No to a U.S. Military Base on Gorgona: Pressure Mounts on Petro in Colombia

Ariel Noyola Rodríguez
Military personnel supervising one of the beaches of Gorgona Island. December 2022 . Courtesy of David Quintero / @davidquintero42

Environmentalists, scientific community and legislators demand the President of Colombia withdraw from the controversial project on ‘Science Island’.

Less than three weeks before starting the construction of the dock that will be part of a military base in Gorgona Island, an increasing number of voices are raised against the works financed with resources from the U.S. Embassy.

The pressure on the president is growing. The group of environmental activists and the scientific community are now joined by several legislators, including Piedad Cordoba, senator for the Historic Pact.

They not only protest that the military base would threaten biological diversity, but also that it would undermine the sovereignty of the South American nation, turning the island into one more link in the U.S. security strategy to ensure continental dominance.

For control of the Colombian Pacific

The battle to reverse the military base to be installed on Gorgona Island -with the financing of the U.S. Embassy- does not stop.

Environmentalists and the scientific community are willing to fight to the end, knocking on every door, whether it be government authorities or the justice system.

In an interview with RT, Natalia Cardona, member of the Committee for Gorgona, explains that on November 30 a Popular Action was filed before the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca, a legal recourse seeking to safeguard a set of rights that would be violated.

The lawyer warns that the infrastructure projects planned to be carried out would cause irreversible damage to the biological diversity of Gorgona, also known as ‘Science Island’, due to the vast scientific activity carried out there.

There is also a violation of sovereignty, according to the Action filed, given that these are projects financed by the U.S. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) and, therefore, are subject to the power of another State.

According to information published by the U.S. State Department, Joe Biden’s government is also contemplating the purchase of 2.6 million dollars worth of vessel engines to improve the operational capacity of the Coast Guard on the island.

Natalia Cardona maintains that US intervention in matters that only concern the South American nation has been going on for a long time. However, she explains, this interference has reached an unprecedented scale since the 2000s.

The Colombian Pacific region is strategic for the U.S. In that area, which stretches from the seas of Panama to Ecuador, Washington has two very important military bases.

As part of ‘Plan Colombia’, the lawyer recalls, Washington provided a large amount of resources to carry out the so-called “war on drugs”. A war that, in the end, failed.

Natalia Cardona stresses that the Colombian Pacific region is strategic for the U.S. For this reason, Washington has two very important military bases in this area, which stretches from the seas of Panama to Ecuador.

One is located in Tumaco and the other in Bahía Málaga. “In both military bases there is a presence of U.S. soldiers, this violates the Constitution, they have no right to invade our territory,” she says.

Cardona considers that the military bases that the U.S. maintains in Colombia have not even served to achieve the objectives that motivated their installation.

She asserts that, although there is a massive deployment of Armed Forces, large modern frigates and  advanced technological systems, it has not been possible to eradicate drug trafficking.

Now it is intended to incorporate Gorgona into this same hemispheric security strategy. To justify the installation of a military base on the island, in addition to the fight against drug trafficking, other objectives are added, such as putting a stop to illegal fishing and maritime pollution.

Voices of opposition in Congress

Plan of the dock to be built on Gorgona Island. National Environmental Licensing Authority on Gorgona Island

Piedad Córdoba, senator for the Historical Pact, spoke out in early December against any U.S. interference in Colombia, either through the installation of military bases or through the deployment of its Armed Forces.

On Monday, December 12, Córdoba went a step further. The senator made public a letter she had sent to President Gustavo Petro, in which she asks him to cancel the infrastructure projects being considered on the island.

In the document, Córdoba argues that the relevance that the U.S. gives to the Pacific Basin region is expressed through the deployment of the Fourth Fleet and the Southern Command with the installation of military bases, among them, the one on Gorgona Island.

If the works in Gorgona are carried out, he warns in his letter, they would cause damages such as those documented in the Philippines, Panama and Puerto Rico, where the U.S. has been able to install military bases.

On the other hand, during her participation in the Commission of Territorial Ordering, last December 14, Piedad Cordoba stated her rejection to the military base in Gorgona. It was the third of three of her proposals presented that day.

“I am in total disagreement with the military bases, it seems to me that it is a violation of national sovereignty, which also compromises not only security, but also commits us to exercise actions that are detrimental not only to Colombia, but to the whole region”.

The also former presidential candidate warned that, if the works in Gorgona are concluded, it would be the ninth U.S. base in Colombia.

Regarding her letter sent to Gustavo Petro, she informed that she had not received a response and recalled that one of the campaign promises of the current president had been the protection of the environment.

“The ‘Government of Change’ has advocated the defense of life (…) this (the military base in Gorgona) has no relation with the discourse, with the narrative, with the commitment made by the president”, she said.

Finally, the senator for the Pacto-Histórico suggested to the members of the Commission to meet in Gorgona to, together with the Vice Minister of the Interior, resolve the absence of a civil authority in the National Natural Park: “It seems very strange to us that the island is at sea”.

Córdoba has not been the only voice in Congress to speak out against the installation of a new U.S. military base in Colombia. Andrea Padilla (senator) and Juan Carlos Lozano (member of the House of Representatives), also oppose this project.

Lozano even requested the appearance of the heads of the Ministries of the Interior, Environment, Defense and Foreign Affairs, among other high-ranking officials, not only to report on the current status of the works, but also to respond to several of the legislators’ concerns.

No official pronouncement

To date, the government of President Gustavo Petro has not issued an official position on the works planned for Gorgona Island, projects that were inherited from previous governments.

The only voice within his Administration that has made its opinion known is the Vice President of the Republic, Francia Márquez.

The self-styled ‘Government of Change’, keeps unchanged the schedule of what will be the ninth US military base in Colombia. The construction of its pier will begin next January 10.

However, her opinion was never exposed because she has taken the initiative. At the end of November, in a public event held in Guapi (Cauca), several citizens shouted slogans against the construction.

“We don’t want a dock in Gorgona, we don’t want a dock in Gorgona!”. It was then that Márquez was forced to speak out.

“I don’t want a dock in Gorgona either and I accompany the struggle of the communities (…) development cannot be at the cost of people’s lives, of Nature, and of well-being,” she responded.

But beyond this statement, Francia Márquez has not made an official pronouncement, either through the Vice-Presidency’s web page or through her social networks.

Nor has it been made public that she has called a meeting with the president or with some members of the cabinet to discuss the infrastructure projects, or at least to address the controversy.

Francia Márquez’s position on the construction of a military base in Gorgona Island is reduced, so far, to an informal statement that has not been translated into a government action.

Thus, the self-styled ‘Government of Change’, maintains the schedule of planned construction of what will be the ninth US military base in Colombia unchanged. The construction of its pier will begin next January 10.