Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos met Saturday morning in Mexico City to establish first contact and commit themselves to a peaceful resolution to the escalating border tensions in the Caribbean Sea.
The brief meeting between the two presidents, held in the Mexican capital prior to the inauguration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, represents the first high-level diplomatic contact between Nicaragua and Colombia following the Nov. 19 ruling by the International Court of Justice, which redraw the maritime borders between the two countries. Colombia still rejects the ruling, even though it’s legally binding and unappealable.
Both presidents explained their respective country’s position on the matter and stressed the need for a solution through channels of diplomacy and dialogue.
“Of course nobody wants a bellicose confrontation. That is the last recourse,” Santos told reporters in Mexico following his sit-down with Ortega. “The way to resolve these types of situations is through dialogue—a sensible dialogue in which the positions are clearly stated and established, like we did in telling President Ortega what Colombia’s position is.”
Though the Colombian warships continue to ply Nicaraguan waters two weeks after the ICJ’s ruling, Santos said his country will look for mechanisms for international diplomacy to resolve the issue and “reestablish the rights that the ruling violated.”
Ortega, for his part, repeated that Nicaragua will continue to respect the ancestral fishing rights of the raizal, the Creole population of the Colombian islands of San Andres and Providencia.
“We are giving a message of peace and we are saying with total clarity that we are going to develop mechanisms for communication in all areas mentioned to guarantee the security of everyone, assuring the raizal people of their fishing rights, and also offering guarantees to the fishing industry based on San Andres,” Ortega said.
Rough seas ahead?
The initial meeting might have succeeded in momentarily assuaging patriotic passions on both sides of the Caribbean, but the conflict remains far from over. Colombia maintains its position that the ICJ’s ruling is unacceptable, and now wants to negotiate a new solution on the margins of international law.
“We told President Ortega clearly that we are looking to reestablish our rights that this ruling violated in a serious way for us Colombians,” said Santos, who after meeting with Ortega has a similar bilateral meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. “We will continue exploring all recourses that are available to us to defend the rights of Colombians.”
Though the meeting between the two presidents was cordial, Santos’ tone afterwards seemed to be somewhat patronizing of Ortega, as if he needed to explain the situation clearly to the Nicaraguan president.
“We explained (to Ortega) our position in very clear manner: we want to reestablish and guarantee the rights of the Colombians and the raizales not only on issues related to artisan fishing, but in other areas as well. He understood,” Santos said. “We told him that we will manage this situation with a level head, in friendly and diplomatic manner, as these issues should be managed to avoid incident. He also understood that.”
Nicaragua’s position, meanwhile, is that Colombia needs to understand that the ICJ ruling is now international law and needs to be respected as such.
Either way, both presidents qualified Saturday’s meeting as an important first contact that will hopefully lead to more permanent channels of communication between the two countries that neighbor in the sea.