Thursday, November 22, 2012

Colombia the Crybaby?

The islands are still Colombian, but not much of the sea is.
In the wake of the International Justice Court's ruling shrinking Colombia's slice of the Caribbean Sea, Colombian officials from the president on down have called the decision flawed, vowed to challenge it and threatened to withdraw from the international court's jurisdiction.

The decision is certainly unfortunate for the people of the San Andres archipelago, who's fishing opportunities have been drastically reduced. But, to a layman like myself, the ruling does seem reasonable. After all, Nicaragua's coast is much, much longer than the islands', so doesn't it make sense for Nicaragua to get a corresponding lion's share of the nearby waters? Colombia, remember, has lots of territorial waters off of its Pacific and Atlantic coasts. And the court DID reaffirm Colombia's sovereignety over the keys (tiny islands), which had received all the attention before the ruling. A phyrric victory is still a victory.

Colombia's territorial waters
before the court ruling.
(Image from Wikipedia)
And the International Court of Justice is a highly respected institution with no apparent motive for bias. So, its ruling deserves the benefit of the doubt.

But Colombia's attitude is shortsighted and self-destructive for a more fundamental reason. Historically, Colombia has consistantly and creditable respected the decisions of international bodies, even when they denounced Colombia's record on human rights violations. That attitude has undoubtedly earned Colombia respect among international observers. And it's a way of banking moral credits for the day when international tribunals favor Colombia against another country. Then, Colombia can say:

'Look, we honored the decision when it went against us, so it's your responsibility to respect this decision that's unfavorable to you.'

Or, until this week Colombia could have said that.

Colombia's dramatically reduced sea possessions.
(Image from Nicaragua Dispatch)
But, by making an about-face after having promised to respect the Justice Court's ruling, Colombia ends up looking like a crybaby and a sore loser. And the day an international ruling comes down in Colombia's favor - for example over the long-running border difference with Venezuela - the losing nation will surely point to Colombia's attitude in the San Andres dispute to argue that it needn't respect the latest decision.

By trying to reject the court's authority, Colombia is behaving like Venezuela, which has simply stormed out of international organizations which criticized its actions on human rights and other issues.

Finally, Colombia's position is futile because, as Colombian leaders have acknowledged when not grandstanding for domestic consumption, they WILL honor the court's ruling.

Colombians should step back and look at the big picture. While the sea territory change is a blow to the residents of San Andres and to national pride, on a national economic scale it's not very significant. Colombia's international image and reputation are much more important.

Colombia should also not lose sight of the fact that Nicaragua is a tiny and very poor nation with a leader who seems to be making himself into a dictator. Nicaraguans deserve a break, too.

President Santos has condemned the International Justice Court's ruling.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Anthony said...

The International Court of Justice had no authority to overturn the Esguerra-Bárcenas Treaty signed between 1928 and 1930 which supports Colombia’s claim on the sovereignty over the islands and the surrounding ocean. Colombia has already stated they will not abide by this ruling and they shouldn’t. It’s all about the oil, and the last country you want drilling for oil in this area is Nicaraguan's socialist government who doesn’t give a damn about the environment, just how much money they can put in foreign bank accounts before being voted out of office.

Miguel said...

Thanks for your comment Anthony.

I understand that Colombia accepted the ICJ's jurisdiction in the Pact of Bogota, which Colombia later ratified.

I agree that Nicaragua's environmental responsibility is very questionable. And these new boundaries will cut in two a marine reserve area declared by Colombia.

Still, sadly, environmental factors aren't considered by these courts. Mike