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Volume No. 1 Issue No. 30 - Monday, October 21, 2002
Aves Island a Strategic Island in the Caribbean Sea
Should Dominica Stake a Claim to the Island?
by Thomson Fontaine

There has been much discussion over the years in Dominica about its claim or lack thereof to Birds Island. Former Prime Ministers Patrick John and Roosevelt Douglas had both expressed interest in the Island. Speculation was heightened last year when the CARICOM heads of government indicated that they may be willing to back up Dominica's claims to the Island. However, to date the government of Dominica has not indicated whether it will pursue any such claim.

Birds or Aves Island, as it is called by the Spanish, is a famed bird sanctuary and is said by some to be rich in oil. Most of the people arguing in favor of Dominica staking a claim to the Island have pointed out that at approximately 180 miles west of Dominica, it is well within its territorial boundaries. Birds Island is the most isolated Island in the Caribbean Sea, and is very strategically located.

Upon gaining its independence from Spain in 1821, Venezuela lay claim to Birds Island, which lies approximately 600 miles north east of Caracas, the Venezuelan capital. At that time however, no attempt was made to inhabit the Island. Approximately 1000 meters long and 400 meters wide, Birds Island is made up mostly of sand and coral. Several rare bird species survive on the Island and in 1972, it was named a Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary by the government of Venezuela.

Birds Island has an intriguing history. In 1587 the Island was spotted by Spanish adventurer Avaro Sanzze, who claimed it on behalf of Spain and named it Isla de Aves (Birds Island). At that time however, no formal possession of the Island was made by the Spanish and it was not inhabited.

The Island was later to change possession between the British, the Spanish, the Portugese and later the Ducth. In 1878 the Guano & Copra Company of America, inhabited the island, built up some wooden houses and mined guano ( a bird fertilizer) until 1912 when the bird manure was practically exhausted.

In 1979, the Venezuelan government erected a coast guard station and listening post on the island. Today, it is used as a military base, and the Venezuelan military exercises strict control over the island, with visitors requiring a special permit from the Venezuelan military. For the most part, only Venezuelans have been allowed to visit the Island. Local Dominican fishermen have reported rich fishing waters around the island, which are regularly patrolled by the Venezuelan coast guard.

To date, no government official has spoken out publicly about Dominica's interest in Birds Island, and it is yet to be determined if any action on the mater is planned by the authorities.

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