Cablegate: El Salvador Moves Closer to Resolving Gulf Of


DE RUEHSN #2069/01 2852311
P 122311Z OCT 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: On October 4 the leaders of El Salvador,
Nicaragua, and Honduras signed an agreement declaring their
commitment to working together to develop the Gulf of
Fonseca. The leaders labeled the agreement the first step
toward resolving territorial disputes that have plagued the
gulf region since the 1800s. The agreement also establishes
joint projects to benefit the region and creates presidential
commissions in each country. The agreement follows President
Saca,s announcement of the formation of a tri-national
commission during his speech at the UN General Assembly on
September 25 in New York. End Summary.


2. (U) On October 4, President Saca, President Ortega of
Nicaragua, and President Zelaya of Honduras signed an
agreement declaring the Gulf of Fonseca a &zone of peace,
security, and sustainable development8 between the three
countries and expressed their commitment to working together
to develop the region. The leaders hailed the agreement as
the first step towards resolving the territorial disputes
over the Gulf region.

3. (U) The ceremony followed President Saca,s September 25
announcement at the UN General Assembly of the formation of a
special tri-national commission to resolve the ongoing border
dispute over the Gulf of Fonseca. Prior to the announcement,
President Saca reportedly extended formal invitations to the
leaders of Nicaragua and Honduras to begin a &new era of
collaboration8 to promote the development of the Fonseca
Gulf Zone.


4. (U) The agreement establishes joint projects to mitigate
the vulnerabilities of the gulf zone and develop regional
projects focusing on sustainable development and utilization
of natural resources, including fishing and agriculture.
(Note: Representatives of Nicaragua,s fishing industry have
already announced their opposition to the agreement on the
grounds that it will harm the small fishing communities
located along the gulf. End Note.) The leaders also
expressed their intention to form presidential commissions in
each country to facilitate the agreement and realize future

5. (U) Salvadoran media expressed surprise at the inclusion
of Nicaragua in the proposed dialogue. The GOES stated that
the offer was based on a diplomatic note sent by Nicaragua in
June 2006 that suggested that the three countries work
together to reach a solution to the ongoing dispute. It
appears that previous negotiations regarding the border
dispute had been limited to El Salvador and Honduras. Media
reports indicate that the three leaders had informal
conversations regarding the proposal prior to the

6. (U) President Saca,s initiative appears intended to
prevent any future ruling by the International Court of
Justice (ICJ) that could award a significant slice of
territory, particularly the Island of Conejo, to Honduras.
Conejo is a small island in the Gulf of Fonseca located
approximately 600 meters off the coast of Honduras. It
measures only 1000 square meters. Despite its size it is
strategically significant to both countries. For Honduras,
the island establishes access to the Gulf of Fonseca and the
Pacific Ocean. For El Salvador, the island overlooks the
port of La Union. From El Salvador's perspective, Honduran
possession of Conejo would establish Honduran territorial
rights to the Bay of La Union and negatively impact El
Salvador's security posture in the region.


7. (U) El Salvador and Honduras have been litigating
various territorial disputes before the ICJ for years. In
1992 the ICJ ruled on the delimitation of the "bolsones",
disputed pockets of land on the northern border between El
Salvador and Honduras, as well as three disputed islands.
The ICJ awarded roughly two-thirds of the disputed territory
to Honduras. In addition, the ICJ devised a resolution
giving the three countries exclusive control over a three
nautical mile zone extending from their coastlines, as well
as shared control over the waters of the Gulf. The court
affirmed Honduras right of access to the Pacific, but,
because the judgment failed to specifically identify the
Island of Conejo, each of the countries have interpreted the
ruling differently. (Note: Nicaragua was not a party to the
original dispute. When the Court awarded Honduras access to
the Gulf, Nicaragua, which had previously shared the waters
with El Salvador, became an interested party. End Note.)

8. (U) In January 1998, Honduras and El Salvador signed a
border demarcation treaty to implement the terms of the ICJ
ruling. Before the treaty took effect however, El Salvador
announced its intention to submit new evidence to the ICJ.
In 2003, the ICJ denied El Salvador,s petition to present
additional evidence supporting their claim to the Goascaran
River estuary and the Island of Conejo. The Court,s ruling
did not resolve the dispute.

9. (U) Although there had been numerous reports of ongoing
negotiations between the countries since the 1992 ruling, the
conflict resurfaced in October 2006 when Honduran media
reported that the "Libro Blanco de la Defensa Nacional de El
Salvador" listed the island as Salvadoran territory, thus
potentially blocking Honduran access to the Pacific. (Note:
The "Libro Blanco de la Defensa Nacional de El Salvador" is
equivalent to the U.S. National Defense Strategy. It was
first published in 2006 and is reviewed annually. End Note.)
This launched a series of public statements from both sides
claiming sovereignty over the island.

10. (U) The ongoing dispute reemerged on September 17, 2007
when the Honduran vessel &Ulua8 was briefly detained by
Salvadoran and Nicaraguan naval forces. Honduran media
alleged human rights violations concerning those detained;
however the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, and
Nicaragua disputed these claims. Ultimately, the vessel was
granted permission from the Salvadoran government to proceed.

11. (U) Since the 1980s, Honduras has continued to treat the
island as its territory and has maintained a small contingent
of soldiers on the island.

12. (SBU) Comment: The agreement is notable for several
reasons. From a diplomatic perspective, President Saca's
shrewd tactical use of his UN speech enabled the GOES to
shape an important regional issue in El Salvador's favor. By
all appearances the agreement has likely mooted any potential
ICJ ruling that could deprive El Salvador of disputed
territory and award it to Honduras. It also seems to protect
El Salvador's economic interests in the Gulf of Fonseca
region at large, as well as the rapidly developing Bay of La
Union, which has recently been a magnet for local and
regional investment. End Comment.


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