The 30th anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas war highlights a re-emerging colonial debate that has added tensions to the dispute over the islands.
The Falkland Islands, known as the Islas Malvinas in Argentina, have been the focal point of a war of words in the run up to the anniversary commemorations.
British Prime Minister David Cameron accused Argentina of acting “colonial” after the decision in January to restrict any vessels bearing a Falkland Island’s flag from entering Argentina’s ports.
In response to Cameron, Argentina and supporters have denounced Britain’s presence in the South Atlantic as “crude colonial power in decline.” With the support of the rising powerful Latin American region, Argentina has used this opportunity to call for renewed negotiations over the issue of sovereignty.
However, some political analysts believe that Argentina’s revived interest in the dispute is due to recent developments in oil extraction.
Exploitation of Natural Resources in Disputed Areas
Argentina generally claims historical and cultural rights to the islands and asserts that its oil and fishing resources are being plundered by the British.
George Grant of the Henry Jackson Society in London, in a response to such claims said, “Argentina is behaving childishly by trying to provoke a row. It is morally and legally indefensible.”
However, former Argentine Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, accused the British Government of refusing to comply with calls to open negotiations on the sovereignty of the islands and of continuing to carry out unilateral actions in the disputed area, which undermined UN General Assembly Resolution 31/49 of 1976.
In 2005, Argentina submitted 15 notes to the United Kingdom rejecting illegitimate acts such as carrying out seismic surveying for hydrocarbons, granting licences for exploration and exploitation of minerals and aeromagnetic surveying activities on the islands.
In more recent months, the increased interest in oil exploration by British licensed companies in the territory and in disputed areas has fuelled tensions in the debate.
Argentina has just sent letters to British and American banks involved in oil exploration in the region warning them that continued involvement would lead to a court case being filed against them, reported the UK’s Sunday Telegraph.
Argentina’s current Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman, told Télam news agency: “the exploitation of fishing and hydrocarbons without permission in Argentine waters, usurping goods that belong to the Argentine people, not only escalates an unnecessary dispute but carries environmental risks”
He continued arguing that “the UK is run on colonialist considerations and behaves as if it were above the international legal order, ignoring many decisions of the UN and calls for regional forums to re-establish dialogue with Argentina”.
The Malvinas Basin, which is thought to be connected to the South Falklands Basin but is in Argentinean waters, has a number of wells that were drilled in the early 80s largely by Exxon. This basin is now believed to be connected to the same sedimentary basin that Borders and FOGL (Falkland’s oil and Gas) are drilling.
UK-based Rockhopper Exploration has made a series of finds since 2010 that have seen tensions rise within Argentina as Rockhopper believes it could be pumping 120,000 barrels a day out of its Sea Lion field by 2018.
The Argentine Parliament says that the recent promising developments in oil extraction around the Falkland Islands call for a fresh review of the Islands’ sovereignty.
Sovereignty and the Right to Self-Determination
The issue of sovereignty raises a problematic concept, of which the United Kingdom refuses to discuss based on the UN Declaration of the right to self-determination.
The UK’s Foreign Office responded saying that “there would be no negotiations with Argentina on sovereignty unless the islanders wish it.”
Taiana said that the right to self-determination was not applicable to the Falkland Islands since the Islanders were “a British population transplanted with the intention of setting up a colony,” a point also supported by the UN General Assembly resolution in 1965.
He continued to urge for the recognition that the Islands were part of an independent state, Argentina, which had been separated against their inhabitants’ will by an act of force by the United Kingdom in 1833, and Argentina had protested that situation ever since.
Argentina has been using these claims to argue that British claims to uphold the right to self-determination stand on flimsy, if not illegal, foundations and consequently demand Britain return to the negotiating table on this matter. “The fundamental principle of international self-determination must not be used to transform illegitimate possession into full sovereignty, “said Taiana.
However, Richard Davies, a member of the Legislative Council of the Falkland Islands, replied, “For far too long, Argentina had equated the decolonisation process with a claim to sovereignty, but by taking over the Falklands, Argentina would itself become a colonial Power.”
Davies outlined the history of Argentina’s claim to the Falklands in previous dialogue with Argentina, maintaining that when Britain and Spain claimed the islands in the 18th Century, Argentina did not even exist and they had not been ceded to Argentina by Spain.
Britain’s UN Ambassador Mark Grant on the Falkland Islanders position said, “We are also clear that the Falkland Islands Government is entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its waters, and we support this legitimate business in Falklands’ territory.”
The CEO of FOGL, Tim Bushell, dismissed Argentine actions as politically motivated in the year of the 30th anniversary of the war and claims the dispute has not interfered with operations: “We bring all our equipment into the Falklands through international waters and, actually, the Falklands from an operational standpoint is the most sensible place to run a drilling operation.”
With little prospect for either Argentina or the United Kingdom altering their position, Falkland Islanders are taking steps to suggest independence as a favourable option.
Falklands Councillor Richard Davies believes the possibility of full independence can no longer be ruled out, especially since economic prosperity looks to increase in light of recent oil exploration.
Yet, if Argentina maintains its sovereignty claim then political analysts suggest an oil deal with sharing of profits is a more realistic outcome.
The likelihood of such a deal is debatable but with the United Kingdom looking to build on economic relations with Latin America this could prove a testing time in the Falklands/Malvinas dispute that could give Argentina added leverage since the region has already proven support to President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
One thing the anniversary has highlighted is that within 30 years, negotiations, or lack of, are worryingly stuck on the same issues that were contested before 1982 and during the first colonial phase.