Border dispute has Costa Rica rethinking its lack of army

An ongoing border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has pushed the _Switzerland of Central America_ to the bri...

An ongoing border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica has pushed the _Switzerland of Central America_ to the brink of a national identity crisis.

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 Ren__ 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._

But Professor Camacho warns that an unfavorable ruling could prove "catastrophic." _I don_t even want to imagine what that would mean for Costa Rica_s identity, self image, national project and commitment peace. I think if Costa Rica loses [in The Hague], there will be a strong push for militarization here,_ he says.

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