WASHINGTON—21st century revolutionaries apparently learned from their 20th century predecessors that the problem was not the methods but the ideals, so they got rid of the ideals and kept the methods. This explains the conduct of a few noisy Latin American governments.

That would include Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, who has invaded Costa Rican territory. Using the pretext that he wanted to dredge a part of the San Juan River that separates the two countries, his army took a portion of land on the right bank. According to a ruling by the International Court of Justice at the Hague, the right bank belongs to Costa Rica. The dredging operation before the invasion was led by Eden Pastora, a character out of an opera bouffe who went from Sandinista commander to disgraced revolutionary to anti-Sandinista “contra” and now to spearhead for the current Sandinista government’s expansionism. He claims that Google maps place his camp on Nicaraguan territory—a mistake that Google, suddenly turned into the equivalent of Pope Alexander VI, whose directive divided the new world between Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, has corrected.

Costa Rica, which has no army and was a symbol of stability and peaceful coexistence when those were arcane concepts in Latin America, has appealed to the Organization of American States. The OAS’ recent resolution calling for a troop withdrawal was only opposed by Venezuela and drew a couple of abstentions from other revolutionaries. Ortega now claims he will indeed withdraw—from the hemispheric body, not from Costa Rica. His ploy to appeal to the International Court of Justice is uncanny. He is desperately subverting the few checks and balances left in Nicaragua in order to unconstitutionally seek re-election and knows that the court at the Hague has already granted Nicaragua sovereignty over the river, and given Costa Rica rights of navigation as well as sovereignty over the right bank. He calculates that by the time the court makes a new decision, he will have long been re-elected.

Ortega may be interested in diverting the mouth of the river, which is on the Caribbean, toward Nicaraguan territory. But there are more sinister interpretations. In Tel Aviv, the left-leaning daily Haaretz, has gone as far as to report, based on Israeli sources, that there is a Venezuelan-Nicaraguan-Iranian attempt to build a canal connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans.

Former Costa Rican Vice President Kevin Casas-Zamora, currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told me that “the rationality of this move from Daniel Ortega’s perspective is unclear. The acts of a crazy man or a sociopath are never totally clear. But I can say that, as regularly as a Swiss watch ticks, whenever an election looms, the Nicaraguan political class makes the San Juan river an issue.”

Besides the long-running border dispute, Ortega has spent the last year demolishing every impediment to his re-election just as Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales and Rafael Correa did in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. He is doubly barred from running because the Nicaraguan Constitution limits presidents to two non-consecutive terms (he was president from 1985 to 1990 as well). When he failed to muster enough votes in Congress to change this, Ortega had Sandinista justices of the Supreme Court rule in his favor, claiming his human rights were being violated. The non-Sandinista justices were ambushed by pro-government mobs and in practice forced to abandon their posts. Ortega printed a rewritten constitution and illegally extended the terms of his Supreme Court allies.

One does not need to be a psychic to see what’s coming. Ortega committed electoral fraud in municipal elections in 2008, when victory was stolen from Eduardo Montealegre, who was a candidate for mayor of Managua. He has illegally extended the terms of members of the electoral body who sanctified the election. “Ortega would not survive if not for the money he receives from Hugo Chavez,” Montealegre told me after the fraud. “It is the equivalent of one-third of the national budget, and his design is simply to dismantle democracy and remain in power forever.”

The invasion of Costa Rican territory, where Nicaraguan immigrants already amount to 12 percent of the population, is the last bit of thuggery in the pursuit of total power. Not just against Costa Rica—more importantly, against Ortega’s domestic critics, now terrified of becoming “traitors” if they denounce the move at the border while watching impotently as their nemesis’ fortunes rise amid nationalist hysteria.