Colombia’s government on Thursday begun steps to protect San Andres and surrounding islands from the expansionist ambitions of Nicaragua, who now control much of the waters surrounding the islands.
The government has called for the islands of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina to be remapped, for a census to be taken, and for the protection of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which includes the corals, mangroves and seagrass beds that surround the islands.
The objective is to strengthen Colombia’s sovereignty rights over the archipegalo, threatened since the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) November ruling that 30,000 square miles of Colombian maritime waters in the area be ceded to Nicaragua.
Colombia has yet to formally recognize the ruling. On Tuesday the President of the Central American branch of the ICJ warned that Colombia could face economic and political sanctions if it does not respect the rulings of the ICJ.
On the same day Colombia’s government published an outline of concrete measures it would be taking in the face of the ICJ ruling, the first of which reportedly involves the remapping of the archipelago.
The idea is to define the archipegalo’s territorial limits using “analysis of technial aerial photographs” taken between 2011 and 2012. They also hope to establish the extent of the continental shelf and those areas that might be “susceptible to natural disasters.” Any map would additionally draw out the borders of the Seaflower Biosphere Reserve, which was made part of the UNESCO’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 2000.
The second measure mentioned in the decree involves conducting a census to determine the socio-economic and the demographic makeup of the population. This will detail the ethnic roots of the people, in the hope of putting in place guarantees to conserve their culture and ancestral rights.
The Colombian government considers the ruling of the ICJ to violate the human rights of the people of the archipelago, and so establishing their cultural and ancestral rights is a key part of the government’s legal case.
“The proposal is meant to guarantee the continuity of the ancestral home of the people and their protection as an ethnic group,” says the decree, the third of its kind since the ruling of the ICJ.
The government backed up its rhetoric on Wednesday by unveiling a new military patrol boat that will be sent to the San Andres archipelago. It cost $60 million and boasts two cannons, of 40mm and 20mm respectively, a helicopter and a speed boat. Apart from protecting Colombia’s maritime borders in the area, it will also conduct search-and-rescue missions and will help with disaster relief.