San Andres demands voice in territorial conflict

SAN ANDRES, Colombia— With chants of “For our sovereignty” and “For the defense of the environment,” a group of more than 600 residents of San Andres and several Colombian politicians from the mainland marched through the breezy streets of this disputed Caribbean island Monday afternoon to protest against what they feel is a direct violation of their self-determination.

Monday marked the opening day of legal arguments before the International Court of Justice between Nicaragua and Colombia, both of which stake claim to the maritime borders surrounding the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina. Nicaragua also challenged Colombia’s sovereignty over the island, but the World Court ruled in Colombia’s favor in 2007.

Surrounded by the “Sea of Seven Colors,” San Andres is the most densely populated island in the Caribbean. It’s also an emerging tourist spot for its cultural and ecological attractions, including the Seaflower Marine Protected Area—the largest one of its kind in the Caribbean.

But when it comes to the territorial conflict between Nicaragua and Colombia, many islanders feel isolated, marginalized and uninformed about the 10-year litigation that is now culminating in a trial. Indeed, the very population that will be most affected by the Court’s decision feels their voices and concerns have been excluded from the debate.

And now that the wheels of The Hague are already in motion, it may be too late to have their concerns heard.

Aury Guerrero Bowie, governor of San Andres (photo / Brad Allgood)

“We are here today because we know that Nicaragua and Colombia have been discussing about our territory,” Aury Guerrero Bowie, governor of the San Andres Archipelago, told The Nicaragua Dispatch, speaking in typical island Creole English. “We want everyone to know that we are people, we are human, and what we want is control over our destiny.”

In an attempt to give a voice to the inhabitants of San Andres and express their feelings about the conflict, civil society and government institutions organized yesterday’s solidarity rally and public declaration of the islanders’ historical, political, economic, social and cultural rights. A rag-tag crowd of rastas, foreign tourists, local business owners, high-ranking government officials, and local government employees gathered in the oddly-urbanized, beach-front plaza in the New Point Commercial Center.

Despite the almost festive atmosphere at the rally, Governor Bowie expressed concern about the World Court hearing’s potential outcomes.

“The Colombian government has used during the process seven different attorneys, and Nicaragua has one,” she says. “That means that Nicaragua is playing it serious and that Colombia is just trying to establish what they believe. But they don’t hear one concept from us. They never address to us.”

The governor adds, “The people are really resentful because we have not been heard. We have not been listened to. No one has asked us about the details and what should be the welfare of our community. We don’t know what the intention [of Nicaragua] really is. And we want to know so that we can preserve and conserve what we have been defending all these years.”

Some believe Nicaragua’s intentions for pursuing the case in The Hague lie in the possibility for oil exploration in disputed waters. After initially awarding the oil company Ecopetrol exploration rights near the San Andres archipelago in 2010, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called off all exploration in and around the islands due to environmental concerns in October of 2011.

These concerns were echoed on Monday by Colombian congressmen who flew in from Bogota for some island politicking.

“The difference we have with Nicaragua is that we want to maintain sovereignty over the island to protect the environment, the marine biosphere, and the coral reefs,” Colombian congressman Luis Fernando Velazco told The Nicaragua Dispatch. “We believe that the Nicaraguan government wants to explore for petroleum in the region, which would damage the coral barriers on this side of the Caribbean. This would hurt not only Colombians, but Nicaraguan fishermen, too.”

Despite their obvious resentment for not being heard, and the concerns over Nicaragua’s possible intentions for the coastal shelf, many Colombians feel a certain brotherly love for their Nicaraguan neighbors.

Colombia's Defensoria de los Pueblos reads resolution at Monday's protest (photo / Brad Allgood)

“Nicaragua is always our brother,” says Governor Bowie. “We have a lot of Nicaraguans living in San Andres, but no one understands really what [Nicaragua] is trying to do.”

“I want to state something very clearly,” Senator Velazco stressed. “We don’t have a conflict with Nicaraguans; we have a conflict with the government of Nicaragua. For us, Nicaraguans are like our brothers. We grew up reading Gioconda Belli. We grew up reading Nicaraguan poetry, and we admire Ruben Dario. We provided support during the great tragedy of the Managua earthquake. But right now we’re in disagreement with the Nicaraguan government, not the Nicaraguan people.”

The Colombian human-rights defense organization, “Defensoria del Pueblo,” and local officials will send their concerns, along with petitions and letter signed during Monday’s rally, to the Colombian Senate, the International Court of Justice and the Colombian attorneys working on the case.

 

  • Corine Duffis Steel

    Como veedora ciudadana Raizal, me niego a aceptar que el Estado Colombiano continue regalando nuestro territorio Ancestral y Recursos naturales a todo centro America. Si no nos Independizamos ahora seremos desaparecidos, borrados, liquidados, eliminados como pueblo. Si no tengo derecho a decidir sobre mi territorio, Recursos Naturales, ni puedo desidir mi propio destino es seguro que desaparezco. Es un precio demaciado alto que pagariamos y nuestros hijos merecen que nosotros hagamos por ellos, lo mismo que hicieron nuestros ancestros por nosotros.

  • Ralph Newball

    Neither Colombia or Nicaragua have interest on consulting with the real owners of the territory. Our ancestors adhered voluntarily to the “Grancolombia” not to Colombia. We are kept as an ill-treated colony and we don’t want to change colonizers; WE WANT TO STOP BEING A COLONY = WE WANT TO BE FREE.

