Colombia-Nicaragua ICJ Case Tests Region’s Crisis Resolution Mechanisms

Colombia-Nicaragua ICJ Case Tests Region’s Crisis Resolution Mechanisms

Latin America prides itself on being a peaceful region -- and with good reason. There has not been a military conflict between states for many years, and peace talks between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government may finally end the hemisphere’s only ongoing internal armed conflict. No other area of the developing world can boast such a record.

It is surprising, then, that border disputes continually bedevil the region. Many of these tensions remain unresolved, and when they surface, as in the example of the Nov. 19 ruling by the International Court of Justice on the case between Colombia and Nicaragua, there can be huge, often unexpected, ramifications. In this case, originally presented by Nicaragua in 2001, the court decided that the contested Caribbean islands making up the San Andrés archipelago belong to Colombia. But the court went on to greatly expand Nicaragua’s maritime rights around the islands.

The ruling was bemoaned in Bogota and celebrated in Managua. Having never before exercised control over the territory in question, the Nicaraguans had nothing to lose and rallied behind their usually divisive Sandinista president, Daniel Ortega, after the decision. Colombians also reacted strongly with accusations that The Hague’s judges were too political, while at the same time pointing fingers at Colombian politicians. The government’s perceived failure to prevent a humiliating blow to national pride has united Colombians of all stripes in collective disappointment and anger.

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