No sign yet of any change in Argentine rhetoric on the Falkland Islands
President Macri came to power in December with the promise of developing a more mature relationship with the UK, raising expectations that at least the rhetoric over their sovereignty claim to the Falkland Islands would become less strident, even if their claim was still actively to be pursued. As yet, there are few signs of any real change in Argentine posture.
One litmus test for this would have been the tone of the President’s commemoration of the 34th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands on 2 April. There was initially some doubt over whether President Macri would be able to make it back in time from the nuclear weapons proliferation summit in Washington but he did so and laid a wreath at the so-called ‘Malvinas’ memorial in Plaza San Martin in Buenos Aires. In contrast with his predecessor, he did not use the occasion to make an impassioned speech but he did place a message on social media stating ‘we’ll be back, using the strength of dialogue and of the truth and the full force of the justice system’. He also commented, with an oblique reference to Argentina’s continental shelf submission, that the islands ‘…continue inextricably to be ours: they wait for us with continental patience’. The Army Chief of Staff, Diego Luis Suner, asserted that the ‘Malvinas cause’ continued to be ‘a national, standing and inalienable objective’ of the Argentine people. So not much difference there.
Nor could the Argentine Government resist using the visit of the acting Spanish Foreign Minister, Sr. Garcia-Margallo, in early April to issue a joint statement on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands saying that Argentina and Spain remained ‘committed to ending the two colonial situations of the ‘Islas Malvinas’ and Gibraltar through bilateral negotiations with the UK’. This earned an entirely justified rebuke from the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar Governments, who issued a joint statement of their own stating that it did "not say much for the democratic credentials of two large countries that they would seek to gang up in this way in order to bully two very small territories and in the process completely ignore the right of their people to choose what they want to be…It is a fundamental principle of international law that the right to self-determination comes first with regard to territories on this [UN] list and this has been the criterion that the UN has applied throughout the history of post-war decolonisation.” The UK Government commented that "the UK’s position on Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands is entirely consistent with the purposes and principles of the UN, which includes the principle of self-determination….The British Government believes that the UN’s decolonisation process is outdated and no longer has a relevant role to play in respect of any of the British Overseas Territories, including Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands’.
Then again, the Argentine Government imposed the maximum fine of $690k against a Chilean subsidiary of the Japanese firm Nissui for illegally fishing in Falklands’ waters without an Argentine licence. The offence had occurred in 2014, the first use of the sanctions under the Argentine Federal Fisheries Act No. 24922; so perhaps it was not possible for the Macri Administration to drop the case. But the Argentine Coastguard’s sinking of a Chinese trawler fishing illegally in Argentine waters on 15 March shows that the new Government plans to take a tough line on illegal fishing even though China is the third largest investor in Argentina (and second largest trading partner after Brazil).
Macri has, however, honoured his pledge to downgrade the administrative unit dealing with matters relating to the Falkland Islands within the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which under Cristina de Kirchner had been elevated to a full Secretariat in December 2013 under Secretary Daniel Filmus. Unlike their predecessors, the new Under-Secretary, Maria Theresa Kralikas, is a career diplomat as is the new Argentine Ambassador to the UK, Renato Carlos Sersale di Cerisano, who took up his appointment in London on 11 March. [The UK Ambassador-designate to Argentina, Mark Kent, currently Her Majesty's Ambassador, Bangkok, will take up his new post in July, succeeding Dr. John Freeman]. It will take time, perhaps, for their influence on the future trend in UK-Argentine relations to take effect.