“The military presence of any extra-continental power is against South American interests,” says Arturo Puricelli (photo), President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s defence minister since last December in response to the Herald’s first question: “What worries you more, the military relationship between Iran and Bolivia or the British presence on the islands?”
The British military presence on Malvinas, Georgias and the South Sandwich islands is a cause of grave concern to us,” he says.
“There we do have an extra-continental presence, and that bothers us, whether it be British, Iranian or from wherever.”
Puricelli thinks that the South American region should be “exactly as defined by the Unasur presidents — a peace zone, and to guarantee that we must stand together without any (external) interference,” he adds.
“Allowing the entry of third parties to intrude their political and economic opinions in the region is the spark for importing outside conflicts which do not do anybody any good and will surely lead us in the worst direction,” says Puricelli (photo) in an exclusive interview with the Herald.
Puricelli is Patagonian through and through — a lawyer and a skilful politician, he was the first governor of Santa Cruz, the province of Néstor Kirchner, from 1983 to 1987 following the return of democracy. For years he confronted Kirchner (who began his career as mayor of the provincial capital Río Gallegos as from 1987) but it was precisely over an international issue — the demarcation dispute with Chile over the Continental ice-shelf — that he drew closer to Cristina (then in the Senate) and Néstor (governor as from 1991). And became a “penguin,” as they call those from Santa Cruz who back the Kirchners. It was perhaps this relationship of confidence which prompted Cristina to make him defence minister last December (when the Villa Soldati squatter crisis caused her to move then minister Nilda Garré into the newly created Security Ministry and promote Puricelli from the helm of the Fabricaciones Militares munitions plant which had already given him some experience of “thorny” military and armament issues.
“We want the United Kingdom to review its position, sit down to negotiate and stop militarizing the South Atlantic” says the defence minister.
“What form would this dialogue take, open and without conditions?” the Herald then asks.
“London would have to sit down and talk to Argentina but first of all, it would have to start with the sovereignty of the islands and their occupation by force,” he says.
“On that basis we can talk about anything,” he adds.
“What we are not going to do is to make British occupation of the islands any easier,” continues Puricelli. Even if that last phrase sounds like a threat (especially coming from a defence minister who has just announced the launch of a project to build a nuclear-propelled submarine), Puricelli also seeks to tone down the dispute: “We do not want to negotiate with London over issues which might suit Britain without first discussing the legitimacy of Malvinas sovereignty.”
“Wouldn’t that lead to a dialogue in which neither side listens to the other,” the Herald asks.
“We’re inclined to respect the culture, lifestyle and language of the island population but we want them to come out of their isolation and occupation and recognize the legitimate sovereignty of Argentina and not the occupation imposed by a country 14,000 kilometres away like the United Kingdom,” he explains.
“We want the islanders to establish mainland links with Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, which is the province to which they belong.”
“Does this mean that unless there are advances in the sovereignty issue, it will not be possible to broach other issues such as fisheries, something achieved in the 90s but now interrupted,” this newspaper comments.
“It was Britain which interrupted those conversations and exchange of information — they did not do their bit,” Puricelli says accusingly.
“We have geographical, historical, political and legal arguments placing our Malvinas, Georgias and Sandwich islands and the adjoining waters unquestionably under Argentine sovereignty.” He did not even need to add: “London does not think the same.”
So is there any common ground? “Both Britain and Argentina are countries which recognize and have certain international values in common which we share in, for example, bodies like the United Nations — that is exactly where we should be taking these issues,” concludes the defence minister more peacefully.