Colombia: Historic rulings on Nicaragua claims and 21N protests

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Protests on November 21, 2019. Photo: EFE

Two court rulings have ended a litigious week in Colombia. The decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in The Hague, to rule in favor of Colombia in a two-decades-old case presented by Nicaragua was celebrated by every president as a major legal victory, and one that stumps the Central American nation’s expansionist claims in the Western Caribbean.

The ICJ verdict recognizes Colombia’s maritime and territorial sovereignty over the Archipelago of San Andrés, Santa Catalina and Providencia, but also offers further protection to the nation by ruling against Nicaragua’s petition to extend the borders of its continental shelf beyond a 200-mile demarcation.

While the ruling by the magistrates at the UN’s high court can be credited to former President Juan Manuel Santos, the end of an international dispute with Nicaragua opens the way for renewed political tensions between Colombia’s leftist leader, Gustavo Petro, and autocrat Daniel Ortega over fishing rights, oil exploration and military exercises in the expanse of sea that separates both nations.

Petro, who has attempted to rein back Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro to the diplomatic fold, shows no intention to do the same with a dictator and regime, that the former M-19 guerrilla, calls “repulsive.” In other words – even for Petro – Ortega is just too far to the left to be reasoned with. The verdict comes one week after Colombian Ambassador León Freddy Muñoz participated in a pro-Sandinista march raising the ire of Petro and Foreign Minister Álvaro Leyva Durán.

With public attention focused on the western Caribbean, another verdict, ratified claims by Colombia’s opposition leaders that the so-called “social explosion” on November 21, 2019, was infiltrated, and orchestrated, by FARC dissidents and the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) urban guerrilla. The 21N protest resulted in widespread violence in Bogotá.

Justified by Colombia’s leftist opposition parties and representatives, among them ex-Senators Gustavo Petro and Gustavo Bolívar, as a legitimate mass mobilization against the government of Iván Duque and his economic reforms, the nationwide protests deteriorated into days of civil unrest and attacks against members of the National Police and security infrastructure.

November 21 marked a significant turning point in Colombia’s recent history, despite the fact that the protests by students, labor unions, indigenous groups, and citizens of all ages started out as mostly peaceful. As the scale and intensity of the protests escalated, Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa imposed a 48-hour curfew, and President Duque withdrew the government’s tax reform proposal. The ”estallido social” resulted in roiling protests, and declaration of an indefinite national strike – Paro Nacional. The Paro Nacional for Latin America’s left galvanized civil society organizations and human rights activists, inspiring them to continue advocating for change on issues such as healthcare, education, and peace-building, but for the majority of Colombians, the excessive violence appeared to be orchestrated by the country’s illegal armed groups.

This week, a Bogotá judge ratified these affirmations in an 85-page ruling, that states that FARC dissidents infiltrated the demonstrations and perpetrated acts of violence by recruiting students and organizing so-called Front Lines. The judge has charged four persons belonging to the Manuel Marulanda Vélez dissident front for planning through social networks – WhatsApp and Facebook – information on how to vandalize TransMilenio bus stations, and attack the National Police’s anti-riot squad ESMAD.

The four dissidents will be convicted on charges for terrorism, aggravated criminal conspiracy, violence against public officials and damage to public and private property. The document also reveals that the National Liberation Army had mobilized urban terror cells to intensify the violence during a social uprising that lasted throughout most of President Iván Duque’s administration and worst stages of the coronavirus pandemic. The Paro Nacional protests during the COVID-19 third wave added an additional 35,000 victims to the nation’s death toll.