where Costa Rica is entitled to navigate the same…It would seem in
such cases that her consent is necessary, and that she may thereupon demand
compensation for the concession she is asked to make; but she is not entitled
as a right to share in the profits that the Republic of Nicaragua may reserve
for herself as a compensation for such favors and privileges as she, in her
turn, may concede.” (Costa Rica vs. Nicaragua, 194)

Nicaragua’s plan of a water way canal was voided.

            Even though the treaties were looked
over and both countries understood the articles that had been “misinterpreted”,
political hostility remained in both nations especially in the capitals. This meant
that whatever the capital believed, is what the people would manifest.