The Vatican And The Malvinas – OpEd


By James A. Baer*

On August 20, during the pope’s Wednesday General Audience, an Argentine handed him a sign that said in Spanish, “It is time for a dialog between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas [Falkland Islands].” The pope briefly held the sign and posed for a photo that has placed the Vatican in a seemingly delicate position of presenting a distinctly pro-Argentine position on this thorny issue. It has been thirty-three years since the short, but bloody war between Argentina and Great Britain over control of the South Atlantic archipelago took place. After a nearly three-month conflict British forces dislodged the invading Argentines and reestablished control over the islands. Most of the islands’ population is of British derivation and London strengthened that bond after the conflict by maintaining a symbolic military force on the islands. Moreover, they allowed Falkland Islanders greater rights than before the Thatcher government. As a result, an increased number of professionals and skilled tradespeople were encouraged to reside on the islands. In 2013 a plebiscite on the Falkland Islands resulted in an overwhelming majority of residents affirming their belief in British sovereignty.

The position of several Argentine governments has been that the islands are under Argentine jurisdiction, originally seized by the British in the 1830s when they expelled the Argentine population through the use of force. Britain disputes that description of history by responding that it has legitimately maintained control ever since. For its part, Argentina has taken the issue to the United Nations, which sponsored several resolutions that have called for negotiations to end the conflict. In 2014, the UN 24-member Decolonization Committee favored Argentina’s position that the Falkland Islands are a form of British colony, and that the two governments should resolve the issue of sovereignty. However, Britain has facilitated the creation of a local Falkland Island government and claims that the territory is a self-governing entity whose sovereignty cannot be bargained away by London under any circumstances.

The pope’s sympathy is clearly with his native land. But as pope he must represent much more than a parochial view. Nevertheless, it does not seem that support for a UN position should be too controversial and that the best outcome might be the establishment of a bi-national committee that includes representatives of the British and Argentine governments that would begin a long-term process for resolving the issue. The biggest impediment to the resolution of the conflict is the British government’s refusal to negotiate.

The conflict over the islands is nearly 200 hundred years old, and will not simply go away. Negotiations will be difficult and it may take years just to determine the extent to which the island government would be involved or not. Other points that contain many thorny issues and would need to be clarified are those dealing with oil exploration in adjacent waters, and disputed control over South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Every aspect of the conflict can be resolved with good will and time. The Vatican’s role could be important here, although the British may be reluctant to give this Argentine pope a large role in the peace process. Nevertheless, if the pope’s actions can spur the two nations to take up the UN call for negotiations at a faster tempo, he might be able to contribute to the achievement of world piece.

*James A. Baer, Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs


COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

3 thoughts on “The Vatican And The Malvinas – OpEd

  • August 27, 2015 at 4:59 am

    The concept that Argentina had inherited the Falkland Islands from Spain is false. The law of the time did not accept inheritance without settlement and stated that ‘an unopposed settlement of some years was necessary” before sovereignty was accepted. Vernet had sought permission from the British consul in BUENOS AIRES on two occasions to establish “his” colonies and the British protested when he was appointed military governor apolitical and by the BA. Jewett had no settlement. The concept of uti possidetis juris (inheritance of Spain) is only the customary international law, applicable to those who choose to use. Great Britain, France and Brazil have never opted to use uti possidetis juris and UPJ has “never” be used in “any” court or tribunal “without the consent of both parties.

    The International Court of Justice has confirmed in a judgment and four advisory opinions that ‘the right to self-determination is applicable to all the non-self -governing territories.” There are no exceptions. In regard to this, on 20 October 2008 the United Nations General Assembly rejected a motion from Spain and Argentina to place restrictions on the right to self-determination determining that it was a fundamental right. In the light of the ICJ 1995 East Timor Judgment, the United Nations International Law Commission and the UN Human Rights Commission regard the right to self-determination as ‘jus cogens’ (compelling law).

    Ban Ki-Moon has confirmed that the UK is NOT in breach of ANY relevant UN resolutions. The last specific Falklands UNGA was made in 1987 and didn’t mention dispute. It asked both countries to settle their differences. In this respect the UK and Argentina restored diplomatic relations and made agreements on fisheries, flights and hydrocarbons – all agreements were voided by Nestor Kirchner in 2007.

  • August 27, 2015 at 5:41 am

    Both sides are willing to negotiate, the problem is that the Argentinian government only wants to negotiate the terms under which the British Government recognises that the Islas Malvinas are part of Argentina, and the British and Falkland Islands governments only wants to negotiate the terms under which Argentina recognise that the Falkland Island are an independent nation.

    You are right that it would take years of dialogue to decide what role the Falkland Island Government should play in subsequent negotiations, but they would have a right to be part of that initial discussion. Argentina and Britain cannot just decide between themselves to ignore the Falkland Island Government without even giving them a chance to put their case forward.

    It’s not simply a case of Britain refusing to talk. In 2013 the British Foreign Secretary agreed to meet the Argentine Foreign Secretary to discuss the islands; the Argentine Foreign Secretary refused to attend the meeting because two members of the Falkland Island Government would also be there. The problem is that everyone wants to talk but no one wants to listen.

  • August 27, 2015 at 7:20 am

    Obviously did not do much research before writing this review.


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