Falkland Islands: What new 'Argentine waters' ruling means

Mar 29, 2016

Downing Street plays down decision while Buenos Aires celebrates victory in the territorial dispute

DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/GettyImages

Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, the capital of the British territory

An international commission has ruled that Argentina's territory should be expanded to include the waters surrounding the Falkland Islands, a move that is likely to inflame the country's tensions with Britain over the land.

The islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain British in a 2013 referendum, but more than three decades after they went to war, the UK and Argentina continue to battle over sovereignty.

Who made the ruling?

A group of experts known as the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, established under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea but not a UN commission, as the BBC points out.

What has the response been?

Argentina hailed the decision as an "historic occasion", with foreign minister Susana Malcorra saying it "reaffirms our sovereignty rights over the resources of our continental shelf".

The Falklands legislative assembly, meanwhile, said it was attempting to contact the UK government to find out "what, if any, decisions have been made and what implications there may be". 

Chairman Mike Summers added: "Our understanding has always been that the UN would not make any determination on applications for continental shelf extension in areas where there are competing claims."

Downing Street has played down the ruling, saying it had not yet received details of the report.

"It's important to note this is an advisory committee. It makes recommendations; they are not legally binding and the commission doesn't have jurisdiction to consider sovereignty issues," said Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesperson.

What does the ruling mean for the future?

The move would increase Argentina's waters in the South Atlantic by 35 per cent, the equivalent of more than half a million square miles.

"It leaves a question mark over natural resources in the South Atlantic, in particular oil exploration, which is already pumping millions of dollars into the Falkland Islands economy," says The Times.

The decision is also unlikely to improve diplomatic relations between London and Buenos Aires.

Argentina says the ruling will be key in its dispute with Britain over the islands, but Downing Street once again insisted the decision lies with the Falkland Islanders.

"They have been very clear that they want to remain an overseas territory of the UK and we will continue to support their right to determine their own future," it said.

Falklands: Corbyn is a bigger threat than Argentina, says defence minister

17 February

Defence minister Michael Fallon has told Falkland Islanders that Jeremy Corbyn is a greater threat to their sovereignty than Argentina.

Fallon (pictured above), who is visiting the islands, accused the Labour leader of being "determined to override the wishes of the islanders" following his call for open dialogue with Argentina over the disputed land.         

"The biggest threat at the moment isn't Argentina, it's Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party," he said.

He also placed a wreath at a memorial to the 255 British servicemen killed in the 1982 conflict, describing the war as a "liberation" in an accompanying handwritten note.

Fallon, the first defence minister to visit the South Atlantic islands in 14 years, has expressed a strong personal stance in favour of their continued British sovereignty, while the Ministry of Defence has earmarked £180m to rejuvenate their ageing defences. More than a quarter of a century after the Falklands War, 1,200 British military personnel are still stationed there.

However, his remarks were challenged by the chairman of the Islands' legislative assembly, Michael Summers, who told the BBC that Argentina "undoubtedly" posed a graver danger to the islanders' right to self-determination than the Labour Party.

Argentina's new president, Mauricio Macri, has signalled that his administration is open to a fresh perspective on the islands, which are known as Las Malvinas in Argentina. In contrast, his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, was well known for her bullish stance on the dispute.

He discussed the issue when meeting David Cameron for the first time at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos in January.

After the meeting, Argentinian chancellor Susana Malcorra confirmed the Falklands would remain a point of contention, but said efforts would be made to broaden the scope of relations between Argentina and the UK.

Falklands: Cameron to hold talks with Argentinian president

19 January

David Cameron will hold one-on-one talks with Argentina's newly elected President Mauricio Macri at this week's World Economic Forum meeting in Davos.

The meeting will "underscore a softening of rhetoric" over the disputed Falkland Islands in the wake of last month's change of government in Buenos Aires, says The Guardian.

The meeting follows on last November's telephone call between the two men following the Argentinian's election victory.

"Acknowledging the differences between the two countries, both leaders agreed the need to pursue a path of open dialogue and to work towards a stronger partnership," said Downing Street at the time.

The Falklands – known in Argentina as Las Malvinas – have long been a source of discontent between the two countries. A ten-week war over sovereignty in 1982 cost the lives of 655 Argentine troops, 255 British servicemen and three islanders. Tensions resurfaced again last year when Cameron condemned Argentina for threatening oil and gas companies exploring the islands.

In 2013, the islanders voted to remain part of Britain in a referendum.

Former Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner described Britain's presence on the islands as a "blatant exercise of colonialism", but Macri has vowed to take a "less aggressive" stance.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn weighed in on the debate this weekend, calling for Britain to engage in a "sensible dialogue" with Argentina over the islands.

