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”.


Boxed in and cut adrift. Photo, El Tiempo

Kevin Howlett

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.

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3 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. marcos August 13, 2013 at 10:53 pm -

    I was born in nicaragua in 1959 and due to zomosa regime,i had to ran away from my country to US,i have been living almost 40 years in miami,my understanding acording with SAN ANDRES ISLAND,was beacuse COLOMBIA was claiming panama city as part of its territory ( which i agree with colombia,panama belongs to them.),but due that as always USA makes business with lands or island that does not belong to USA,they made a good trick,nicaragua at that times was invaded with 22,000 marines from 1910 to 1935,the ruler on that periods of time was USA,now to calm colombia from claiming panama they gave SAN ANDRES in rewards just if they leave panama to become indepent from colombia.colombia claim that they had san andres for 200 years,lie,the english army conquered in the caribbean island and nicaragua atlantic coast,the indian living in nicaragua atlantic coast they used to go fishing to san andres and go back to port of the english army due to the pirates,so,niacargua did not do anything because the atlantic coast belonged to the english army,when the american arrived to nicaragua they made business like is the whole world belongs to USA.A treaty like that between USA-COLOMBIA FOR SAN ANDRES,is ILEGAL.and nicaragua must search anything to secured the waters returned by icj and enforce to comply with that ruling and seak help in another country but USA.thanks

  2. Silvio Canto Jr November 20, 2012 at 1:33 pm -

    Where is the Colombian Navy or a version of Margaret Thatcher?

    Back in 1982, the UK established its sovereignty over The Falklands because it had the ability to send a fleet and drive Argentina away. We should remember that most of the world supported Argentina. It was only Pres Reagan and the US who stood with the UK.

    However, world opinion and 75 cents will buy a Diet Coke and the nearest vending machine. It means nothing if you have a Navy capable of projecting power!

    Unfortunately, Colombia had to subject itself to an international court and live with its ruling because it had no other choice.

    Moralof the story: You cannot claim something that you cannot defend or be willing to fight for.

    Again, remember the Falklands!

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