Daniel Ortega and Laura Chinchilla
Don't be fooled by their smiles -- Laura Chinchilla and Daniel Ortega have a long story of hating each other. Creative Commons

As if Nicaragua and Costa Rica did not have their own problems, their historic animosity has gotten virulent in the last week over border issues. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his Costa Rican counterpart Laura Chinchilla bumped heads again, this time because Managua believes to have rights over the Costa Rican province of Guanacaste. The coastal area on the border of both countries is known for its 10,000 square kilometers of sandy beaches that attract huge numbers of tourists each year.

Until last week, relations between the neighbors were steady, which in this case means slightly better than spiteful. Costa Rica and Nicaragua still have bones to pick after the International Court of Justice did not resolve the lawsuit Costa Rica started after Nicaragua allegedly occupied the Caribbean coast of its neighbor in 2010. Both governments await a decision, and accuse each other of breaking agreements. In an incendiary speech, Chinchilla called Ortega her enemy.

The Costa Rican president was responding to this “new offense,” as she called Ortega’s statement that Nicaragua could claim before the International Court of Justice the Guanacaste province as its own. “That would get Nicaragua a large piece of land back,” he said, arguing that the territory used to belong to his country before Costa Rica took it in 1824.

Chinchilla, who is facing a slump in popularity at home, said “They will not go into Guanacaste! This comandante [Ortega] is wrong, he is lying to his people,” she said on Thursday.

The Costa Rican leader also said that she would notify the Organization of American States and the United Nations Security Council. She said that Costa Rica does not have an army to defend itself against Nicaragua and its expansionist ambitions. She called Ortega’s claims “absurd,” and mentioned the high interest of the province, which boasts potential energy resources as well as tourism.

On the other hand, Ortega claims that Nicaragua’s interests in Guanacaste are legitimate and Costa Rica is acting out of spite, as an ally of Colombia. The South American country lost a good portion of Caribbean Sea rights to Managua in 2012.

Ortega is not without blame, either. His vague and improvised speech did not help his cause. Bayardo Arce, one of his advisors, said that he never claimed the province as Nicaragua’s, but that he was just speaking hypothetically. Several other Nicaraguan officials argued that all Ortega is doing is making Costa Rica angry, and that one of his priorities should be keeping good terms with the neighboring nation.