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Ecuador protesters slam deal for US military presence in Galapagos Islands

A woman holds a sign that reads in Spanish ‘Galápagos is not to be sold, but to be defended’ during a protest against plans to allow the US military to use an island. (Photo by AP)

Scores of Ecuadorians have staged a protest rally outside the main government building in the nation’s capital of Quito to oppose a decision to let American military forces use an airstrip on the Galapagos Islands.

The rally on Monday came after Ecuador Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin said American anti-narcotics planes will be using the airstrip to "fight drug trafficking" under a mutual deal.

The protesters censured the deal as a scheme that threatens the unique environment in the world heritage site as well as an assault on Ecuador’s sovereignty, the Guardian reported.

UNESCO has described the Galapagos Islands -- renowned for their unique plants and wildlife -- as a “living museum.” It is visited each year by a quarter of a million tourists.

Jarrín announced last week that US aircraft would be able to use the airbase on San Cristóbal Island, further referring to the islands as a “natural aircraft carrier.”

Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa slammed the remark, writing in a Twitter post that “Galápagos is NOT an ‘aircraft carrier’ for gringo use. It is an Ecuadorean province, world heritage site, homeland.”

Correa – once a close ally but now a bitter enemy of his successor, Lenín Moreno – also accused the current administration of capitulating to US pressure.

During his own term in office, Correa shut down a US military base in Manta back in 2008, changing the nation’s constitution to ban foreign military bases on Ecuadorean soil. He ordered all American military personnel to leave the country in 2014.

Lawmakers in Quito voted last week to summon Jarrín and Environment Minister Marcelo Mata to explain the scope of the cooperation with the US military on the islands, which are considered one of the last near pristine wildernesses on the planet.

Jarrín claimed on Monday that his “aircraft carrier” remark was a reference to the islands’ geographic location in the Pacific Ocean rather than a place where aircraft could land.

He further stated in a radio interview that only one US aircraft, a Lockheed P-3 Orion, would stop at the island airport every month for refueling, or in emergency situations.

“There will not be a permanent presence, there will not be a base,” he underlined.

Moreover, Ecuador’s Foreign Minister José Valencia dismissed Correa’s argument against allowing US military presence in the islands, saying that he was seeking to “maliciously distort what was completely legitimate international cooperation against drug-trafficking.”

“The argument that it would have an environmental impact is totally false,” Valencia asserted, pointing out that the islands received 252 tourist flights every month and a total of 3,097 in 2018.

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