Will Colombia become a rogue nation?

News Analysis.

After a week of dithering, chest-thumping, and hot-blooded tweeting, Colombia is apparently ready to talk to Nicaragua about the World Court’s historic redrawing of maritime boundaries in the Caribbean Sea. 

The New Maritime Boundaries, acccording to ICJ ruling

Since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down its verdict on Nov. 19, granting Nicaragua some 100,000 square kilometers of disputed maritime territory, Colombia’s response has been higgledy-piggledy and highly emotional. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ first reaction was to dismiss the whole second half of the verdict as unacceptable to his country. Hours later, Colombia’s Foreign Minister María Angela Holguín took a more diplomatic approach by calling for dialogue and understanding with Nicaragua. The following day, the Colombian government apparently flip-flopped again by saying it would maintain its warships in Nicaraguan waters to defend its historic claim to the sea. On Saturday, Colombia again called for talks with Nicaragua, though it’s not clear what the South American nation hopes to negotiate on the margin of the ICJ with their “gunboat dialogue.”

Nicaragua, meanwhile, has remained patient. The Sandinistas’ historic position on sovereignty, famously stated by Gen. Augusto Sandino (“sovereignty is not discussed, it’s defended with guns in hand”), seems quaint in this circumstance, given the enormous disparity in firepower between the two nations. Still, Nicaragua has made it clear that there isn’t much to talk about at this point.

“I am certain that…Colombia will recognize the ruling by the International Court of Justice, because there is no other way forward; there is only one path and that’s to comply with the ruling and respect Nicaragua’s historic right,” said Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in a speech Friday night.

Ham-handed histrionics

Nicaragua’s call for rule of law stands in contradiction to Colombia’s petulant rogue-nation behavior as it threatens to defy the will of the World Court. Other countries in the region can only watch the situation with quiet wonderment, waiting to see if reason and international law will prevail over nationalism and military might.

Colombia’s substantial loss of maritime territory seems to have triggered an identity crisis in the powerful South American nation. Some Colombians have gone so far as to suggest that losing their claim to the Caribbean waters was worse than losing Panama in 1903. As mainland Colombians vent nationalistic determination, the islanders of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina fret over the future management of natural resources

Residents of San Andres Island protest the World Court’s ruling (photo/ Juan Velasquez)

The Colombian government, stuck in a no-win situation amid conflicting domestic and international interests, has reacted in a ham-fisted manner; it’s still not clear whether Colombia intends to uphold the ICJ ruling a week after it was handed down.

Political analysts think Colombia will eventually settle down and come to its senses before making any final policy decisions.

“Colombia is too sophisticated to continue behaving like Cantinflas,” says Nicaragua’s Arturo Cruz, a former ambassador and political science professor at INCAE. “Colombia will eventually realize that they would lose a lot more by defying the International Court of Justice than they will by ceding part of the Caribbean Sea.”

If Colombia’s final decision is to thumb its nose at The Hague and international law, it would set a very worrisome precedent, Cruz says. That’s probably why other Latin American countries—many of which have their own cases before the International Court of Justice—are watching Colombia very carefully right now and reserving comment until their temper tantrum is over.

Noise from Colombia’s political peanut gallery has done little to assuage the country’s patriotic distress. Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, who as president four years ago promised President Ortega that his country would uphold whatever ruling the ICJ handed down, today—free from the responsibilities of office—says President Santos should reject the ruling.

To argue his case for defying the ICJ, Uribe has been tweeting prolifically about other cases in history that he claims establishes a precedent for rebellion against the Court: France in 1973, Island in 1974, Argentina in 1977, the U.S. in 1984, Romania in 1989, Malaysia in 1989 and Nigeria in 2002.

“Court rulings that violate a country’s sovereignty are rejected,” Uribe tweeted on Friday.

Dispute moves from legal to political

“Colombia got blindsided by this ruling and right now they are venting their spleen to get the venom out and come to grips with it,” says Nicaragua’s ex-Foreign Minister Francisco Aguirre, who presented Nicaragua’s case against Colombia before the ICJ in 2001.

Aguirre says he too thinks Colombia will eventually “regain its senses and act like an adult nation,” but insists Nicaragua needs to be prepared for the possibility that the South American nation will buck the ICJ entirely and use its military muscle to assert its historic claim to the Caribbean waters. In the event of Colombia’s defiance, Aguirre says, Nicaragua would need to launch an aggressive diplomatic offensive in international forums such as SICA, the UN and OAS.

