By toni solo
September 15th 2013
On November 19th 2012, after 11 years of litigation, the International Court of Justice ruled on a maritime territorial dispute between Colombia and Nicaragua, including Nicaragua’s claim to jurisdiction over the Caribbean islands of San Andres, Providence and their neighbouring keys. The Court denied Nicaragua’s claim to the islands but upheld its claim to around 90,000 km2 of maritime territory, previously usurped by Colombia for almost a century. On September 9th this year, President Juan Manuel Santos announced his government would refuse to implement the Court’s ruling.
In his announcement, President Santos mentioned several pretexts for his government’s refusal to implement the ICJ judgment. He cited the ICJ ruling’s conflict with the Colombian Constitution, the rights of the area’s island populations and also environmental concerns over the Seaflower maritime reserve. He further argued that Colombia’s continental shelf should be considered to include that of San Andres and Providence. None of these arguments stand up to well-informed scrutiny. Even Colombia’s own leading international lawyers acknowledge the irreparable flaws in their government’s attempted justification for non-compliance with the ICJ ruling.
As a signatory of the Treaty of Peaceful Solutions signed in Bogotá in 1948, Colombia accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and the primacy of the Court’s rulings over domestic Colombian law. Colombia had eleven years to make its case to the ICJ and, in fact, finally won in the matter of its jurisdiction over San Andres. Even so, on November 28th 2012, following the ICJ judgment, the Colombian government announced it would withdraw from the Treaty of Bogotá. But that announcement after the fact does not annul Colombia’s obligation to comply with the ICJ judgment of November 2012.
Likewise, President Santos’ belated concern for the rights of the islanders of San Andres and Providence follows decades of neglect of those territories by the Colombian authorities. President Ortega has already declared that Nicaragua recognizes the fishing and other rights of the islanders in what are now Nicaraguan waters. Under international law, Colombia has no case to make in that regard. The same applies to that part of the UNESCO managed Seaflower maritime reserve now under Nicaraguan jurisdiction. In any case, Nicaragua has already stated its willingness to deal with those subsidiary matters in a bilateral treaty with the Colombian authorities.
The bad faith of the Colombian government is clearest in relation to President Santos’ claims about his country’s continental shelf. Following the ICJ judgment, Nicaragua is seeking a judgment from the relevant international bodies on how far its continental shelf extends into the Caribbean. Seeking to preempt that judgment, Colombia is trying to argue that the islands under its jurisdiction give Colombia the same rights as the world’s archipelagic States. But, under the international Law of the Sea, only exclusively island countries can claim the status of an archipelagic State. Colombia is self-evidently a coastal State, not an archipelagic State.
The underlying material reasons for Colombia’s refusal to obey the International Court of Justice judgment are easier to see when set in the current global context. Since the end of the Soviet Union, the United States and its allies have deliberately undone the system of international law developed since the Second World War and the founding of the United Nations in 1948. That process reached its climax in 2011 with the French commanded UN forces’ assault on the Ivory Coast and NATO’s destruction of Libya, whose sequel is now playing out in Syria.
That history itself makes deeper and more coherent sense from an economic perspective as well. The same period saw an emphatic shift by US and Western European corporate oligarchies away from productive economic activity into rent-stripping and speculation. United States’ politics and the US economy, perhaps even more than their European counterparts, are now thoroughly corrupted by a system of financial and commodities markets controlled by multinational corporations working in direct collusion with central banks.
Leading corporate participants – both from the US and Europe – have been convicted of cynically rigging international markets. Various leading financial institutions have been found guilty of laundering billions of dollars. The Western financial system’s anti-regulatory corporate logic is the same logic that has sought to dismantle the UN based system of international law which, until the end of the Soviet Union, helped give smaller nations some minimal protection against more powerful countries.
So it makes a lot of sense to judge Colombian President Manuel Santos’ refusal to implement the ICJ judgment of November 19th 2012 in that context. In Latin America, Colombia is the most loyal ally of the United States and of Israel, both serial abusers of international law and of the UN system. The US government has at least six military bases in Colombia and has supplied billions of dollars in military aid. Colombia’s banking system plays an important intermediary role in Latin America and the Caribbean, laundering money for major US and European financial institutions.
