BOGOTA -- A week after The International Court of Justice ruled that tens of thousands of miles of Caribbean Sea that Colombia had traditionally plied now belong to Nicaragua, this Andean nation said it was withdrawing from a 1948 treaty that binds it to the United Nations’ body.
On Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos said the Hague-based court had used “undefined” and subjective criteria in its ruling full of “mistakes” and “omissions.”
“I have decided that the nation’s highest interests demand that territorial and maritime borders be established by treaties,” he told a meeting of the national coffee industry, “and not by rulings of the International Court of Justice.”
Colombia informed the court of its decision Tuesday, Santos said. The move will not be retroactive, so last week’s ruling will stand, but it might block any further attempts by Nicaragua to use the court to press its ownership claims.
“Never again should we have to face what happened to us on Nov. 19,” Santos said.
Last week, the Netherlands-based ICJ ratified Colombia’s sovereignty over the San Andres Archipelago but it vastly expanded Nicaragua’s territorial waters around the islands. The decision left two smaller uninhabited Colombian islands, Serrano and Quitasueño, in Nicaraguan waters.
The tourist haven of San Andres lies about 128 miles from Nicaragua and 455 miles from Colombia, and has been at the center of the historical dispute, which goes back to the 1800s. Nicaragua took its case to The Hague in 2001.
Colombia was expecting to lose some of its territorial waters, but experts were surprised by the amount put in play. The ruling denied Colombia an estimated 46,000 to 56,000 miles of water it has considered its own.
Carlos Arguello, Nicaragua’s ambassador to the ICJ, said Colombia’s withdrawal from the body “makes no sense,” because it won’t influence the ruling.
He said Colombia’s pretension that the court draw the maritime boundary between the far-flung San Andres and the Nicaraguan mainland was unreasonable. “It’s impossible that Colombia seriously believed that we were going to remain trapped,” he told Nicaragua’s La Prensa newspaper.
During the 1948 Conference of American States, nations in the region signed the “Bogota Pact,’’ which requires signatories to find peaceful solutions to conflicts. That treaty, which was ratified by 16 nations, recognizes the ICJ as the maximum judicial arbiter.
While Colombia may withdraw from the Bogota Pact, it can’t escape the ICJ, said Jaime Duarte, an international law expert at Bogota’s Externado University. The country is a signatory to more than 103 other international treaties that use the ICJ as its mediator.
But the withdrawal makes for good politics at a time when national pride is hurt, he said. “This is little more than a salute to the flag,” he said.
The biggest impact of the ruling is on the fishing industry based on the San Andres Archipelago. Alain Manjarres, executive director of the San Andres Chamber of Commerce, said most fishermen are avoiding the disputed area for fear of running across Nicaraguan patrols. He said more than 1,000 families relied on the fishing grounds that are now barred to them.
“Even more than the economic impact, we are talking about the food security of the islanders,” he said.
In addition, San Andres’ largest seafood exporter, Antillana, may be shutting its processing factory, which employs about 250 people, Manjarres said.
Colombia’s loss has been Nicaragua’s gain, and President Daniel Ortega has said the new territory could help drive oil exploration and foreign investment to one of the poorest nations in the Americas. Earlier this week, as he deployed troops to oversee the waters, he said it was the nation’s “moral, ethical and historical” duty to reclaim the territory.
Despite the heated rhetoric in Bogota, Santos said the country is willing to negotiate. “Colombia has no intention of separating itself from a peaceful solution to the controversy,” he said.