Prime Minister's message misinterpreted in Argentina: 11 August 2016
The Prime Minister's message on flights and the removal of Argentine restrictions on the hydrocarbons industry in the Falkland Islands - see previous news item - has been misinterpreted by the Argentine media, requiring a robust rebuttal by the Falkland Islands Government (FIG).
The Prime Minister's letter of 2 August to President Macri had included a sentence seeking "progress towards new airlinks between the Falkland Islands and third countries in the region, and the removal of [Argentine] restrictive hydrocarbons measures." From a British standpoint, the phrase "third countries in the region" would not have included Argentina but more probably Brazil or Uruguay.
The Argentine media immediately jumped to the conclusion, however, that this meant the possibility of resuming direct flight between Argentina and the Falkland Islands as before the 1982 conflict. Some like the Buenos Aires Herald and the Argentine veterans' website, "El Malvinense", even suggested that the UK was offering direct flights in exchange for the lifting of Argentine sanctions against companies doing business in the hydrocarbons sector in the Falklands.
FIG had to issue a firm message on 11 August - text below - making it clear that, whilst it was no secret that the Falkland Islands were looking for an additional air link within South America, this did not include the possibility of a link to Argentina.
If Argentina secured a direct air link with the Falkland Islands, there would be a real risk that the Argentine Government would try undercut the existing weekly LAN Chile flight from Punta Arenas to Mount Pleasant airport in order to re-create the monopoly over air communications to/from the Falkland Islands that Argentine enjoyed between 1971 and 1982 - hence FIG's refusal to consider any such outcome.
The LAN Chile route flies to the Falklands via Rio Gallegos in Argentina once a month returning the same way the following week. This is the only way that Argentine visitors can
travel to the Falkland Islands by commercial airline (which is probably the reason why the Kirchner regime decided not to break that aspect of the 1999 Joint Statement).
The Joint Statement of 14 July 1999 provided for the resumption of direct scheduled civil air services between Chile and the Falkland Islands (which, as clarified in the exchange of letters on the same day, would include two stops a month at Rio Gallegos, one in each direction). Significantly, the 1999 Joint Statement welcomed the possibility of flights between the Falkland Islands and third countries with the option of these flights making stops in Argentina. The exchange of letters said that the possibility of making such stops should be subject to the agreement of both parties.
The Argentine media suggestion that the UK would offer direct air flights between Argentina and the Falklands in exchange for the lifting of Argentine sanctions against companies doing business in the oil and gas sectors in the Falklands does not hold water. The development of commercial oil/gas exploitation in the Falkland islands has been shown to be wholly possible without reliance on Argentina or other South American states. Whilst the raising of sanctions would be helpful, it is not essential.
The text of FIG's press statement on 11 August is as follows:
"The Falkland Islands Government notes reporting in several Latin American media outlets regarding flights to the Falkland Islands. The Falkland Islands Government is confident that the UK remains committed to supporting the Islands' right to self-determination and to develop our own economy, including hydrocarbons. The new Minister for the Falklands, Sir Alan Duncan, confirmed this in a telephone conversation with the Chair of the Legislative Assembly [MLA Phyl Rendell] last week. It is no secret that the Falkland Islands are looking to establish an additional air link within South America; this does not include the possibility of a link to Argentina. The UK Government has been open and transparent with FIG about how it would like to improve the bilateral relationship with Argentina but has made it quite clear that this will not include negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands."