On November 16 of 2020, the province comprising the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina endured the force of a category 5 hurricane that destroyed a great part of Providencia.
During their history, its inhabitants have been marked by a constant battle for the protection of their territory, autonomy, and natural legacy. However, in face of the rebuilding process, there is a proposal that produces an important environmental impact: The El Embrujo airport expansion project.
Although in January of this year the Government committed to rebuilding the island in 100 days, that passed without any considerable change.
According to Universidad Nacional de Colombia (UNal) Environmental and Development M.Sc. Professor Omar Fernando Clavijo, “The raizal community has made claims and stated its uncertainties in face of an imposed rebuilding processes and the possibility of reactivating past-rejected projects, such as the expansion of the airport.”
And adds, “This shows a systematic and historic exclusion of these communities in the decisions facing management and planning in their territories.”
In this context, a discussion on “all-inclusive” tourism emerges, where tourists pay beforehand for all the services they will receive during their visit to the destination point.
For Biologist and Researcher of the UNal Environmental Conflicts Observatory (OCA, for its Spanish acronym) Alessandra Trujillo López, “This is an ideal place for disconnecting and total relaxation –as it offers everything we need– the is a reality of exclusion and disconnecting with the surrounding territory.”
Based on experiences from other parts of the world, they have identified certain segregation patterns and issues related to this tourism model that impact the native population of the territories.
For Clavijo, “Despite being economically attractive, this model produces affectations over the local dynamics despite being attractive for its reduced price which can appeal to a large flow of tourists that can lead to a negative impact over the supporting ecosystems.”
Although it does produce employment and there is greater investment in the sector, it would also increase the living costs.
In the research project entitled, “Environmental conflict analysis of ‘all-inclusive’ tourism model of the Archipelago of San Andres, Providencia, and Santa Catalina. Case study: Expansion of the El Embrujo Airport of Providencia”, Trujillo says that one of the greatest concerns are the changes that could occur in the delimitation of the Old Providence McBean Lagoon Natural National Park.
The park has an extension of 995 ha (2,459 acres) of which 689 ha are marine areas including protected coral reefs and a mangrove area that would be impacted if the expansion project is reinstated.
The researcher says that “suspending the Airport expansion project was because of three main reasons: 1) For the possible damages to the mangroves of the park, 2) Due to an overlap (provoking a junction failure in the territory), and 3) Because there were no studies on the tourist load capacity before starting the project”.
“Between 2016 and 2019, the raizal community showed a vigilant attitude towards all the planned decisions in their territory and with the implications that could be produced,” said the researcher.
According to 2020 data of the Colombian Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE, for its Spanish acronym), this community comprises 48% of San Andrés and 92 % of Providencia.
According to the Colombian Civil Aeronautical Authority, this airport received sporadic passenger flights between San Andrés and Providencia, and in 1984 it was renovated. Currently, the runway is too short, making it difficult to receive continental flights.
If reinstated, the plans are to expand the runway to allow receiving aircraft with a minimum of 50 passengers and increase the number of flights.
Although the expansion project was adjusted by the Civil Aeronautics Authority, its reactivation could be detrimental for the raizal community, who continues to wait for rebuilding of their territory after the hurricane, not only in an adequate manner according to their culture but also in alternative projects such as the airport rebuilding process that had been stopped.
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