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Is Argentina prepared to try and resolve the situation surrounding the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)? The change in the Argentinian leadership’s discourse came as a surprise not only for the British, but also for the supporters of President Mauricio Macri, who is already being accused of betrayal.

Problem Islands, or History in a Nutshell

The Falkland Islands ownership is rather poorly defined by the United Nations: the United Kingdom has administrative control over the autonomous territory, although Argentina has claims to its sovereignty. The United Nations Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on Decolonization) analyses the situation on the islands annually. The United Kingdom maintains that the Islands are one of its Overseas Territories; from a political and legal perspective, the archipelago operates within the British political and administrative system.      

 

Argentina gained control over the Falklands following the War of Independence with Spain (1811) and has considered the Falklands to be part of its territory ever since. However, the islands never actually belonged to Spain, which claimed ownership after the signing of the Nootka Conventions in the late 18th century (a series of agreements dividing the disputed territory among Spain and the United Kingdom). British governance had existed on the Falklands before that. This explains why, in 1833, the British, sensing the weakness of Spain and the newly formed Argentina, attacked the Islands, eager to regain the lost territories. The islanders surrendered almost without incident and the Falklands once again came under the control of the United Kingdom. Naturally, Argentina has never forgotten this, and has been trying to get the Islands back ever since. The dispute even drew Argentina into war in 1982, the only war in which the country took part in the 20th century. But the efforts of the Argentinians have all been for naught – not only does the United Kingdom refuse to discuss the issue, but it also held a referendum on the political status of the Falkland in 2013 Islands, with the overwhelming majority of the local population (99.8 per cent) voting to remain under British rule.        

 

REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

 

It was during the Kirchner family’s rule that the national sentiment of the Argentinians towards the Falkland Islands started to take on an almost militaristic tone, with the upper echelons of the government even entertaining the notion of armed conflict as a means to resolving the issue. And the British have done little to quell the tensions, as they started oil exploration activities off the shores of the Islands, which prompted Argentina and a host of other Latin American and Caribbean countries to impose a blockade on the Islands. In general, the Spanish-speaking countries have displayed an almost unheard of solidarity with regard to the issue of ownership of the Islands; you will be hard pushed to find any mention of the Falklands in the Spanish-, and even Portuguese-language, media, with the name Islas Malvinas (the Argentinian name for the Islands) being used almost exclusively. And the Spanish most likely get a sense of pleasure when they say Islas Malvinas as well, as the country is involved in a territorial dispute of its own with the United Kingdom over Gibraltar.   

The Pendulum Has Swung

You will remember that Argentina was yet another country to “turn to the right” in 2015: after a long period of leftist rule, the right-wing conservative politician Mauricio Macri became president of the country, and he immediately distanced himself from the majority of the political practices of the Kirchner family.  

 

From the very beginning of his term in office, Macri has set his sights on building a dialogue with the Brits. As a result, on September 13, 2016, the two sides signed a joint declaration that included the possibility of reviewing the trade embargo and developing oil and gas fields jointly, while at the same time touching upon such issues as fisheries, shipping and air transport. The declaration, which contains absolutely nothing about the territorial dispute over the Falklands, has already caused a storm of criticism; a number of parliamentary hearings have been called to discuss the issue, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Susana Malcorra being called upon to provide explanations for signing the document. The opposition, as well as a number of conservative party members, believe that the declaration effectively gives the United Kingdom the right to develop the Archipelago’s surrounding waters, for which Argentina will receive no compensation whatsoever. But this is not entirely true – the document only talks about “removing all obstacles” to future cooperation, which by no means implies that such cooperation will be under unfavourable conditions for Buenos Aires.           

 

AP

Mauricio Macri and David Cameron, Davos, 2016

 

Mauricio Macri, who has been the target of a torrent of accusations of treason, only aggravated the situation during his visit to the United Nations headquarters. In his speech before the General Assembly, Macri was careful to use the softest language possible and stressed the desire to resolve the issue about the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands once and for all and “in a friendly manner.” Exactly what “friendly” means and how to resolve the issue remain unclear, but the President’s approach did not go down well at home or among the opposition. Worse still was the press conference that came after Macri’s speech, in which the President said that the conversation he had with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Theresa May on the sidelines of the session had been extremely productive and that the Prime Minister was prepared to discuss the issue at the highest level. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office immediately refuted this information, and Susana Malcorra was once again called upon to justify the Argentinian President’s lies; while acknowledging that a meeting did indeed take place, Malcorra was forced to concede that the Falklands was not mentioned during the discussion.        

 

In other words, Macri’s eagerness to perform a U-turn in Argentinian politics has not had the desired results. He will, of course, continue in his efforts, but we can only guess at how successful he will be in the face of strong opposition: in Argentina, the left never forgives the right for its mistakes, just as the right never forgives the left.

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