Argentina: Macri sets out his Government’s policies to Congress on 1 March.
Macri reaffirmed Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands in his opening speech to the new Argentine Congress on 1 March but set it in the broader context of improving bilateral relations with the UK. How this will translate into policy on the Argentine side remains to be seen but at least, under Macri, Argentina’s stance is likely to be less confrontational and more in terms of confidence-building than under the Kirchners.
In his one-hour address, in marked contrast to the lengthy orations of his predecessor, President Macri bemoaned the poor state of the economy bequeathed to him by Cristina de Kirchner, including the lack of investment in the military, and indicated the direction of his government – tackling corruption and the illegal drugs trade, freeing Argentina from rigid monetary and protectionist controls, promoting exports and inward investment, increasing job opportunities and reducing public expenditure. On international relations, Macri said that he wanted to establish ‘mature and sensible relations with all countries’ particularly those like the US and Britain which had seen ‘years of conflict, difficulties, and sometimes mere neglect’. In the UK’s case, a start on broadening relations had already begun, though he warned, to applause, that ‘dialogue does not mean dropping [Argentina’s] legitimate claim’ to the Falkland Islands.
There are some indications that the Macri government is prepared for the long haul, seeking wider collaboration with the UK in areas of mutual interest and parking to one side the ‘disagreement’ over the Falkland Islands. Argentine Foreign Minister, Susana Malcorra, speaks in terms of a ‘long horizon’ for any substantive dialogue on sovereignty and this has been echoed recently by two political commentators: Andres Cisneros, deputy foreign minister under Guido di Tella, has argued in favour of tolerating the ‘impasse’ whilst strengthening Argentina’s international reputation as a stable, tolerant society – change, he said, would only come from international pressure; Dante Caputo, Argentine Foreign Minister in 1983-9, proposed freezing the issue until 2033 (a symbolic bicentenary for the Argentines) whilst opening up trade and making available other contacts with the Islanders – Argentina had, he said, to grow as a stable, predictable and reliable state for Islander perceptions towards it to change.
Confidence-building seems to be the watchword of the current administration. Quite how this might translate into practice remains to be seen – and the new Argentine Ambassador-designate to the UK, Carlos Sersale di Cerisano, has yet to take up post – but the Argentine Government made only relatively low-key representations to the British Embassy in Buenos Aires about the visit of Michael Fallon, the UK Secretary of State of Defence, to the Falkland Islands in February. Macri did not mention the Falklands during his brief audience with Pope Francis, when he visited Rome for talks with the Italian Government, following up Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s visit to Argentina in early February. [That did not, however, stop the Argentine Governor of Tierra del Fuego, Rosana Bertone, from using the opportunity to hand to the Pope a package containing earth and pebbles collected from the Falkland Islands by an Argentine participant in the Stanley marathon.] There were local media suggestions too that the map of the Falkland Islands had been taken down from the consular section of the Argentine Embassy in London – and early in his tenure, Macri had announced the issue of new currency notes to replace those issued under the Kirchners, including the notorious 50 peso note illustrating a map of the Falklands and glorifying the Argentine gaucho outlaw, Antonio Rivero, along with illustrations of the Argentine cemetery at Darwin and the ill-fated Argentine cruiser ‘ARA General Belgrano’.
None of this is significant unless or until the Argentine Government makes a proposal affecting the Falkland Islands. Whatever the case, the British Government’s position remains unchanged – firm support for the principle of self-determination for the Falkland Islands, as overwhelmingly endorsed by Falkland Islanders in the 2013 referendum.