President Alberto Fernández called on his fellow citizens to embrace “a tomorrow of peace and prosperity” on Wednesday in a national broadcast from Antarctica that was heavy with superlatives but thin on announcements.
Speaking from the Base Marambio Antarctica station, where he headed an event to mark Argentine Antarctic Sovereignty Day, the Peronist leader declared that “science is sovereignty” and announced the installation of new multidisciplinary labs and plans to redevelop a disused base in the region that burnt down more than four decades ago.
“From the ends of the world, I come to speak to you of new beginnings to commence a tomorrow of peace and prosperity. United, we are making it possible,” said the president, outlining his vision for the country.
The fourth Argentine president to tread the white continent (following the footsteps of Arturo Frondizi, Raúl Lastiri and Carlos Menem), Fernández delivered an address highlighting 119 years of permanent and uninterrupted Argentine presence in the Antarctic and the scientific work which has contributed to the country’s progress.
“Only four presidents have ever visited the Antarctic and I’m the first to do so in over 20 years and I must confess to a profound emotion,” confessed the leader, who is likely to seek re-election later this year. “Here at the ends of the earth you can take in the dimensions of our homeland, far more than some paladins of discouragement would want to make us believe."
Along those lines, he reflected: “Argentina is a country which stretches from La Quiaca to the Antarctic and the South Atlantic islands. Why shouldn’t the deep blue of the South Atlantic, the icy winds of the Patagonian plateau and the southern cliffs be part of our imagination? The Antarctic should be part of our everyday lives, integrated once and for all.”
Announcements thin on ground
The president and his delegation departed Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego and arrived in Antarctica at 11.40am, slightly delayed by difficult weather conditions and planning to highlight the completion of work at three new laboratories at the San Martín, Orcadas and Esperanza bases.
Spokesperson Gabriela Cerruti posted an image surrounded by Fernández's entourage including Foreign Minister Santiago Cafiero and Defence Minister Jorge Taiana, as well as Malvinas, Antarctica & South Atlantic Secretary Guillermo Carmona. Also taking part in the visit were Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff Guillermo Pereda (Army), Julio Guardia (Navy) and Xavier Isaac (Air Force).
Science, Technology & Innovation Minister Daniel Filmus, who travelled with the president, said the objective of the trip is "to promote research to preserve the environment.”
“With this goal in mind, we are completing three new laboratories, built together with the Defence Ministry and financed by the Science Ministry," he said.
After touring the labs, Fernández addressed Argentina via the national broadcast system. Yet the grandiose nature of the backdrop contrasted with the president’s announcements, which were thin on the icy ground.
The president highlighted that the government is “finalising the installation of new multidisciplinary Antarctic labs,” a fact he described as the first such move in decades and vowed to maintain the upkeep of the existing 13 bases.
The Peronist leader also revealed that work is underway on the renewal of Base Petrel, located on Dundee Island, which burnt down in 1979.
"It will be a sustainable station supported by alternative energy apt for the logistics of landing as well as a port,” he declared.
President Fernández then announced the opening of a new branch of the National Library as well as the creation of a roving Antarctic correspondent post at the Télam state news agency "because knowing the news from our Antarctic matters to Argentina.”
Marking Antarctic Day (which commemorates the establishment of a Meteorological Observatory on the South Orkneys on February 22, 1904), Fernández thanked the workers at the Base Marambio and the other 12 bases on national territory, as well those who worked "in Antarctic camps and refuges and on the boats attached to the Antarctic Campaign."
Going on to stress the importance of the work being undertaken down south, Fernández observed that the country’s presence in the Antarctic began in 1902 and was "never interrupted," praising the role of Juan Domingo Perón, the founding father of the president’s political movement.
"The first scientific expedition to the Argentine Continental Antarctic destined to create a permanent base left from Buenos Aires on February 12, 1951 with then-president Juan Domingo Perón and Eva Duarte seeing off the expedition which would create the Antarctic Institute," said Fernández, speaking about the first scientific institution worldwide dedicated exclusively to Antarctic research.
"Perón knew that science is sovereignty. No development is possible without scientific and technological production. The Antarctic is a centre of scientific research of great importance for humanity and for our country. The growth of our Argentina projects south for a bicontinental vision and part of national development depends on the defence of strategic components," proposed the president.
He further recalled: “Last year we commemorated 40 years of the Malvinas war and it was very moving to listen to millions of Argentines remembering our combatants during the World Cup festivities. It’s time to look south again. The Malvinas are a current cause , more than war memories. The Malvinas are a national cause because the South Atlantic, beyond doubt, and our Antarctic territory form a vital enclave of our territorial and political sovereignty.”
He also remarked: “Since 2014, Argentina has been proud to carry forward the Pampa Azul programme, a project of integral research into which this government has invested over a billion pesos. From the beginning of our administration, we have carried out actions tending to boost our sovereign interests in Antarctica.”
He concluded: “In 2020 we approved the law of Maritime Spaces. Our maps today show the Antarctic sector in its real proportions, suddenly converting Tierra del Fuego into the geographic centre of our homeland.”