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ARGENTINA | 06-05-2024 10:40

Milei admits Malvinas Islands are ‘in the hands of the UK’

During an interview with the BBC, Argentina’s President says that he will never renounce his nation’s sovereignty claim over disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands, but admits “there is no immediate solution.” La Libertad Avanza leader offers praise for Margaret Thatcher, calling her “brilliant.”

President Javier Milei has admitted that the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands are currently “in the hands of the United Kingdom” and that “there is no instant solution” to recover them.

Milei, 53, said in an interview with the BBC published on Monday that Argentina would continue its quest to regain sovereignty over the islands “within the framework of peace,” though he admitted that such a process could take “decades.”

“We are not going to relinquish our sovereignty, nor are we going to seek conflict with the United Kingdom,” he told the BBC.

The La Libertad Avanza leader, who offered fresh praise for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher during the interview, said the process would involve “a long-term negotiation” with the UK government.

The Malvinas, located 400 kilometres off the coast of Argentina and almost 13,000 kilometres from the UK, was the scene of a 74-day war between the two nations in 1982, which ended with Argentina’s surrender. 

More than 900 people were killed in the conflict: 649 Argentines and 255 Britons.

Argentina claims that the islands were inherited from the Spanish crown when it gained independence. 

Britain insists it has historically ruled the islands and notes that islanders voted 99.8 percent in favour of remaining British in a 2013 referendum. It rejects Argentina’s claim and has refused to negotiate on the issue.

Milei has previously said that the rights of the existing islanders must be respected and suggested that a “Hong Kong” style agreement should be negotiated to return the territory “like England did with China.”

But at a ceremony marking the 42nd anniversary of the war last month, Milei said he would deliver a “road map” for his plan to return the islands to Argentine hands.


No ‘provocation’

Ties between London and Buenos Aires have been strained in the decades since the war, with the sovereignty issue tending to outweigh other avenues for diplomatic cooperation.

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron visited the islands in February and said he hoped the Malvinas would remain under UK administration “for a long time, possibly forever.”

Milei’s predecessors regularly condemned visits by British officials to the disputed islands, but the right-wing leader refused to do so in his interview with the BBC.

“If that territory is now in the hands of the UK, he has a right to do that. I don’t see that as a provocation,” he said.

Nevertheless, Milei insisted that the sovereignty dispute remains a priority.

Pushed by the BBC on his timeframe for a resolution, the President said it could take “decades” to try to regain sovereignty, though he made it clear that Argentina is not “looking for a conflict.”

“It’s going to take some time” and would involve “a long-term negotiation,” he said.

The British government “might not want to negotiate today” but “at some later point they might want to,” said Milei. “Many positions have changed over time.”

Milei’s position differs from that of his Peronist predecessor, Alberto Fernández (2019-2023) who regularly stated that ‘The Malvinas were, are and will be Argentine.”


Fresh praise for Thatcher

During the interview, Milei once again offered praise for late former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who led the UK during the South Atlantic conflict. 

Argentina’s President has previously described her as an “idol” and one of “the great leaders in the history of humanity” – remarks that met with fierce criticism from his political rivals. 

Milei, howver, doubled down on his admiration of the late Conservative Party leader.

“Criticising someone because of their nationality or race is very intellectually precarious. I have heard lots of speeches by Margaret Thatcher. She was brilliant. So what's the problem?” he said.

Ione Wells, the BBC’s South America correspondent who conducted the interview, revealed that Milei even has Thatcher memorabilia on display at his office at Argentina's presidential palace, the iconic Casa Rosada.

Thatcher is a reviled figure for many Argentines, particularly for her ordering of the torpedoing of the General Belgrano cruiser during the conflict, an incident in which 323 people lost their lives. 


– TIMES/AFP/PERFIL

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