If that happens, Nicaragua could expect immediate pushback from Costa Rica, which claims Nicaragua is also violating the will of the ICJ by maintaining brigades of Sandinista Youth to occupy a disputed border region along the Río San Juan. Costa Rica’s Foreign Minister Enrique Castillo says Nicaragua’s continued presence on Harbour Head island “constitutes a brazen lack of compliance with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures” handed down March 8, 2011.

As the maritime dispute becomes political, Nicaragua’s allies—namely the leftist countries of ALBA—will have to overcome their sudden shyness and speak up in defense of their besieged comrade. So far, the only country to come out in open support of the ICJ verdict is ALBA-defector Honduras, which said it would uphold the ruling after determining that it would not affect its maritime borders.

A deadline for fussing?

In Washington, the expectation is that Colombia will eventually calm down and do the right thing by adhering to international law, according to Latin American analysts.

The deadline for Colombia’s temper tantrum could be as early as today, when a high-ranking U.S. delegation arrives in Bogotá for a round of bilateral meetings with the Santos administration to discuss issues related to free-trade and security cooperation.

Though the meeting was not scheduled to coincide with the World Court ruling, the timing is such that it could encourage Colombia to cool it on the chest-thumping and focus on the task of tending to U.S. relations, says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

“Colombia will want to be under reasonable control and lower the temperature by the time the U.S. delegation gets there,” Shifter says. “They won’t want to be too distracted or wound up over the ICJ ruling.”


  • John Shepard

    In the good old days nations negotiated treaties to solve these questions. Going to a politically charged UN for resolution might not produce viable results. The UN is hardly apolitical.

    In this case the San Andreans remain Colombian, and they wanted no part of Nicaragua; but thanks to the court decision they have lost their ability to sustain themselves. Far from a “Solomonic” decision, in my opinion.

  • Ruleoflaw

    The icj made the right decision. Nicaraguan people are not greedy…they will share whatever there is in those waters. They will never stop people from san andres from fishing there. On the other hand, Colombia would have blocked nicaraguan people from navigating or fishing in those waters causing more poverty for nicaragua.

    • Luis Arturo Sobalvarro

      You can be sure of that, my friend. You are absolutely correct!

    • Jorge Greco Rodriguez

      Thank You Sir for those kind honest words.

  • Justice

    This issued was resolved decades ago, and Colombia has had the legal papers to prove its sovereignty there. The ICJ is stealing the right that was given to Colombians, which include those form San Andres, a long time ago. Colombia is right in denying the ICJ’s biased opinion.

    • Luis Arturo Sobalvarro

      “legal papers”???????????????????????????????????????????????
      you mean like the legal papers the ICJ handed down 8 days ago, with a unanimous decision by all 15 judges? Or ones that were unilaterally drafted in Bogota?

  • Luis Arturo Sobalvarro

    Good article, Tim.
    I lived in Colombia for several years, and the “talking out of both side of their mouths” that we see now is typical.
    Would Colombians be against an ICJ ruling that devolves sovereignty over Panama back to them? I highly doubt it.
    I certainly understand how upset they must be. I, too, would be upset if I were Colombian. But the fact that those waters (and islands, too, frankly) never “really” belonged to them is more than apparent. I think they got off petty good. They should be happy.
    But until they agree to accept the ruling and behave like a civilized and law-abiding member of the international community, I don’t think the Nica government should sit down and have any sort of “dialogue”.

    • pepcon

      Here the court changed the traditional way to judge, from objective to subjective. For first time sentenced based on subjective perceptions like equality and size, modifying borders based on it, breaking down objective parameters as unity of territories, traditional sovereignty, and previous valid treaties. With this jurisprudence of equality any country can go to court and try to fish new land or sea.

  • Luis Arturo Sobalvarro

    Will Colombia become a rogue nation? Colombia already was, and has always been, a rogue nation. Don’t believe me? Get a load of the decision they just made today?

