Three To Tango? Uruguay Cuts In On Falkland Islands Dispute Between Argentina And UK

 @JaceyFortin
on January 31 2013 3:25 PM
Falkland Islands (aka Malvinas)
Falkland Islands (aka Malvinas) Wikipedia

As if Argentina and the United Kingdom weren’t enough, now Uruguay has staked its own claim of ownership of the Falkland Islands -- or Las Islas Malvinas, depending on your loyalties.

As the focus of a centuries-old territorial dispute, the Falklands have seen their fair share of diplomatic wrangling, heated debates and even a brief, bloody war. The archipelago is currently recognized as a British Overseas Territory by the West, though Argentina -- which is supported by its South American neighbors -- has never relinquished its own claim. If Uruguay were to horn in, the battle could get a lot more complicated … but it probably won’t.

In what is likely to amount to more of a footnote than a controversy, Juan Ackermann of Uruguay and Alfredo Villegas of Argentina wrote a book titled “¿Las Malvinas: Son uruguayas?” or “The Falkland Islands: Are They Uruguayan?” The book argues that the islands actually belong to Uruguay due to an overlooked agreement between Uruguay and Spain, in which Spain ceded the archipelago to the Uruguayan state.

“No one remembers an 1841 treaty signed between Spain and Uruguay,” said Ackermann, according to the Telegraph. "In that document, Spain cedes it the naval base's powers," meaning that under the treaty, Spain ceded the Falklands to Uruguay.

"Seventeen years later, Spain did the same with Argentina, but it couldn't give it something it's already given another. That is a very strong argument in favor of Uruguay."

Villegas added that Argentinean legislators also signed off on the agreement in 1972, without noticing the detail.

But Uruguay is unlikely to pursue the evidence since Uruguayan President Jose Mujica supports Argentina’s claim to the islands.

That became clear last year, when a minor snafu erupted into controversy and highlighted the symbolic importance of the archipelago’s name. Mujica had signed a decree that listed the dependent territories in South America -- in it, las Islas Malvinas, as Argentina calls them, were referred to as the “Islas Falklands,” a mix-up that amounted to recognizing British claims to the archipelago.

It was a small mistake, but the issue is so contentious that the Uruguayan Foreign Office was compelled to offer a statement reaffirming its alliances.

“There is not a shadow of doubt when it comes to the Uruguayan support for the Argentine claim, neither any hesitation about its denomination,” it said, according to the Buenos Aires Herald.

It may seem strange that this remote archipelago is the cause of so much controversy. Though cruise ship tours have recently boosted tourism in the Falkland Islands, they are far from paradisiacal. The weather is mild -- more chilly than warm -- and perpetually windy. The flora is dull, and the terrain is rocky in spots. Brightly colored buildings lend some charm to the quiet streets of Stanley, the islands’ capital city. Sheep vastly outnumber humans; penguins and seals are also in abundance near coastal areas. The lingua franca is English, as the vast majority of the population has British roots. There are no traffic lights anywhere.

The apparent serenity belies a history of conflict. Britain has staked its claim to the islands since the 1700s and was ultimately the most successful in terms of settling the territory, though Spanish colonizers -- and later, Argentineans -- contested the British presence.

In 1982, Argentina’s government -- then dominated by a military junta -- launched a sudden invasion of the Falklands, and the British responded in force. The Falklands War raged for three months, killing an estimated 900 soldiers.

Argentina surrendered on June 14, but it still claims ownership of the islands. For many Argentinians, refusing to back down on the issue is a matter of national pride. The United Kingdom claims it is protecting the wishes of a largely English-speaking population that has consistently taken London’s side on the question of sovereignty.

Both sides are also keen to maintain control of the island for the potential oil reserves there, which are currently being examined.

This issue will come to a head on March 10-11, when the islands’ residents will vote in a referendum on whether the Falklands will remain a British dependency. The population is widely expected to affirm its status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom.

That doesn’t leave much room for Uruguayans to claim the archipelago. But at the very least -- if Villegas and Ackermann are right -- they can feel smug about how, when you really get down to the technicalities, the windy islands at the heart of this international dispute have belonged to them all along.

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