San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Nicaragua’s Ortega declares victory in world court ruling; Colombia’s Santos complains

Colombia rejected a ruling on Monday by the International Court of Justice in a dispute with Nicaragua over maritime territory involving the islands of San Andrés, Providencia, Santa Catalina and adjacent cays, according to an announcement made by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.

“In drawing maritime boundaries, the court committed grave errors that I should highlight and that negatively affect us,” Santos said on Monday. “This includes omissions, errors, excesses [and] inconsistencies that we cannot accept.”

Santos expressed satisfaction with the court’s decision that the disputed islands and cays belong to Colombia, but he did not say how Colombia planned on challenging the maritime territory granted to Nicaragua. The court’s ruling cannot be appealed.

“We’re not going to discard any recourse or mechanism available to us through international law,” Santos said. “Be assured that we will respect judicial norms, as has been the tradition in this country, but we also will strongly defend the rights of all Colombians.”

The world court extended Nicaragua’s sovereignty over maritime territory in the Caribbean, but maintained part of the area west of San Andrés under Colombian control. The two countries opted for a case before the court to challenge sovereignty of the area, which is rich in petroleum and other natural resources. Previously, both countries said they would respect the ruling of the court’s 15 judges.

That ruling extended Nicaragua’s maritime jurisdiction to an area previously controlled by Colombia.

The dispute originated in 1928, when Managua ceded the islands of San Andrés and Providencia to Bogotá with the signing of the Bárcenas-Meneses Esguerra Treaty, ratified in 1933.

In 1969, Nicaragua rejected Colombia’s attempt to set the two countries’ maritime borders at the 82nd meridian. Nicaragua argued that the treaty did not set maritime borders, and Colombia’s efforts encroached on Nicaragua’s Caribbean continental shelf. In 1980, Nicaragua declared the treaty void.

In December 2001, Nicaragua filed a complaint against Colombia before the world court. Six years later, the court recognized Colombia’s sovereignty over the three islands, and said it would rule later on the maritime boundaries and control over the region’s cays.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega on Monday declared the court ruling a “national victory.” 

“Today is a day for the homeland, a day of victory for all Nicaraguans,” said Ortega, who was flanked by former presidents Arnolodo Alemán (1997-2002) and Enrique Bolaños (2002-2007).

“We are regaining maritime territory [that is] 200 miles [east of the Nicaraguan coast]. Until today, we were prisoners in our own maritime territory. … The Colombians ruled by force for many years,” Ortega said in an act celebrated in Managua’s Plaza of the Revolution.

“We hope that beginning today this kind of tension doesn’t happen again, and we hope that the court’s decision to return to Nicaragua what belongs to it will be respected. We’re talking about thousands of kilometers in the sea with fishing resources and supposedly petroleum,” Ortega said.

Referring to residents on San Andrés island, Ortega said, “We believe and continue considering you as Nicaraguans.” He said those residents could continue fishing in what is now Nicaraguan water.

Ortega called the Colombian president’s reaction to the ruling “troubling.”

“It simply shows a total disrespect for international law,” Ortega said, referring to Santos’ comments. Santos “is not a supreme authority” on international law to tell the court whether its decision is correct or not, he added.

“The only thing left [for Colombia] to do is to resort to a celestial court, because there’s no other court left on Earth,” Ortega said.

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