The word that is repeated the most in the Argentine Foreign Ministry is “surprise.” When they least expected it, they say, Chile decided by decree to expand its continental shelf by 30,500 square kilometers. According to Argentina, 5,500 of them belong to them, and the rest are universal heritage. “Chile with this untimely decree, appropriates”, accused the Argentine Foreign Minister, Felipe Solá. “Nobody appropriates what belongs to him,” replied his Chilean counterpart, Andrés Allamand.
Both countries have been embroiled in a bitter territorial dispute. Bilateral relations have darkened as never since the one that pushed them to the brink of war in 1978. The mediation of Pope John Paul II put an end in 1984 to the fight for three islands located south of the Beagle Channel, in the extreme south of the continent. The limits imposed by that Treaty of Peace and Friendship are those that are now in tension. The text of the agreement signed 37 years ago established that to the west of the 67th meridian Chile has sovereignty and to the east Argentina. The problem is that this line is cut at the so-called “point F”, and it was to the south of that imaginary point that Chile projected its maritime platform to the east.
In a report to the Argentine Senate on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Solá said that “Chile cannot pretend to project its sovereignty beyond the limits agreed in the 1984 Treaty of Peace and Friendship.” “Chile has the right to be west of the meridian, it does not have the right to be east of the meridian,” he said. The tension escalated last year, when Argentina signed into law the new limits to its continental shelf that in 2017 were recognized by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. During this process, started in 2009, the Argentine position received complaints from six countries. Among them was the United Kingdom, for its claims on the Malvinas Islands, but never on Chile, a step that would have been enough for the commission to suspend its work on the area that is now in dispute. Chile denies that it has not filed any complaints. Argentina notes a note from 2016, but ensures that it only expressed concern about Antarctica, without any mention of the continental shelf.
On the Chilean side, the position is different. Chile, they say, has not sued or claimed, but has simply updated its Nautical Chart No. 8 in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Sea, which has the concept of continental platforms, explains the Christian Democrat Ignacio Walker, Minister of Foreign Relations of the center-left between 2004 and 2006. “We have not taken any rabbit out of the hat,” he adds. According to Walker, both countries were “absolutely calm” until 12 years ago, because the 1984 Treaty of Peace and Friendship had settled the maritime boundary by establishing point F in the southern sea. But Argentina, “by a unilateral initiative”, in 2009 presented to the competent United Nations body its argument about the extended continental shelf, that is, exceeding 200 miles. “It unilaterally extended the maritime boundary 23 kilometers south of point F,” says the former Chilean Foreign Minister.
“Chile did not even formally oppose it in 2009, and it could have done so, because it did not want to escalate any conflict and sought to deliver a signal of dialogue,” recalls Walker, about this episode that occurred in the first government of Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010). According to the lawyer, Chile presented a diplomatic note – which should not be minimized, according to Walker -, saying that what Argentina was doing was unenforceable (because the legal aphorism indicates that matters are undone as they are done, that is, bilaterally and not unilaterally) and that Chile’s maritime rights were safe in light of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship and the Convention on the Rights of the Sea. diplomacy between two countries ”, indicates the Christian Democrat.
As Argentina invoked the Convention on the Rights of the Sea for the extended continental shelf, Chile has invoked the same Convention on the Rights of the Sea “to say that the continental shelf is 200 nautical miles from the Diego Ramírez Islands,” says Walker. The Argentine argument is that “Chile has taken a compass that Diego Ramírez supported on the island, calculated the 200 miles and instead of stopping at the 67th meridian, it went all the way around,” according to a high-ranking source from the Foreign Ministry. What is at stake now is the quality of bilateral relations. For Argentina, the two countries had established a positive agenda to which “Chile now puts a blanket that covers everything.”
The matter is not minor. The Chilean Foreign Minister, Allamand, is on tour in Spain and took a moment to record a video that he uploaded to Twitter. There he asked Argentina to “negotiate” a consensual solution, taking advantage of the fact that the Treaty of Peace and Friendship already establishes internal mechanisms for that. From the Argentine Foreign Ministry, however, they considered that it is still too early for a dialogue. “Our position now is to inform and we are not going to tire of reporting as long as it is time to report. We have an acquired right and we are going to defend it, ”says the same source from the Palacio San Martín in Buenos Aires. The solution, whatever it may be, can take years. If there is no agreement, the dispute will end in an international court.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.