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Proposal to 'Pave Paradise' in Galapagos Islands for US Military Airstrip Met With Criticism in Ecuador and Beyond

"Galapagos is NOT an 'aircraft carrier' for gringo use."

A Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) at Isabela Island, Galapagos Archipelago, in the Pacific Ocean on February 21, 2019. The seal will share its environment with the Pentagon per a new plan from the Ecuadorian government that would extend a landing strip at the region's airport to accommodate U.S. military aircraft.

A Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) at Isabela Island, Galapagos Archipelago, in the Pacific Ocean on February 21, 2019. The seal will share its environment with the Pentagon per a new plan from the Ecuadorian government that would extend a landing strip at the region's airport to accommodate U.S. military aircraft. (Photo: Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images)

The Galapagos Islands archipelago in Ecuador is one of the most biodiverse regions in the entire world, home to a number of species found nowhere else on the planet, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

So, naturally, the U.S. military wants to use one of its islands as an airstrip. 

Ecuadorian defense minister Oswaldo Jarrín announced President Lenín Moreno's administration's decision to allow the Pentagon to expand an existing airfield on San Cristobal Island for U.S. spy planes targeting drug traffickers in comments to Telesur on June 12. The airport is at the southwest end of the island in the city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. 

According to The Independent, "a U.S. air force Boeing 707 plane carrying radar surveillance and a Lockheed P-3 Orion plane will patrol the Pacific Ocean, using the Galapagos as a launching off point."

The Ecuadorian National Assembly isn't sold on the proposal. In a vote on June 13, El Universo reported, 106 of the assembly's 137 members cleared the way for calling on Jarrín and environmental minister Marcelo Mata to appear before the chamber's Commission of Sovereignty and International Relations. 

Carlos Viteri, an assembly member from the southern region of Sarayacu, Pastaza, and a member of the Revolución Ciudadana party, said that allowing the U.S. to operate off of the airstrip was "vassalage."

"What is being proposed by the government through the Ministry of Defense is unacceptable," Viteri told El Universo, "and the fact that it intends to cede an inch of Ecuadorian territory should be prohibited."

In his remarks, Jarrín said that the Galapagos Islands are a "natural aircraft carrier because it ensures permanence, replenishment, interception facilities, and is 1,000 kilometers from our coasts." 

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That aircraft carrier could have an extended landing strip built on it to accommodate U.S. planes. Jarrín said that the Pentagon would pay for any needed "readjustments" to the airfield, raising concerns that Galapagos will be used as a permanent base for the U.S. military—a violation of Ecuador's constitution, which says in Article Five that "the establishment of foreign military bases or foreign installations for military purposes will not be allowed. In addition, it is prohibited to cede national military bases to foreign armed or security forces."

"A base means permanence, there will be no permanence," said Jarrín. 

That line of reasoning was dismissed by journalist Ben Norton, who called the decision "another sign of Ecuadorian President Moreno's total capitulation to neocolonialism."

Moreno, a right-wing politician, won election in 2017 on a center-left platform but quickly shifted gears away from his predecessor Rafael Correa's policies—including allowing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to claim asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London—and to the right. 

In a tweet, Correa weighed in on the controversy, calling Jarrín a man with a "vassal soul."

"Galapagos is NOT an 'aircraft carrier' for gringo use," tweeted Correa. "It is an Ecuadorian province, patrimony of the humanity, patriotic ground."

In a tweet, University of London professor Laleh Khalili tweaked a Joni Mitchell lyric to describe the decision.

"They paved paradise and put up a landing strip," said Khalili. 

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