  • NAS

    In the words of Tony Montana…..” I Don’t Like F’ing Colombians ” ..lmao Anybody who is not biased can see that those islands and the waters belong to Nicaragua …It would be like someone trying to take Key West or PR from the U.S. ….chill out Colombia and get some more protitutes ready for the US Secret Service ..cocaine and hookers is all your good for…

    • Andresw

      Such an idiot… please read history before throwing bull shit… what part of “Moskitia Coast was ceded to Nicaragua by Colombia while Nicaragua recognized Colombia sovereignty over San Andres” in the Esguerra Barcenas treatie you don’t understand? With the same argument I could say that Marian Islands should be part of Philipnes and not a US territoy… duh!

      • NAS

        The phillipines were SOLD to the U.S by Spain …VERY different situation.
        The Philippines had been claimed and administered by Spain starting in 1565, until the Spanish American War of 1898. The Spanish Army and Navy were unable to defend their colonies in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Philippines. Admiral Dewey easily defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Manila Bay. The islands were ceded to the US in the Treaty of Paris (1898). NOW if your saying Colombia should buy back the territory im sure their is a price for that ..lmao

        • Andresw

          NO… same situation here… Spanish colonies conserved his territories after they separated from Spain… Nueva Granada colony renamed to Colombia had territories including the entire Nicaragua coast. After Nicaragua became a country (Nicaragua even didn’t exist as a nation when Colombia separated from Spain), they claimed the Moskitia coast, so for that reason both contries signed a treaty recognizing Colombia all the San Andres Archipielago and Colombia ceding the Moskitia Coast and other islands to Nicaragua… read the Barcenas-Esguerra treaty and let me know if that is a different situation!!!

        • Andresw

          Another thing…for your knowledge USA is also claiming some islands of the San Andres Archipielago… So what is the deal with the proximity? Do you think USA has arguments about overseas territories vs mainland proximity???? pleaseeeee!

    • KT

      This is so rude. Let me tell you something, your Nica’s women are more known for being darn prostitutes. You BF ladies are well known for being drunkards and taking away husbands.

      A Colombian LADY!

      • NAS

        Sorry Lady i live in Washington DC and the only hooker stories with the Secret Service were about Colombian women…

  • Logic

    Colombia will loose some of its territory, the question is how much. By accepting ICJs jurisdiction in the past the must follow the rules. However Nicaragua doesn’t have much authority regarding that subject. This country has issues with almost all of its neighbors. Just a fun fact, Colombia’s annual budget for military is larger than Nicaragua’s entire GDP. Nicaragua has previously recognized it can’t control all of its maritime territory, much less now. The US,who’s obviously leaning more towards Colombia in this case, has also raised its concerns about Nicaragua’s role in preventing drugs from having free path through the caribbean. By force Nicaragua doesn’t stand a chance, they will eventually have to negotiate.

  • NAS

    So are we saying that if we give all the waters to COLOMBIA they will prevent drugs from crossing the carribean?????? THE Biggest importer of drugs to the U.S. ?? COLOMBIA thought Pablo Escobar was a allright guy ?? ..LMAO !! LOGIC get a new name cuz you have no logic chump! Colombia needs to stop acting like baby and accept the ICJ’s decision if not the U.S. should pull ALL monetary and military aid then Colombia is left with NO budget and a bunch of coked up hookers.

  • Logic

    You have to learn how to read, I never said Colombia could control the drug trafficking to the US. I said the US was concerned to make a point, their country won’t intervene but if they have to they will for sure not support Nicaragua, much less pull out all of their aid. Forgot about the Iran Contras? Why do you say if the US doesnt give Colombia resources it will end up with no military budget? Nicaragua is Latin Americas second poorest country, while Colombia has the third largest economy after Braziland Mexico, you do the math. And are you saying there aren’t hookers in Nicaragua? Btw, Colombia obviuosly didn’t think Pablo Escobar was an “all right guy”.

    • NAS

      Breaking News …US NAVY to patrol Waters granted to NIC by the ICJ and Daniel Ortega Authorizes U.S. Russia, Venezuela, Cuba troops to enter the country…..What will Colombia do ??? Will they fire at US NAVY personell patrolling the area? Considering i was in the NAVY and fought in Afghan and Iraq that would be a huge mistake for Colombia … A couple of Patriot Missiles up the Arse will make them come around quick….But just to Quote you ” they will for sure not support Nicaragua” kinda funny now that the US is sending a clear message that they stand by the ICJ NOT colombia but if you would had asked me before i probably would have agreed with you..lol..

