Nicaraguan fishing boat captains on the Caribbean Sea say they are “fishing with fear” among Colombian warships that continue to ply Nicaragua’s recently recovered waters beyond the 82nd meridian. But they insist they are doing their patriotic duty to exert Nicaraguan sovereignty in the area.
“We are doing our part to support the government,” says Carlos Javier Goff, president of the Copescharley fishing company out of Puerto Cabezas. “We feel protected by the government and by the international community and, God willing, this won’t go to extremes…it won’t get beyond words and intimidation.”
Goff, whose fishing company has seven boats currently fishing near the 81st meridian, in waters still protected by Colombia despite the Nov. 19 world court ruling that establishes the waters as Nicaraguan territory, says his crews were harassed all last week by Colombian forces. He says his boat captains report the presence of two Colombian warships, which routinely deployed go-fasts to circle the Nicaraguan fishing boats. One of Colombian patrols allegedly attempted to board one of his Nicaraguan fishing vessels early last week, but the captain wouldn’t let the Colombian mariners aboard.
The harassment was also coming from the air, Goff says. “They were doing daily flyovers of our boats last week in helicopters and planes,” he told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview this morning.
Another Nicaraguan fishing company reported that one of its boats, the “Alex 2,” was also followed by a Colombian helicopter last week. The Nicaragua Dispatch tried to get more information from the boat’s owner, who lives in Bilwi, but he said he is uncomfortable talking about the situation over the phone and didn’t want to comment.
Nicaraguan authorities also refused to comment. Karen Joseph Sequeira, the delegate for the Nicaragua Fisheries Institute (INPESCA) in the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), said she is not authorized to speak on the subject. Manuel Vilchez, INPESCA’s delegate in the RAAN, was also suspicious of talking to reporters on the phone and said he had nothing to say, beyond clarifying that his title was “Compañero Vilchez.”
Those who did speak said the situation appears to be calming since Presidents Daniel Ortega and Juan Manuel Santos met in Mexico on Saturday. Boat owner Silvio Chamorro says his captains fishing on the 81st meridian report that the Colombian Navy now appears to be letting up a bit.
Still, the warships remain in Nicaraguan waters and the fisherman say they don’t know what to expect this week.
“The Colombian Navy is still there by force, and it’s an unwelcome presence—like when someone enters your house uninvited,” Goff says.
Goff says in some ways the ruling from The Hague didn’t change much in the disputed Caribbean waters.
“We have always fished in these same waters. I’ve had boats captured by the Colombian Navy twice, in 2003 and in 2011,” Goff says. “But we fished the waters anyway because it was always clear to us that they belonged to Nicaragua, and now the government and the international community supports that claim.”
With the International Court of Justice ruling in Nicaragua’s favor, it’s up to Nicaraguan fisherman to help exert their country’s sovereignty in the recovered maritime territory, because the Nicaraguan Navy is no match for Colombia’s, Goff says.
“We have a coastguard, but they have warships,” the boat owner says.
Still, he adds, the fisherman don’t feel like they are being used by the government as cannon fodder, because it’s their right to fish the waters and they feel backed by the law and the international community.
Conflict is not between fishermen
Like most border squabbles, the conflict over the maritime territory is a political squabble that’s felt most passionately in the capital cities far removed from the frontier.
In the Caribbean Sea, Goff says, the fishermen from Nicaragua have no problem with the fishermen from Colombia, San Andres or Honduras.