top of page

Malvinas or Falklands?

Fernando de Magallanes would have never imagined that his explorations would lead to one of the most disputed diplomatic conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries. He was selected by King Charles I of Spain to discover a new commercial route from the Kingdom of Castilla to the Maluku Islands (Indonesia) passing through the South American continent. Among his voyages, he encountered two relatively small islands 400 kilometers off the coast of Rio de la Plata (Argentina today). With no other resourceful purpose than non-fertile land and a limited amount of trees, Magallanes and his troops were neither surprised nor honored about the islands. Without excitement or pride, he proclaimed those territories under the Spanish Crown and continued on his journey…

If you found yourself in the neighborhood of La Boca in Buenos Aires, maybe trying to catch the bohemian vibe and the smell of tango that the city emits, you would hear the past tale over and over. As for Argentineans concern, they inherited the islands once they became independent from Spain. Hence, the Malvinas are their property and are not up for grabs. True, the islands were never heavily populated by Argentineans, but that does not entail a foreign country to appropriate them.

The British version of the story tells a whole different anecdote about the discovery. According to the British Academia, the first person to visit the Islands was the British captain John Strong in 1690, whom at the time of arrival, proclaimed the Islands under the kingdom of King James II. Ever since then, they have been part of the British Crown. The argument about the discovery of the islands has generated disputes between scholars and universities, but no one seems to have arrived to a shared truth.

In the early 19th century, Argentina claimed sovereignty over the Malvinas (Argentina’s name for the Islands), but Britain confiscated the territories in 1833, expelling the remaining Argentineans and rejecting every claim over the Islands. The loss of the Malvinas was embedded into Argentina’s memory and ever since then, they have claimed their right over the territories, searching for a pacific negotiation to obtain them back. The population of the Malvinas however is mainly British descendent, and Britain has used this as their key argument to retain the Islands.

Twelve thousand squared kilometers of land in such an isolated area with limited resources should not be a reason to start an international conflict. But that did not stop Lieutenant Gen. Leopoldo Galteri, who was the president of Argentina at the time of the dictatorship in 1982, to begin the 72-day war of the Falklands. Galteri sent military forces to the Isles in order to proclaim them as an Argentinean sovereign state. In response to this attack, the United Kingdom, under the government of Margaret Thatcher, assembled a naval task force with two aircraft carriers and two cruise ships pressed into service as troop carriers and sailed off of Portsmouth on April 5, 1982.

According to some political advisers and historians, the decision of Galteri to invade the Falklands was mainly political. The Argentinean dictatorship was being nationally and internationally criticized for human rights abuses and economic mismanagement; therefore, it was widely believed that the recovery of the islands would bring unity among Argentineans in a feeling of patriotic service. However, at the time of defeat, the military government was heavily discredited and civilian rule was finally restored in Argentina in 1983. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher earned unanimous patriotic support that became evident in the victory of her Conservative Party in the 1983 parliamentary elections.

After the war, the United Kingdom reinforced the Islands with heavier military force. There was controversy about the presence of nuclear submarines close to the coasts of the Falklands. The presence of such vessels would violate the Treaty of Tlatelolco that specifically prohibits nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, hence breaking international law and involving the United Nations in the conflict.

The Falkland Islands are nowadays under British control. Their economic activity lies primarily on fishing and farming, but these two sectors are not the only economic advantage of those pieces of land. According to the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, every nation has an “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ) that covers up to 200 nautical miles (230 regular miles) from the coast. This EEZ grants a country the potential right to exploit the natural resources covered by the zone. The Falkland Islands are indeed a small territory, but the potential gains from their natural resources are a huge advantage to Britain; the only one entitled to exploit every mineral and hydrocarbon in the area. Nowadays, there are five oil companies drilling in the Falklands EEZ. They have considered an approximate of 60 billion barrels of oil, although there are estimates of larger reserves that will emerge when new explorations take place.

The geographical position of the islands is crucial for the British whom, ever since the Second World War, have been trying to regain control of the Atlantic Ocean; therefore a military base in the South Atlantic, close to the border with the Pacific Ocean is ideal to the United Kingdom, not only militarily, but also economically. With the Falkland Islands under their domain, the United Kingdom can easily monitor every ship (commercial or militant) that goes through the South Atlantic.

Argentina has not made things easy for the Islands either. Counting with the support of every Latin American country (except for its neighbor Chile), Argentina has restrained the flow of air traffic to the islands, hence virtually halting its access to international airports and reducing the entrance of tourists and potential investors. Santiago and London are the only two cities in the world with flights to Stanley (capital of the Falklands).

As a measure of political punishment, Argentina has frozen assets of every foreign company involved in the exploration or exploitation of natural resources in the Falklands. Also, it has used La Vaca Muerta (its major mainland oil & gas reserve) as a trump card against major oil conglomerates by blocking every investment from companies that have presence in the Falklands.

The conflict is not solely considered a bi-country issue, but it rather resembles a regional concern. Latin America is widely recognized for its colonial and imperialistic regimes throughout its history, thus the Malvinas conflict has evolved into a regionalist struggle full of pride that aims to eradicate European intervention in a region that is not longer theirs…


bottom of page