Mauricio Macri wins Argentina presidency: what next for the Falklands?

23 November

Conservative Mauricio Macri has won Argentina's presidential elections, fuelling hope for better relations with Britain over the disputed Falkland Islands.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has baited the UK over the status of the islands during her eight years in office.

The first round of Argentina's presidential election was held last month, but there was no outright winner. In the second-round run-off this weekend, Macri won 51.5 per cent of the votes, beating his centre-left rival Daniel Scioli, who won 48.5 per cent.

Macri, the mayor of the City of Buenos Aires and former president of Argentina's football club Boca Juniors, danced on stage at a victory rally and thanked his staff for their hard work, reports the BBC.

While political commentators say Macri is unlikely to question Argentina's claim to the Falklands, residents on the isles are hoping for a new neighbouring president who will be less intent on pushing the issue than Kirchner.

Macri's foreign policy chief, Fulvio Pompeo, told the Daily Telegraph last month that he would take a less aggressive stance over the Falklands should he win in the election.

"We have to restore this relationship that has been frozen in recent years, as a result of this conflict," said Pompeo. "We will maintain forever our claim to the Falklands. But our relations with Britain should be broadened."

Macri also signalled that he would abolish the government role of Falklands secretary, or Malvinas secretary, created by Kirchner in 2013.

His victory ends the 12-year rule of the Peronist Party, led first by Nestor Kirchner in 2003, followed by his wife Cristina in 2007. Addressing thousands of cheering supporters, Macri said: "Today is a historic day. It's the changing of an era."

Writing for The Conversation, Alasdair Pinkerton, senior lecturer in human geography at Royal Holloway, says: "For Falkland Islanders, the political passing of the Kirchners might seem justifiable cause for raucous celebrations in the pubs and government offices of Stanley. After all, their lives and livelihoods have been hit hard by aggressive Argentine policies during the Kirchner years."

However, he notes that far from squeezing the economic life out of the islands the Kirchner years have turned them into a media-savvy and politically active community.

"With their vote-chasing grandstanding, the Kirchners have turned one and perhaps two generations of Falkland Islanders firmly against any kind of co-operation with Argentina," says Pinkerton.

"Herein lies the lesson for the Kirchners' successor. Until Argentina once again treats the Falklands-Malvinas issue as both a diplomatic and fundamentally human problem and not an object of domestic political opportunism, the islanders will continue to turn away from their nearest neighbour and forge their own future."

Falklands: will new Argentinian president be less combative?

28 October

Argentina will vote for a new president next month, fuelling hope for better relations with Britain over the disputed Falkland Islands.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term, has baited the UK over the status of the islands during her eight years in office.

The first round of Argentina's presidential election was held over the weekend, but there was no outright winner. Centre-left candidate Daniel Scioli won 36.9 per cent of the vote, but to obtain a first-round victory he had to win more than 45 per cent, or 40 per cent with a 10 per cent lead on the first runner-up.

He therefore faces a run-off election on 22 November against centre-right candidate Mauricio Macri, who won 34.3 per cent of the vote.

Neither is likely to question Argentina's claim to the Falklands, but residents on the isles are hoping for a new neighbouring president who will be less intent on pushing the issue then Kirchner.

A win for Mauricio Macri

Former president of Argentina's football club Boca Juniors, Macri is currently mayor of the City of Buenos Aires and running for the PRO party. His foreign policy chief, Fulvio Pompeo, has told the Daily Telegraph he would take a less aggressive stance over the Falklands should he win in the election.

"We have to restore this relationship that has been frozen in recent years, as a result of this conflict," said Pompeo. "We will maintain forever our claim to the Falklands. But our relations with Britain should be broadened." Macri has also signalled that he would abolish the government role of Falklands Secretary, or Malvinas Secretary, created by Kirchner in 2013.

A win for Daniel Scioli

Scioli, who has been leading the polls, is the candidate of the ruling Peronist coalition and has the backing of Kirchner. The millionaire businessman has been governor of Buenos Aires province, a hugely influential post, since 2007. While Macri has pledged to "turn down the rhetoric" on the Falklands, there is widespread expectation that Scioli would also "seek to adopt a fresh and less belligerent tone in the hope of bringing Britain to the table", says The Independent.

Should he win, Scioli has suggested that Mario Blejer, a renowned economist and advisor to the Bank of England, could be named Argentina's ambassador to Britain. Described by the Daily Express as an "anglophile", Blejer would replace Alicia Castro, who has vocally campaigned for the Falklands to accept rule by Buenos Aires. Nevertheless, Scioli has said Blejer would be expected to "advance the Malvinas Islands question" as part of his responsibilities.

