San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Water Wars

Oil drilling rights at the heart of maritime dispute between Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Costa Rica and Nicaragua are headed back to the International Court of Justice at The Hague to settle another border dispute following years of wrangling over maritime oil-drilling blocks.

The Casa Presidencial and the Foreign Ministry released statements Monday afternoon announcing Costa Rica’s intent to file a compliant with the world court on Tuesday, Feb. 25 to establish maritime boundaries between the two countries in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Since 2010, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have been embroiled in protracted cases at The Hague over the disputed Isla Calero (also known as Isla Portillos) wetlands along their shared Caribbean border.

President Laura Chinchilla said Monday afternoon that the latest case came in response to “aggressive attitudes and recurrent threats from the government of Nicaragua’s expansionist policy,” according to a statement from the Foreign Ministry. The president mentioned Nicaragua’s decision to increase its naval fleet in recent years as another reason to seek the world court’s intervention.

Costa Rica also announced its concern over a proposed reform to the Nicaraguan Constitution that would redraw Nicaragua’s boundaries with other countries, including Costa Rica, based on a 2009 maritime border ruling with Colombia by the court. The statement from the Casa Presidencial on Monday claimed that the world court said its ruling would not effect the boundaries of countries outside the dispute.

Chinchilla suggested that Nicaragua was aiming to capture fishing, oil and natural gas resources that could be in the disputed areas. Petroleum drilling rights have been at the heart of the maritime conflict.

In 2002, Nicaragua published a map with oil drilling blocks that Costa Rica contested. Negotiations over the boundaries continued until 2005 when Nicaragua suspended the talks. In July 2013, Costa Rica again balked at a Nicaraguan map published as part of a promotional packet for oil drilling concessions in the Pacific and Caribbean, insisting that dozens of the blocks presented passed into Costa Rican waters.

Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro signed a three-year oil drilling moratorium in 2011.

The world court rejected Nicaragua’s claim in December 2013 that a road Costa Rica built along the Río San Juan, which serves as a border between the two countries, caused environmental damage.  

Contact Zach Dyer at

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