A recently-discovered offshore oil deposit that could contain more than 500 million barrels has reignited the dispute over the Falkland Islands’ sovereignty. Las Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina, lie 300 miles off the Argentine coast and were the scene of the Argentina-Britain Falklands War in early 1982.
With the approach of the 30th anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentine troops comes an elevation in diplomatic tensions. Although British prime minister David Cameron recently called a national security meeting to discuss the Falklands, his government has no immediate plan to bolster military presence. With regard to sovereignty, Cameron underlines the islanders’ right to “self-determination” and has called Argentina’s attitude towards the Islands “colonial.”, an action that has set off repeat protests in Buenos Aires.
Florencio Randazzo, Argentina’s interior minister, immediately called this comment “absolutely offensive,” while president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner called it an “expression of mediocrity and almost of stupidity.” Kirchner wants to open a dialogue between the two countries to negotiate over the Islands, a discourse that the White House now supports.
Though the White House recognizes the U.K. as the administrator of the islands, a January 19th press briefing responded to questions on the subject: “This is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom. We encourage both parties to resolve their differences through dialogue in normal diplomatic channels.”
Kirchner has so far succeeded in persuading Mercosur members (Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) to close their ports to ships flying a Falkland Islands flag. “But if oil starts to flow, Argentina might seek regional support for an economic blockade,” according to a recent article in the Economist. There’s also a chance Argentina might close its airspace to Falklands-bound flights, according to an article in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. This could stress relations between Argentina and Chile, since the only carrier to make this flight is Chile’s LAN airlines.
Rockhopper Exploration, the British oil and gas company that made the discovery, is currently seeking co-investors to develop the newly discovered field dubbed ‘Sea Lion.’ First in line is Anadarko Petroleum—a U.S.-based energy company with holdings worldwide and a partner of BP’s in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company also has ties to the U.S. government; the former commander of United States Strategic Command is on its board of directors.
In April 1982, Argentine forces invaded the islands, ostensibly to divert attention from human rights abuses on the mainland. Less than three months later, British troops dispatched by then prime minister Margaret Thatcher forced Argentina to surrender.
The Falkland Islands have a population of around 2,500.
Photo courtesy of remi de nimega via Flickr.