UN Ruling on Colombia-Nicaragua Maritime Border: Good News for Drug Traffickers?

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The United Nation’s highest court has ruled on a territorial dispute between Nicaragua and Colombia, giving more maritime territory in the Caribbean to Nicaragua, a decision which Colombian drug traffickers may be able to take advantage of.

 On November 19, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Colombia‘s favor on a long-standing dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua over a group of contested islands in the Caribbean.  However the court also redrew the maritime border between the two countries, handing Nicaragua more sea territory, reported the BBC. Nicaragua’s extended rights over the Caribbean will give it more access to fishing and to potential natural resources such as oil or gas.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has publicly rejected the ruling on the maritime border. Although he recognized the ICJ’s decision as final and binding, the president stated he would not rule out exploring any legal mechanisms under international law to contest the ruling, reported the Associated Press.

InSight Crime Analysis

Following the ICJ ruling, a report by El Colombiano speculated that the withdrawal of the Colombian Navy, from what are now Nicaraguan waters, may benefit drug traffickers operating in the region, among them the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Urabeños, due to the comparative weakness of the Nicaraguan Navy. Colombia, which has some of the highest military expenditure in the Western Hemisphere, has a large, modernized navy, while Nicaragua’s navy is small and relatively low-tech. The Colombians also have a very close relationship with US Navy and Coast Guard elements operating in the Caribbean.

Nicaragua - Colombia Drug Routes

Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastline and territorial waters are home to important drug smuggling routes which traffickers use to move cocaine from Colombia up towards the United States. A July 2012 InSight Crime investigation revealed how Nicaragua’s remote Caribbean coast has become a major logistics and transport hub for maritime smugglers, who use the area for the re-fueling and repair of their go-fast boats and to collect intelligence on the movements of naval vessels and security forces. Recently, various Colombian criminal groups have fought for control of drug smuggling routes through San Andres, a Colombian island less than 150 miles off the coast of Nicaragua, which the new ruling now puts extremely close to Nicaraguan waters (see map).

That said, while the Nicaraguan Navy is smaller than its Colombian counterpart, the United States has commended it as one of its most cooperative anti-narcotics partners in the region, with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Nicaraguan Navy having frequently collaborated on anti-drug operations. Since 2007 Nicaragua has received over $35 million in military and police aid, including naval equipment.

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