Claiming his intention is to leave a legacy of “peace, sovereignty and national security,” President Lenin Moreno pushed back Tuesday against charges he is allowing the United States to establish military operations in the Galapagos Islands.
“There are not and there will never be foreign military bases in our country,” the president said in reaction to charges from supporters of former president Rafael Correa that he was caving in to U.S. pressure. “We will zealously preserve and protect the Galapagos Islands. The project of aerial surveillance to combat illegal fishing and drug operations is a joint activity of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia with the assistance of the U.S. It is a project to care for our world heritage.”
Moreno added that Ecuador’s constitution prohibits foreign military bases and he has no intent of violating the restriction.
Moreno’s Twitter account comments responded to a Monday statement by Ecuador Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrín that the Galapagos were a “natural aircraft carrier” for air reconnaissance operations. Earlier Tuesday, Jarrín had walked back the claim, admitting that the aircraft carrier characterization was “unfortunate” but blamed “enemies of the government for spreading lies.”
Both Moreno and Jarrín provided additional information of the U.S. use of the San Cristóbal airport. According to a statement released by the defense ministry, the U.S. Orion P3 and the Awac aircraft will use the airport for two to three days a month only for refuelling purposes.
According to Jarrín, the aircraft currently operate from the airports at Manta and Guayaquil under an earlier agreement with the U.S. “Allowing the use of San Cristóbal provides a broader surveillance area in the fight against illegal activities,” he said.
He added that the U.S. will pay for airport lighting as part of the use agreement since some aircraft refuelling will occur at night.
Ecuador Foreign Minister José Valencia rejected claims by Correa that the U.S. flights would cause environmental damage to the islands. “There will be about 3,200 flights by large commercial jets to the Galapagos this year,” he said. “The suggestion that two flights a week by small aircraft will harm the environment are totally bogus and totally political.”