With characteristic generosity, President Daniel Ortega has played down the Colombian government’s renegade refusal to accept the ICJ judgment, putting it in the context of Colombia’s forthcoming presidential election campaign. But another important factor is the use of routes across the Caribbean by Colombia’s multinational narcotics industry. Those shipping routes now face interception by the Nicaraguan armed forces supported and advised by the Russian Federation.
Protecting the multinational narcotics cartels’ drug routes across the Caribbean sits easily with the malignant US example of contempt for international law. Both derive from the domination of US politics by a corrupt ruthless corporate oligarchy. A recent example of the US oligarchy’s regional links was the sale by disgraced money laundering corporate giant HSBC of its operations in Peru, Colombia, Uruguay and Paraguay to Banco GNB Sudameris for US$400 million. Banco GNB Sudameris is part of the Gilinski Group.
In the early 1990s, that multinational business and financial services group bought the Bank of Credit and Commerce International’s operations in the Americas, renamed it Banco Andino and sold it after just a few years. BCCI was the bank that helped facilitate the Iran-Contra transactions, among many other illicit deals, throughout the 1980s. With the profits from the sale of Banco Andino, the Gilinski Group took advantage of the privatization by the Colombian government of the narcotics-tainted Banco de Colombia.
George Soros, global funder of NGOs working to destabilize countries targeted by the US government, helped the Gilinski Group complete the purchase of Banco de Colombia with a personal loan of around US$50m in exchange, reportedly, for a 9% holding in the new bank. Among the Gilinski Group’s holdings is the Eagle National Bank of Miami, linked in the 1980s to Colombian drugs money. As late as March 2005, the US Federal Reserve imposed a legal ban on transactions between Eagle National and other financial organizations controlled by the Gilinski Group. The ban was lifted in 2009.
That context suggests the most probable fundamental reason why Colombia, supported by similarly corrupt Panamanian and Costa Rican authorities, rejects the ICJ judgment. Nor is it in any way likely that Colombia would have rejected the ICJ decision without the approval of the US government. So, in various senses, the maritime territorial case between Nicaragua and Colombia is yet another theatre of conflict between the declining imperial NATO powers and the determined assertiveness of Russia and China.
Powerful interests in both Panama and Costa Rica resent the proposed inter-oceanic canal across Nicaragua currently at the stage of advanced feasibility studies funded by Chinese investors. Once those studies are completed, the project will almost certainly go ahead, involving not just building the canal but also the construction of deep water ports on Nicaragua’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The canal will be accompanied by an inter-oceanic rail connection and by gas and oil pipelines. Nicaragua’s economy will be transformed. The country will become a vital commercial and infrastructure hub for global trade.
Accompanying the inter-oceanic canal are projects of the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) and Petrocaribe trade and economic cooperation blocs. The most important of these projects is the petrochemical complex on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast. The first phase, with storage capacity for over a million barrels of fuel, will be ready by the end of 2014. The second phase will include refining capacity to process over 100,000 barrels of crude oil a day, both for domestic consumption and for export to the region. Eventually the complex will also produce PVC and plastic products.
For the US oligarchy, all these developments represent a daunting historical watershed. The combination of growing Chinese and Russian trade and investment in Nicaragua, along with that of the ALBA bloc including Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Cuba, signals the end of centuries of regional domination by the United States and Western Europe. That in turn signals a mortal challenge to the corrupt corporate interests dominating the NATO countries and their peoples.
By deliberately deceiving its own people about the maritime dispute with Nicaragua, the Colombian government has followed the example set by the US government in one overseas conflict after another. At a regional level, the Santos government’s non-compliance with the ICJ judgment casts Colombia as a delinquent United States ally. President Santos and his team are very clearly using deceit and the menace of military force to try and win concessions from Nicaragua, a socialist-inspired ally of the Russian Federation.
On the wider world scene, steadfast action by Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin and his colleagues has so far prevented a potentially disastrous US attack against Syria. At a regional level, President Daniel Ortega has responded to Colombia by reaffirming his government’s commitment to promoting peace and upholding international law. In both cases, the moral imperative for a multi-polar world could hardly be clearer.