The 40th anniversary of the Falklands war compels us to pay homage to and honour the memory of the fallen Argentine and British soldiers who lost their lives there. It should also lead us to reflect on why, four decades on from the cessation of hostilities, Argentina and the United Kingdom have not been able to resume a substantive dialogue to resolve the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas, despite the call made by the international community through UN resolutions.
The immediate events that triggered the war and the details of the conflict itself are well known to the British public. But it is often forgotten that, for a period of 16 years beginning in 1965, there was a bilateral negotiation process between Argentina and the UK that was in line with the mandate of the UN resolutions. These were true negotiations on the substance of the issue, sovereignty. Over that period of time, several concrete alternatives were explored to help resolve the dispute between our countries, taking into account the interests of the inhabitants of the islands.
The United Kingdom alleges that there is no sovereignty dispute over these territories. Why then did the British government negotiate with Argentina during that period?
We believe that no outcome of any war can resolve a dispute recognised by the international community. This would set a dangerous precedent. The 1982 conflict did not alter the nature of the dispute between both countries, which is still pending negotiation and resolution. That is why, in November 1982, the UN general assembly adopted resolution 37/9, which requests both countries to resume negotiations in order to find as soon as possible a peaceful solution to the sovereignty dispute.
The UK and my country are both vibrant democracies, with relevant economies (in fact, we are both members of the G20). We collaborate on key issues of the international agenda such as the pandemic and the protection of human rights – and, above all, we share fundamental values and a vision of a rules-based world order. And yet, in the South Atlantic agenda, we behave as if the conflict took place just yesterday.
The Argentine government has recently presented concrete proposals to advance connectivity between the islands and mainland Argentina through the re-establishment of regular flights. More flights mean more trade, more tourism and more dialogue, as we have had in the past.
Argentina is not a threat to anyone. We have a clear mandate at the constitutional level. The Argentine constitution underlines two important aspects of that mandate: it states that the recovery of sovereignty is an inalienable objective of the Argentine people, and it also affirms that we must seek it through peaceful means only, in accordance with international law and respecting the way of life of the islands’ inhabitants.
Despite this, the UK maintains a major military base in the South Atlantic, carries out periodic military exercises in the disputed area and maintains restrictions on the sale of dual-use military items to Argentina. I would stress that the UK reserves restrictions of this nature for countries responsible for serious human rights violations. These restrictions have been extended to include sensitive technologies, raising doubts about Britain’s reliability as a provider of this type of equipment. Beyond the fact of the sovereignty dispute, it is incomprehensible that such treatment is meted out to our country, which has enjoyed 40 years of uninterrupted democracy.
We have a positive agenda in which cooperation is possible and desirable. We can and must continue to work together on both global and bilateral issues. In particular, we should seek to build a more flourishing bilateral trade relationship, which is currently operating well below its potential.
We have also made great progress over the last 40 years in humanitarian matters, identifying the remains of Argentine soldiers who fell on the islands during the conflict and are buried there: thanks to the neutral intermediation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), we were able to identify the remains of more than 120 Argentine ex-combatants and provide an answer to their families, after so many years of uncertainty.
The UN calls for solving the sovereignty dispute by peaceful means, as a way to put an end to this special and particular colonial situation. There have been declarations from the Organization of American States, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Ibero-American Summit, Mercosur and others.
However, the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas, South Georgias and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime areas remains unresolved. Pretending that it does not exist or that it does not create obstacles in our bilateral relationship is naive. No Argentine government will cease in its pursuit of our sovereign claim. This does not prevent us from advancing in areas of common interest, but we must be aware that without a frank and constructive dialogue regarding the South Atlantic, our relationship will not be able to reach its full potential.
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