Friday, February 01, 2008

Zounds! Another Territorial Conflict

The New York Times has discovered San Andres.

It's a Caribbean archipelago, a place where its English-speaking descendants of African slaves who inhabit it occasionally need to be reminded that they must be loyal to distant Bogotá.

What's the background?

But many Raizals, as the English speakers here are known, feel loyalty neither to Colombia, a Bush administration ally, nor to Nicaragua, a supporter of President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Nicaragua has claimed San Andrés in a bitter territorial dispute, and while the two countries press their cases, a nonviolent separatist movement is growing increasingly vocal here.

"This fight is taking place as if it were some abstract matter over unpopulated atolls," said Enrique Pusey Bent, a director of the Archipelago Movement for Ethnic Native Self-Determination, which symbolically declared independence last June by replacing Colombia's flags here.

More than distance separates the 35,000 Raizals from the rest of Colombia. They speak an English-based Creole as well as English, listen to Jamaican reggae and Trinidadian calypso, worship largely in Protestant churches and consider as their brethren residents of nearby English-speaking enclaves like Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast and Panama's Bocas del Toro.

A haven for English slaveholders and pirates since the 17th century, San Andrés Province — this island and others nearby with much smaller populations — came under Colombia's control after independence from Spain in the 1820s. But the Raizals effectively managed their own affairs for decades until Colombia reasserted its presence here about a century ago.

A policy of "Colombianization" ensued, supported by Franciscan monks sent here to convert the Raizals and enforce the use of Spanish. Migrants from the mainland were given free passage here. The islands became a duty-free port in the 1950s, spurring the formation of a merchant class, consisting largely of mainland Colombians.

Today, Spanish is the dominant language here, and the Raizals account for just a third of the 100,000 residents.

And as for apartheid?

"Step into a shop or a court of law and it's almost always the same: no Raizals work there," said Jairo Rodríguez Davis, an independence advocate. "It's a subtle kind of apartheid, but more cruel than the colonialism Colombia threw off from Spain."

The Raizals' concerns are rarely acknowledged, though, in the barbs exchanged by Nicaragua and Colombia. President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua lashed out on Tuesday at naval patrols by Colombia around San Andrés, saying he would complain to the United Nations that they harass Nicaraguan fishermen.

So, what's done?

Faced with Nicaragua's claim, President Uribe sent more than 1,200 troops to march here in July in a Colombian independence celebration. But Raizal advocates say the military display was also meant to quell talk of rebellion.

Colombian officials insist that the separatist movement remains small, and that the Raizals have few reasons to seek independence. Gov. Pedro Gallardo Forbes, a Raizal from a prominent political family with ties to the mainland, agreed. "I'm first of all an islander, but I'm also Colombian, more than 100 percent," Mr. Gallardo said in an interview in soft-spoken English.

And let's not forget this problematic territory:

Serranilla Bank

Claimed by both the United States and Columbia. This is a series of small cays located approximately 210 miles NNE of Nicaragua. These islands were originally claimed by the US under the Guano Act. Columbia considers this part of the Province Archipelago (San Andres y Providencia). Additionally, Honduras appears to have claimed this area as well.

When they solve their problems, maybe they can help out all the Great Powers who seem so eager to help us out in Israel.

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