Colombia accuses Nicaragua of using its waters to search for oil

Tensions heighten between two nations despite ICJ ruling

Colombian Foreign Minister Ángela Holguín speaks to reporters.
Colombian Foreign Minister Ángela Holguín speaks to reporters.Miguel Gutiérrez (EFE)

Tensions between Colombia and Nicaragua have become heightened once again over a longstanding maritime dispute, which was technically settled last year by the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The Bogota government has accused Managua of reportedly offering concessions to foreign firms to search for petroleum in Colombian waters.

Last week, Colombian Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín sent a letter of protest to her Nicaraguan counterpart to demand that Managua stop using her country's territory, including the 350-square-kilometer Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, for oil exploration.

“We are taking this battle to Unesco,” said Holguín last week during a news conference in which she detailed the problems fishermen are having in the San Andrés Archipelago since the ICJ issued its ruling.

Colombia lodged its protest after a series of maps showing demarcation limits claimed by Managua before the ICJ decision were posted on the Nicaraguan Energy and Mines Ministry’s website. On Tuesday, Nicaragua denied that it was offering concessions. Samuel Santos, the Nicaraguan foreign minister, said that his government was not opening any areas that the court had ruled were Colombian waters to exploration, according to EFE news agency.

In November, the ICJ ruled that a small cluster of islands in the western Caribbean belonged to Colombia and not Nicaragua as the Central American nation had claimed. However, The Hague drew fresh demarcation lines setting new maritime boundaries that favor Nicaragua, which the Colombian government said was a blow to its sovereignty and would affect Colombian fishing rights, particularly around the seven keys that make up the San Andrés Archipelago.

Colombia lost some 75,000 square kilometers of territorial waters — a decision that the Colombian government has rejected.

Old website

Santos, the Nicaraguan foreign minister, said that the Energy and Mines Ministry’s webpage that show maritime boundaries favorable to Nicaragua has not been updated since October 2012.

“It would be bad for Nicaragua to be offering something that doesn’t belong to it,” the Nicaraguan diplomat said in his letter to Bogota. At the same time, he accused Colombia of offering oil concessions to firms in Nicaraguan waters.

But Colombia also claims that Nicaragua — which announced plans earlier this year to construct a water route across the country to rival the Panama Canal — wants to use its “expansionist plans” and infringe in Colombian waters.

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