Latin American leaders side with Argentine stanceTuesday, February 23, 2010
Malvinas issue gains support at summit
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner yesterday said Latin American leaders backed her objections to British oil exploration in the Malvinas islands at the Rio Group summit taking place in Mexico, as drilling began on the first well.
“I thank you all for the support that we have received in this forum for the legitimate rights over the Malvinas and to appeal to Britain to come to the negotiating table,” she told fellow Latin American leaders at the opening session of the meeting.
The President attended the regional summit near the resort town of Playa del Carmen, aiming to lobby countries to condemn what she called Britain’s “unilateral and illegal” exploration in the islands and urge Britain to sit down for sovereignty talks.
The presidents of the Rio Group yesterday approved two statements expressing support for the Argentine stance.
In one resolution, they affirmed the country’s legitimate rights over the archipelago, and in the other they protested Britain’s oil-drilling operations. They called on both countries to resume talks and refrain from taking unilateral decisions over the islands. Fernández de Kirchner accused Britain of ignoring international law but ruled out a military response.
“There continues to be a systematic violation of international law that should be respected by all countries,” Fernández de Kirchner said.
“Those who have the most power, those who can impose their decisions on others continue using this privilege to ignore international law,” she said.
“Argentina will continue working democratically to pursue its claim until we have exhausted all the ways in which we can reaffirm our sovereignty over the southern archipelago,” the President said.
“In the name of our government and in the name of my people, I am grateful ... for the support this meeting has given to our demands.”
In recent days and during yesterday’s summit, most of the regional leaders backed Argentina’s claims.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez addressed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth directly on his weekly television programme, telling her to return the Malvinas to Argentina. He repeated his claims late Sunday when he arrived in Mexico for the summit.
“We support unconditionally the Argentine government and the Argentine people in their complaints,” Chávez told reporters at the airport.
“That sea and that land belongs to Argentina and to Latin America.”
He even pledged to send his armed forces to Argentina’s defence if Britain attacks, telling his allies they can “have the security of knowing they aren’t alone” against what he called British threats.
Mexican President Felipe Calderón, hosting the summit, yesterday expressed his “support and solidarity” with Argentina in their claim over the Malvinas.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said his country “strongly backs the Argentine government and people in their demand.” Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom also expressed their support of Argentine demands in their speeches.
Since Fernández de Kirchner took office, she has been calling on Britain to resume talks regarding sovereignty over the islands, over which both countries fought a war in 1982. The dispute over the archipelago escalated in recent days, as Argentina formally objected to British-led drilling plans near the islands, and decreed that any ship travelling to or from the islands must obtain a prior permit from the government. They claim the oil drilling by British firm Desire Petroleum is a breach of sovereignty.
As part of the government’s diplomatic offensive, Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana is scheduled to meet tomorrow with United Nations’ Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, seeking help to pressure Britain to followUN resolutions urging both countries to negotiate their competing claims.
Animosity over the issue apparently spilled onto the Internet over the weekend, when the site of Penguin News, the weekly newspaper which serves the Malvinas’ approximately 2,500 inhabitants, was hacked.
Office manager Fran Biggs said attackers replaced the site with “a large Argentine flag” and added that the paper had recently received a stream of abusive e-mails from Argentina, with several references to “British pirates.”
Tension had also sparked between both countries in January, when the British government protested to Argentina over a law passed in December which includes the disputed islands within the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego.
Oil exploration begins. A British oil exploration company yesterday said it began drilling near the Malvinas Islands, as had been announced in previous days. The run-up to drilling in the archipelago led to rising tensions between Britain and Argentina over the last weeks.
Desire Petroleum said it started drilling for oil about 100 kilometres north of the disputed Malvinas Islands, despite strong opposition from Argentina.
“The well is being drilled to an estimated target depth of circa 3,500 metres,” the company said in a statement.
“Drilling operations are expected to take approximately 30 days.”
Seven wells in the seas around the islands are planned for this year.
While the Malvinas are not an oil producer and have no proven reserves, oil companies are betting offshore fields may hold billions of recoverable barrels of oil.
One estimate has put the amount of oil beneath the seabed around the islands at 60 billion barrels, something Robert Munks, Americas analyst with IHS Jane’s, said was on a par with world-class oilfields.
“Sixty billion barrels is a large amount,” Munks told BBC television. “It’s as large as a large field in Saudi Arabia. But that is only one estimate of several estimates ... I should underline of course that there could be nothing there at all. This is all speculative guesswork.”
The companies currently involved are all small explorers, either privately owned or listed on London’s junior AIM market.
The last flurry of excitement about an oil rush on the islands was killed by disappointing drilling results in 1998. Oil prices of 10 dollars per barrel at the time also contributed to the view the islands did not have commercially viable reserves.
Higher oil prices and advances in drilling technology have spurred optimism in recent years. Nonetheless, after their failure in 1998, the big oil companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell, have not returned.