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Colombia Table of Contents


Isla de San Andrés and Isla de Providencia

Colombian concerns pertaining to sovereignty over the San Andrés and Providencia archipelago were renewed after the 1979 victory of the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua, when that country's new leaders revived the Nicaraguan claim to the territory. The Sandinistas asserted that the 1928 Barcenas-Esquerra Treaty between Colombia and Nicaragua was invalid because it had been signed under pressure from the United States. After Nicaragua renewed its claim, the Colombian government dispatched a naval task force, a squadron of Mirage fighters, and some 500 marines to San Andrés, the capital of San Andrés and Providencia Intendancy. A new military base was constructed to serve as Colombia's naval headquarters for the Caribbean. During 1980 and 1981, the presence of Nicaraguan fishing boats in waters near the islands provoked numerous minor clashes, yet Nicaragua maintained that it sought a peaceful resolution to the dispute and did not wish a military confrontation over the islands. At that time, the Colombian government also signaled its willingness to defend its claim over the islands, including use of military force if necessary.

Upon the inauguration of the administration of Belisario Betancur Cuartas in 1982, diplomatic relations between Colombia and Nicaragua improved. As a result, the Nicaraguan government placed less emphasis on its public campaign to reclaim the territory.

Nonetheless, the strategic location of the islands near the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal concerned United States policy planners. Although the Colombian government made clear that it would not permit the establishment of foreign military bases on the islands, it was also clear that the United States government did not wish to see the islands fall under the control of a government that it considered to be hostile to United States interests. Moreover, the Colombian government's position left open the possibility that the United States might be granted access and landing rights to the archipelago, a possibility that was especially appealing to United States strategic planners as the 1999 expiration of the Panama Canal Treaty approached.

Data as of December 1988