  • YVONNE PARRA

    WE ARE TIRED…. OF THIS ENOUGH IS ENOUGH….

  • Kike Archbold

    just like my fellow brother Ralph says “Our ancestors adhered voluntarily to the “Grancolombia”” in 1822 with a letter addres to the Cucuta´s Congres, and yet they dont respect or include us in the destination of our territory. the colombian government give away part of our territory to the Nicaraguan government in the Esguerra-Barcenas Agreement, without consult us. they just decide that from one day to another our brothers wake up as nicaraguans instead of colombians. now Nicaragua’s government wants to reclame another part of our territory, when we suppose to be the offended ones, and reclame from them the whole caribean shore known as tha “Mosquitia”, that ancestrally belongs to us. This is not a dispute between Nicaragua’s and colombia’s government, this is a fight of all the raizal enthnic against a bunch of politicians that are figthing for someone else territory.

  • CARL OLSEN

    NO VAMOS A CEDER NI UN SOLO MILIMETRO.

  • Domingo Sánchez McNabb

    No será que la Corte de la Haya si ceda a las presiones del Negro Veneno (PETROLEO), y le entrega el territorio a Nicaragua, ya que ellos si están dispuestos a realizar Explortación Petrolera????

  • Andy Nelson Hooker

    We need to look at a better picture, taking this opportunity to fight for freedom; just as other in the Caribbean, we have the people and the minds to do it.
    For this rally DON’T shout as Colombian. Scream as Islanders … LET’S BE FREE and be the owners of our destiny!!

  • Namso Zenti

    Donde estan las 200 millas maritimas que tiene derecho Nicaragua ?
    Just look the map, Colombia is too far from Nicaragua.

    Colombia ya perdio.

  • Mario

    Colombia pretensions over Nicaragua territory are based on colonial’s misunderstanding. Spain’s strategy was to preserve the sovereignty of Nicaragua territory against the British-pirates invasions of the 17th century. Therefore, relinquished temporarily protection of the Nicaraguan-Caribbean to Colombia. Now is payback time, the International Court must return the territory to its original owner, Nicaragua.

  • Mela Pellas

    San Andres doesn’t want to be a part of Nicaragua? Not be a part of the people’s paradise? Have a world statesman like Daniel screwing up their system? Have the geniuses from the FSLN running their island forever? Who can blame them

  • ALEX BARRIOS

    Raizal People open your eye & raise your voice, don´t give up

    Some time the people do not know the archipelago historical background, our territory was fully free & independence, before Colombia or Nicaragua.
    The Colombian government gives away more than 40% of the territory to other countries, and taken determination without consult us. Meanwhile the Nicaraguan government invades the mosquitia costal line that belongs to our territory up to 1928.
    The International Court of Justice ICJ is the one to define our future this year, and this determination apparently gona be done without consult the ancestral owners of the archipelago.
    The pretention of both states is just for the black gold “petroleum”. I just hope the ICJ, done make another mistake, and live us to the extinction.

  • Mr Padila

    I hope Nicaragua won the case .I think Colombia is too far away from his limits also any legal document was done when Nica. was ilegaly occupied by the US .Guerra and something is not Valid .

  • alejandro

    I think we should go to war with Colombia over this island.

    • Jorge Gomez.

      Pobre idiota, soy Nica y lo peor que nos podria ocurrir seria meternos en una guerra. Tenemos enemigos por todas partes, no hablar de Costaricay tambien quieres que nos enredemos en guerra con Colombia. Que idiota eres, un verdadero estupido.

  • NicaCat56

    A todos los sanandresanos: ahora es el tiempo de levantar sus voces unidas para buscar la independencia de ambos Colombia y Nicaragua! Solamente ustedes deberán decidir sus futuros, y los de sus familias! Vayan a la CIJ y represéntense!

  • tdc782

    Why does anyone have to claim it?! Why can’t San Andres just be San Andres?! They (both sides) are only interested in any profit that may come their way from owning it. It’s all about money, they don’t care about the people at all. It would be in the best interest of not only Nicaragua and Colombia, but the whole planet if they started using the renewable resources so readily available. (i.e. wind, solar, thermal, wave energy). Unfortunately, infinite and clean sources of energy don’t fill the government pocketbooks. So sad.

  • Azrael

    Iur are going to back to the Nicaraguan Empire. Surrender under The Covenant.

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  • el colombiano arrepentido

    deberian de reconocer colombia. esta muy lejos desan andres.y san andres esta nas cerca de bluefield nicaragua.no sean ignorantes todos le quieren robar tierras y islas a nicaragua.incluyendo a U,S.A. Ortega esta preparado para qualqueir moviminto.

    • San andres

      Y desde cuando la distancia importa? Si Alaska es de USA y ni tocan borde, y Como se le puede robar algo a Nicaragua que nunca fue de ellos? Deja la ignorancia.

  • LaVerdad

    San andres le debe pertenecer a nicaragua. Pero la ultima palabra deberia ser de los residentes y nativos de esa isla. Y ellos quieren su Independencia, ser libres de ambos paises que solo buscan beneficios $$$. Y aclaro no soi nica ni colombo.