Diplomatic tensions between Argentina and Chile have boiled over, with the Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires accusing Sebastián Piñera's administration of attempting to claim part of its maritime territory.
Chile’s government, however, said its move to update the government’s sea maps to include part of the maritime platform south of the Drake Sea and Cape Horn, which Argentina claims as its own, was a move to “defend its sovereignty” in the waters.
According to the announcement from Santiago, Chile’s continental shelf has been extended by more than 30,000 square kilometres – Argentina disputes 5,500 of that, while saying the rest is a move to “expropriate” international seas.
The diplomatic spat kicked off on August 27, when Chile published an updated government map extending its territorial waters to a zone which Argentina considers part of its platform. The area includes extensive stretches of seabed and ocean forming part of the Common Heritage of Humanity according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Santiago stated in a communiqué.
Argentina reacted strongly to the move, describing it as “unacceptable” and demanding that any conflict be settled via dialogue. In a statement, the Foreign Ministry recalled that the differences should contemplate "the historic fraternity of our peoples and international law.”
Argentina underlined that "the outer limits of the Argentine continental platform in this zone are reflected in Law 27,557, unanimously approved on August 4, 2020 by both houses of Congress and promulgated by the Executive Branch on August 24, 2020. That law gathers within an internal norm the Argentine government’s presentation zone to the Commission on Continental Platform Limits.”
Underlining that the law was based on a definition formulated by the United Nations, the portfolio headed by Felipe Solá pointed out: "That presentation is completely in line with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship and was approved without question by that Commission with the effect of establishing definite and obligatory maritime limits in conformity with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (CONVEMAR in its Spanish acronym).”
"Neither the presentation nor the decision of the Commission met with objections from Chile," the diplomatic note pointed out.
Over the weekend, Chile held to its stance, with Foreign Minister Andrés Allamand declaring that “nobody expropriates what belongs to them.”
President Piñera, however, played down talk of a row, committing his government to dialogue and saying both sides should be able to work out a solution.
"What Chile has done is to defend its sovereignty and legitimate interests declaring its continental platform to the south of the Drake Sea and Cape Horn," affirmed the conservative leader.
"We will have to see how we can resolve this and the first road is dialogue. We’re absolutely open to seeking paths of dialogue to resolve this issue, as we have conversed with [Argentina’s] President [Alberto] Fernández when he visited Chile. If we do not arrive at an agreement, there are many other instruments at international level."
The Chilean authorities have indicated that any litigation will be resolved via dialogue, without resorting to any international instances since the Argentine government has also manifested its intention of resolving this bilaterally.
Argentina contends that Chile is projecting the continental platform East of meridian 67º 16´ 0, which, in its own opinion, clashes with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship celebrated between both countries in 1984.
Chile has clarified that its action responds to a 2020 petition from the International Marítime Organisation to identify its geographical coordinates indicating the outer limits of its platform.
"Chile is exercising its rights in accordance with the Law of the Sea and declaring our continental platforms, thus permitting us to extend our exclusive economic zone from 200 to 350 miles," explained Piñera.
"I want to add that at the end of this year we will also be declaring our continental platform to the west of the Antarctic peninsula," announced the Chilean president.
Adding their voice to calls for dialogue, Argentina’s opposition PRO party this week called on both sides to “initiate a dialogue” and settle “the differences existing today.”
Solá, with an eye firmly on the upcoming PASO primaries and midterm elections, said the calls were part of a move to “deny Argentine rights” over its territorial waters.
Addressing the Senate on Wednesday, the foreign minister said that Argentina is considering elevating the issue to a relevant international tribunal.
The foreign minister said that "Chile cannot pretend to project its sovereignty in any of those maritime spaces," citing the 1984 Peace and Friendship Treaty.
“We already know that we have to negotiate or go to an international court,” he declared.
'What is at stake are 5,000 square kilometers of Argentina's continental shelf, unobjectionable, and at the same time 25,000 kilometres of seabed and subsoil that are part of the heritage of humankind, which Chile with that decree is trying to appropriate,” Solá told senators.
Chile and Argentina came close to war in the late 1970s due to a sovereignty dispute over three islands in the Beagle Channel at the bottom of the continent. The urgent mediation of the late Pope John Paul II averted confrontation between the two countries.