Nicaragua’s National Assembly today approved a presidential decree authorizing U.S. troops to enter the country to conduct joint drug patrols in Caribbean waters that Nicaragua acquired from Colombia in last week’s ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Presidential decree 43-2012, passed Thursday afternoon “with urgency” at the behest of President Daniel Ortega, authorizes the U.S. military to conduct joint anti-narcotics operations in Nicaragua’s expanded maritime territory from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2013.
The authorization of the joint drug patrols comes amid an international debate over Nicaragua’s capacity to protect its expanded maritime territory. It also marks the first time Nicaragua’s congress has approved the entrance of foreign troops for a military mission other than “humanitarian aid” or training exercises, according to Nicaraguan defense expert Roberto Cajina.
Cajina thinks the decree contradicts a precept of the constitution establishing that foreign troops may enter national territory only for humanitarian purposes. Nicaragua does however have a joint-patrol agreement with the United States that allows U.S. ships to enter Nicaragua’s territorial waters for drug patrols.
Cajina says the existence of that joint-patrol agreement therefore makes presidential decree 43-2012 unnecessary. The true purpose of the decree, Cajina thinks, was to send a clear political message to Colombia.
“This is a clear and implicit message that the United States recognizes the ICJ’s ruling,” Cajina says. U.S. policy, he adds, is expressed through its actions, and a joint patrol in waters still claimed by Colombia is a “not-so-subtle message that the U.S. is backing the court’s ruling,” he says.
The Sandinista government says the presence of U.S. troops will strengthen Nicaragua’s drug-fighting capacities at sea and help the country exert its expanded sovereignty.
“This is part of the development of our armed forces, especially our navy, as part of the joint-patrol agreement we have coordinated with the United States,” said head Sandinista congressmen Edwin Castro in a legislative press release. “This will reinforce the war on narco-activity, international organized crime, and strengthen the exercise of our sovereignty.”
The presidential decree also authorizes the entrance of troops from Venezuela, Russia, Cuba and Taiwan to participate in various other humanitarian and disaster-response training missions.
Colombia, meanwhile, maintains its own warships in the same Caribbean waters, as the government of Juan Manuel Santos continues to reject the world court’s ruling.
In comments Thursday in Bogota, Santos vowed to remain firm against the ICJ ruling and to treat Nicaragua with “an iron fist in a velvet glove.”