SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – Panama will take the pro tempore presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA) on Jan. 1 after Costa Rica had led the organization since July.
During the past few months, Central American integration has experienced a serious crisis as the Nicaraguan government questioned the positions of Costa Rica and its president Óscar Arias.
The most recent criticisms arose when Costa Rica sought the suspension of the Regular Summit of Heads of State and Government, scheduled for December 8-9. The request was made because of the “complexities presented by the execution of the pro tempore presidency because of all the known and other difficulties in performing the preparatory work,” according to a statement by the Costa Rican foreign ministry.
Costa Rican Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno confirmed the situation in Honduras was the reason his country wanted to suspend the summit. “Honduras is a point of discord, and therefore, we had to be very cautious about the agenda that we could set,” he said at a media conference at the foreign ministry on Dec. 15.
Manuel Coronel Kautz, the deputy foreign minister of Nicaragua, claimed Costa Rica and Panama are not working in SICA’s best interest.
“These two countries [Costa Rica and Panama], at heart, are not interested in integration,” he said at a media conference broadcast on Nicaraguan television.
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega claimed Costa Rica had not been able to achieve the development of an agenda within the timeframe of its presidency – a criticism that reached Arias.
Costa Rican political analyst Luis Guillermo Solís said that, while the integration process has impacted the relationships between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, “the differences between the presidents of Costa Rica and Nicaragua are not obstacles to integration.”
Solís, who is a history and political science professor at the University of Costa Rica, added there are other reasons for the divide between the two countries.
“[There are differences in the development of all the Central American countries] in respect to the provision of social services or the weakness of many regimes in guaranteeing the effective functioning of the rule of law,” he said. “Such phenomena explain – much more than the supposed or real personal differences between two heads of state – why such difficulty exists to concede transnational powers to SICA or some country’s rejection of regionalism as a determining factor in national development strategies.”
But the reasons for the tension between the countries don't end there, according to Abelardo Morales, a researcher and academic coordinator at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLASCO) in Costa Rica.
“The lack of interest and commitment to integration is common to all of the states, not only to Costa Rica,” he said. “There is much superficial analysis of the problems that affect the process. [There’s also] a simplistic perspective [that] reduces it to the behavior of the presidents. The problems are structural, much deeper than the holding or not [holding] of a summit.”
Morales added: “The Central American market is a key destination for the exports of a good proportion of Costa Rican businesspeople, and therefore, the interests of Costa Rica are clear. Costa Rican governments have maintained a position of reluctance with regard to political integration and participation in some of the integration institutions, such as the Central American Parliament and the Central American Court of Justice. In any case, [neither of the two] has contributed much to Central America as a region.”
Solís agreed, saying Costa Rica has been “generally skeptical with respect to political integration, but [it’s had] great enthusiasm in respect to economic integration.”
“The process of integration appears to reflect very little the critical situation of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans, who suffer exclusion, marginalization and displacement,” Morales said. “It appears that the integration process is very far from the heart and the needs of the people.”