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Latin America backs Argentina over Falkland Islands

4 min

Thirty years after the start of the Falklands War, tensions between Argentina and Britain have flared anew with several countries in Latin America declaring their support of Buenos Aires' sovereignty claim over the disputed islands.


AFP - Thirty years after the Falklands War, Latin America is closing ranks behind Argentina's sovereignty claim over the disputed islands and reviving a bid for control in the resource-rich South Atlantic.

All countries of the region back Buenos Aires in its bitter dispute with London over the remote South Atlantic archipelago and oppose any British military presence in the region, Colombian Foreign Minister Maria Angela Holguin said in late March.

And she stressed that a statement on the issue would be issued at an April meeting of the Summit of the Americas in the Colombian city of Cartagena.

On April 2, 1982, the then-ruling military junta in Argentina invaded the Falklands, igniting a 74-day war with Britain that cost the lives of 649 Argentine, 255 British troops and three Falkland islanders.

The war ended in defeat for Argentina, with Britain maintaining control over a territory it has ruled since 1833.

But on this sensitive issue, London is facing a united Latin American front, led by Brazil, the region's dominant power that displaced Britain in December as the world's sixth largest economy.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota made this position abundantly clear in a meeting with his British counterpart William Hague in Brasilia early this year.

He told Hague that Brazil and the region "back Argentine sovereignty over the Falklands and the UN resolutions calling for dialogue between the Argentine and British governments on this issue."

Also early this year, Patriota said Brazil was working with Uruguay to convene a meeting of the proposed South Atlantic Zone of Peace and Cooperation, bringing together South American and southern African countries.

"Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay have an interest in creating a South Atlantic security zone. This has been on the agenda for decades," said Tullo Vigevani, a professor at Sao Paulo State University.

Alberto Pfeifer of the Analysis of International Relations think-tank at Sao Paulo University noted the South Atlantic was "extremely important" for countries on both sides of the ocean.

"The geology of this region is a mirror. What you have on the South American side, you will find on the southern African side. Already large oil reserves have been discovered on the African coast, in addition to the resources of the ocean, like fishing," he added.

Brazil is also beefing up its naval might in the South Atlantic, including with an ambitious submarine program, to protect its huge "sub-salt" oil reserves.

The oil fields, located off Brazil's southeast Atlantic coast beneath kilometers of ocean and bedrock, could contain more than 100 billion barrels of high-quality recoverable oil, according to official estimates.

Tensions between London and Buenos Aires have flared anew since 2010, when Britain authorized oil companies to explore for oil in Falklands waters, and have sharpened with the deployment of a British warship to the islands.

The Falklands -- population around 3,000 -- are located some 400 nautical miles from Argentina, which calls the islands the Malvinas.

Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has accused Britain of accumulating the "biggest" military power in the South Atlantic, including nuclear arms.

And he used a 53-nation summit on nuclear security in South Korea this month to urge Britain to confirm it has no nuclear weapons in the South Atlantic. London dismissed the insinuations as "unfounded and baseless."

Peru recently canceled a visit by a British navy frigate in solidarity with Argentina's Falklands claim and Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has suggested sanctions against Britain.

Last December, the South American trading bloc Mercosur -- which includes Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay -- agreed to close its ports to ships flying the flag of the British-controlled islands.

Raul Bernal-Meza, an international relations professor at Buenos Aires University, however noted that Latin American support for Argentina was not so open and unanimous 30 years ago in the middle of the Cold War when the region was ruled by right-wing dictatorships.

Chile, then under the rule of the late Augusto Pinochet, gave covert support to Britain and the only regional country to provide true aid to Argentina was Peru, which sent weapons and Mirage jets.

Today, Latin American countries depend more on each other and are less dependent on Europe and the United States. They also seek to assert a common identity.

The Union of South American Nations set up in 2007 "has given more cohesion to the stance of solidarity with Argentina because it is much easier to secure agreements and consensus," said Peruvian analyst Ernesto Velit Granda.

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