Colombia yesterday lost its battle to retain the Caribbean waters that surround the islands of the San Andrés archipelago following an unexpected ruling by International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague.
The ICJ has handed Daniel Ortega´s Nicaragua sovereignty over important fishing routes and maritime territory expected to be rich in oil and gas.
The archipelago, part of Colombia for over 200 years, has long been the victim of Nicaraguan aggression and 11 years ago the Pastrana government accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ to mediate in the dispute.
Pastrana´s decision today looks flawed. Why did Colombia submit itself to the whim of an international body? Would the British cede such control over the future of the Falklands?
So as Colombia licks her wounds of defeat and as Ortega corks the champagne, questions arise over the effectiveness of Colombia´s foreign policy.
María Ángela Holguín, the Foreign Minister faces calls for her resignation, but appears reluctant to do so. This morning she told the press that “if my resignation were to resolve the problem, well show me where to sign”. Nevertheless, Congress hopes to pass a motion of censure for the ministry´s failings.
In truth though, while Holguín will not look back on this moment as her finest hour, it is perhaps fairer to apportion the blame to the ministry itself. Years of ineffectual diplomacy has left Colombia isolated. Where are her allies jumping to her defence, where are the allies expressing outrage at the decision? Where was the international pressure before the court´s decision?
President Santos last night spoke to the nation to express his opposition to the court´s decision. The government must now examine what to do. There is no legal avenue open to them, no recourse to appeal (unless an error is identified in the court´s decision making process – a highly unlikely eventuality).
So what next? Refuse to go along with the court´s decision, or sit back and watch Ortega gloat?
High profile Liberal Party Senator Juan Manuel Galán tweeted the following:
“It now falls to the Congress to execute the court´s decision by modifying the constitution. I will vote against this amendment.”
The political fallout and the cost to the Santos regime is only just beginning to play out. The debates in Congress will be fierce. Last night on the top radio programme Hora 20, former Senate President Armando Benedetti in indignation also promised to stand firm against the decision:
“I´m calling for us not to recognise the court´s decision because it isolates and ghettoizes San Andrés. What we did (by allowing it go to the ICJ) was of the utmost stupidity.”
Holguín has bought the government a bit of time, promising to explore all the options open to it. To many, though there are precious few ways out of this mess.
The San Andrés islanders will now fear the worst. Daniel Ortega offered a reassurance to the fisherman that they will not be met with aggression, but his words are hollow in the extreme. The routes are now open to the pirates and narcotraffickers that patrol the area, and Ortega has neither the inclination or the power to do anything about it.
The map below shows the new Nicaragua Colombia border, revealing just how cut off and boxed in the islands now are.
Perhaps the eloquent lament of the top San Andrés politician Representative Jack Hosni, when interviewed on Blu Radio this morning, tells us all:
“San Andrés is now the only archipelago in the world without a sea”.
Kevin is a political consultant and lobbyist who cut his teeth working in the UK Parliament. He is a regular panelist on Colombian television, a political communication strategist and a university lecturer. Kevin is the founder and editor of Colombia Politics.