The new United States ambassador to Ecuador, Michael Fitzpatrick, said Monday that there are no plans to establish a military base in the Galapagos Islands. “The U.S. respects Ecuador’s constitutional prohibition of foreign military bases in its territory,” he said.
Although Fitzpatrick acknowledges that talks are underway with Ecuadorian officials to allow U.S. drug surveillance aircraft to use the San Cristóbal Island airport for refueling purposes, no agreement been signed.
“We are working closely with the Ecuadorian government on the project but, as yet, there is no final agreement,” he says. “We are aware of the constitutional restrictions and will abide by them. We are also aware of the need to protect the delicate environment of the Galápagos, which we will certainly do.”
According to Fitzpatrick, the Galapagos is a strategic area for Colombian and Mexican cartels shipping illegal drugs north to Central America and the U.S. “The U.S. and Ecuador both understand that protecting the islands involves keeping drug traffic out,” he says. “It is a complex cat and mouse game to stop and intercept drug shipments and we are looking for cooperative methods to block those routes.”
He added that the U.S. and Ecuador signed an agreement in 2018 to combat drug trafficking in the Pacific Ocean, an effort, he says, that has resulted in the capture of 16 tons of illegal drugs.
Fitzpatrick, formerly the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, replaced Todd Chapman as ambassador to Ecuador June 19.
In addition to drug interdiction, Fitzpatrick said the U.S. is assisting Ecuador in accommodating the influx of Venezuelan refugees, currently estimated at 300,000. “Last year, we provided $35 million to communities in Ecuador affected by the mass inflow of migrants and we will continue to assist in this effort, working with the government as well as NGOs and civil society to support humanitarian assistance work.”
Ultimately, he said, the goal must be to replace the “illegitimate government” of President Nicolás Maduro, which is responsible for the refugee crisis.
Another priority, says Fitzpatrick, is to strengthen trade relations between the U.S. and Ecuador. “We are currently in talks with Ecuadorian officials and we expect the scope of the talks to expand on several fronts in the near future,” he said, adding that meetings are scheduled with the U.S. Bilateral Investment and Trade Council for reaching new agreements.
Fitzpatrick says he has been “making the rounds of introductions” to Ecuadorian leaders in Quito since he assumed his new duties last week. He travels to Cuenca today where he will meet with local officials and visit with members of the expat community of U.S. citizens.