  • Anthony

    As far as I know, everything belong to Nicaragua based on proximity and historical data. Nicaragua should’ve had obtain the Islands too but certainly the will of its people belongs to Colombia and therefore the ICJ made the right desicion by keeping those islanders with their beloved Colombia. Nicaragua had reclaim its territory even if it means loosing San Andres and the rest of islands. Colombia should be happy that it managed to keep these islands and after all isn’t that what they wanted?
    Eventually Colombia is looking more like a rogue republic because of its behaviour

  • Berg

    You guys are arguing without any real knowledge. First of all the islands have never belonged to Nicaragua and proximity doesn’t define their ownership. Second the verdict doesn’t give sovereignty to Nicaragua, they became international water. Nicaragua has economical rights but anyone can pass through those waters. So Ortega saying US, Venezuela and others can patrol the waters is pure populism. Also his decision is mainly political so it must be seen as such because the decision made by the ICJ has serious faults, so Colombia does have the possibility to take action against this. First the ICJ recognized sovereignty over the keys but not over it’s surrounding waters, as the presence had only been done by air. Second the Court based part of its decision on the Law of the Sea Convention which Colombia didn’t sign so it can’t be used. Based on this convention the ICJ decided to use the principle of proportionality to establish the boundaries instead of international law which is incongruent. Third the court altered the limits with other countries who weren’t involved in the process. Fourth the ICJ recognized the validity of th Esguerra-Barcenas Treaty but then in its veredict decided against what was previously instated in said treaty. Fifth the ICJ broke the principal of land extension when it recognized Colombias ruling over the keys and admitting they are exposed over water all year long, but didn’t recognize it comes with its conecting water. That being said its nonsense to believe Colombia will use its military might in order to not recognize the verdict. It’s a huge international cost they can’t afford. So at the end the military option is just a way of coming into negotiations in a dominant position, but this will eventually end with negotiation. The UN has a process in which countries can not take into account a veredict from the ICJ which Colombia has started. It’s a long and hard process but can be done. Therefore it’s even more pressure for a negotiated way out of this issue. Colombian president has said it will not remove its army until his legal team has discussed the verdict and Colombian fishermen still fish in those areas mainly due to the real lack of presence from Nicaragua. He has also spoken with Ortega and ruled out the use of force in that matter so stop arguing over who has more power and who’s got who on their side. This case can stand a precedent for other similar situations so it will most likely not be resolved in the comming days. And before any of you from either side come and attack me personally instead of my arguments I must say I’m from Germany studying law in the US and have never been to either country. I just happen to have studied this case here at Harvard in the past months so I’m up to everything that has happened. Sorry for the long post but hope this helps to write better replies not based on nationalism but real arguments. Just in case here’s the verdict: http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/files/124/17164.pdf

    • NAS

      Well Said Berg and i agree that the decisions made by the ICJ were at best mediocre…..they should have given it eigther all to Colombia or ALL to Nicaragua … But instead they tried to make both countries happy which is impossible …That being said the court has made it’s decision …And ALL civilized country’s will be on the side of the ICJ so that leaves Colombia as Rogue state that has troops in waters belonging to another Nation.. The question would be is the U.S there to help enforce the courts decision? At some point somebody needs to get the hell out …it seems alot of different nations are concentrating troops in one spot.

  • Neo

    Nicaragua has undoubtedly the distinction of having the only pedophile president on record. When one goggles the name of Zoilamérica Narváez what comes back is the recount of a minor who was systematically abused for 20 years by her stepfather none other than the President of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega. In 1998 Narvaez thru a letter described the sexual abuse that she had to endure at the hands of Ortega since the age of 11. This by the way is something the nicas should be proud of, specially given the fact that Ortega was re elected to a second term. As far as the ICJ ruling is something which could be best described as irrelevant, what these buffoons ruled in the past not only has gone unnoticed but ignored if not as our friends from Israel

  • Berg

    So now it seems Colombia is going to, by decree, claim possession of its water. Nicaragua will have to use force or the UN (another political institution which doesn’t mean will make the right decision) to keep the water the ICJ gave them. I foresee diplomatic and military tensions.

  • Julio C.Tejada

    It seems an stupid reaction from Colombia, since they accepted to take these matter to be resolved by the court; something they both agreed to, so
    Colombia should accept the ruling whether granted to Nicaragua or Colombia.
    Come on Colombia..! show the world you respect the International Court decission. show you are a democratic nation that abides by international law.