Falklands War: Argentine troops 'tortured by their officers'

15 September

Argentine soldiers were tortured and abused by their own commanding officers during the Falklands War, newly-released documents have revealed.

The official documents are the first of their kind to be declassified by the Argentinean government and detail the brutal treatment of soldiers during the conflict. 

One lieutenant described how his arms and legs were bound and he was left face down on a beach for hours, while one sergeant detailed how he underwent surgery after being kicked in the testicles.   

The files also include accounts of soldiers who experienced mock executions and were tied up inside empty graves. The troops claim they were poorly equipped throughout the war and were beaten if they left the trenches in search of food. 

Argentine soldiers have long made claims of mistreatment, but this is the first time their accusations have been corroborated by official documents.

"These documents lift the veil on facts that were hidden for so many years by the armed forces," Ernesto Alonso, from a veterans group in La Plata, told the BBC.

The islands, known regionally as Las Malvinas, were invaded by Argentina in 1982 – a war that lasted ten weeks and cost the lives of 655 Argentine troops, 255 British servicemen and three Falkland Islanders.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has described Britain's presence as a "blatant exercise of colonialism," but the UK government has refused to negotiate giving up control of the islands.

Tensions resurfaced three years ago when Prince William was deployed to the islands and the UK sent a new warship, HMS Dauntless, provoking anger in Argentina. In 2013, Falkland Island residents voted to remain part of Britain in a referendum.

Falkland Islands: Pope pictured with sign calling for 'dialogue'

21 August

Pope Francis has been pictured holding up a sign calling for dialogue over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands – but the Vatican has said he did not intend to take a stand on the issue.

Meeting the crowd at a general audience earlier this week, the Pope was handed a sign by a member of the public. It read, in Spanish: "It's time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Falkland Islands."

Francis held the sign for a while, and photographs of him with it have been reproduced around the world – particularly in his homeland, Argentina, where the populist government has urged Britain to give up the islands.

It is not at all clear from the pictures that Francis knew what was written on the sign as he held it – and the Vatican has insisted he did not. Even the Argentinian foreign ministry said only that Francis had "received" a pro-dialogue message.

A Vatican spokesman told the Daily Telegraph: "There has been no change of position on this issue. The Pope does not want to enter into this debate.

"The Pope is presented with many things during his general audiences. He receives a long queue of people. Holding something does not mean that he is taking a position either way."

When Francis was known as Rev Jorge Bergoglio he spoke in "nationalistic" terms about the islands, which are known in his homeland as Las Malvinas, says The Guardian. Since becoming Pope, he has not mentioned the dispute.

Francis has maintained this silence despite a formal request from Argentina's president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner that he intervene. Kirchner yesterday tweeted pictures of the Pope with the sign, and without repeating the Vatican denial.

The islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain British in a March 2013 referendum.

Falklands war: Thatcher papers reveal clash over military strategy

19 June

At the height of the Falklands War, Margaret Thatcher suspected that her foreign secretary, Francis Pym, was attempting to combine with the Americans to outmanoeuvre her, according to revelations contained in newly released memoirs.

The documents reveal that Thatcher clashed with Pym in two cabinet meetings, as the Foreign Secretary attempted to work alongside the US to resolve the conflict diplomatically rather than resorting to war.

The revelations were uncovered in previously unreleased memoirs written a year after the 1982 conflict. The papers have been "gifted to the nation" by Thatcher's estate in lieu of £1m of inheritance tax under an Arts Council England scheme, The Guardian reports.

The Arts Council England says the Falklands memoir is "probably the single most significant historical document Margaret Thatcher ever wrote".

The memoirs detail two separate clashes between Thatcher and Pym. The first was on 24 April, when Pym returned from a visit to Washington with a peace proposal he urged cabinet ministers to support. Thatcher wrote: "This was to be one of the most crucial days in the Falklands story and a critical one for me personally. Early on Saturday morning Francis came to my study in No 10 to tell me the results of his efforts. The document he brought back was a complete sellout."

Thatcher was unwilling to put the proposal to Cabinet, but Pym insisted. The plan was in any case rejected by Argentina.

The second dispute came ten days later, after the sinking of the General Belgrano and Argentina's attack on the HMS Sheffield. Pym tabled another peace proposal before the UK cabinet. The plan was received favourably, but the terms were again rejected by the Argentinians, "making Pym's 'victory' academic", the Guardian says.

Thatcher donated most of her papers before her death in 2013. The majority are held by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation, which is based in Churchill College.

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