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Central American Nations Squabble

December 1, 1999

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ A dispute between Central American neighbors grew hotter Wednesday when Nicaragua’s president announced a ``patriotic tax″ on imports from Honduras in reprisal for a controversial treaty on Caribbean sea territories.

The spat threatens to damage Central American efforts to coordinate dealings with the United States and other countries, as well as attempts to strengthen a local free-trade zone.

Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman imposed a 35 percent tax on Honduran goods after Honduras signed a maritime accord with Colombia that recognizes Colombian claims to large areas of the Caribbean that are also claimed by Nicaragua.

Honduras’ congress unanimously ratified the treaty on Tuesday, and also announced it was moving 2,000 troops to areas near the Nicaraguan border in order to prevent timber smuggling. Honduras denied the two moves were related.

Aleman said Wednesday that his country’s military would respond with ``routine measures″ to the Honduran troop movements.

The tax imposed by Aleman broke with regional free market agreements and slaps the same 35 percent rate on Honduran products as applies to Colombian goods.

``We are treating all goods coming from Honduras as if they came from Colombia, which it united (with) to wound this country,″ Aleman said.

On Tuesday, Aleman had threatened to completely break commercial relations with Honduras.

The two countries disagree over where to draw the maritime boundary from their border at Cabo Gracias a Dios. Honduras claims it should run due east along the 15th parallel. Nicaragua claims it should run northeast, following the general line of the land border, up to the 17th parallel.

Nicaragua also claims rights over islands east to the 78th meridian. Colombia claims its own rights extend west to the 82nd meridian, based on a 1928 treaty which Nicaragua claims was forced upon it by a U.S. occupation force at the time.

The dispute is especially bitter because all Central American governments claim to honor the dream of Central American unity.

The governments have created a joint _ if largely powerless _ parliament and court and regularly consult on how to deal with the United States, Mexico and other countries.

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