National Security and the Free Society Older Articles
Articles of note, from the Buenos Aires Herald
Sunday, August 7, 2011 |
07/08/2011 | Defence Minister Arturo Puricelli interviewed
By Carolina Barros
“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.
Defence to sell Ushuaia naval base to build a new Antarctic logistic complex
While Tierra del Fuego opted for continuity with last month’s re-election of Governor Fabiana Ríos, the urban landscape of its provincial capital Ushuaia will start changing drastically in the next few weeks. How? By shifting its naval base south of the city to terrain on the same peninsula where its commercial airport now operates.
This transfer implies, on the one hand, the future sale of over 40 hectares of naval property (centrally located on the bay) and the shoreline construction of a megaport for Trans-Atlantic cruisers and ocean-going vessels. Trans-Atlantic numbers too — Ushuaia’s real estate brokers price at over 600 dollars each square metre in this zone where in 1950 then President Juan Domingo Perón founded the Ushuaia Naval Base (BNU), the southernmost in the world.
On the other hand, it means that with the BNU relocated outside the urban axis, the Ushuaia base can be reinvented as an Antarctic logistic complex. An annex to the Perón decree (to provide logistical support and repairs for vessels operating in the South Atlantic and Antarctic) trends towards an “Antarctic Command” centre with not only facilities for Navy staff on Antarctic duty and their supply but also an Antarctic National Board.
“This is a strategic decision which has already been taken,” Defence Minister Arturo Puricelli specifies when asked by this newspaper.
“This project provides for a pier and permanent moorings for our icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar,” he adds, “and possibly some polar vessel” (in reference to that under construction at the CINAR Argentine Naval Industrial Complex).
Until 2007, when fire damage aboard the icebreaker led to it being taken for repair to the Tandanor shipyards (from whence it is to emerge overhauled at the end of this year), the permanent base of the Irízar has been Puerto Belgrano near Bahía Blanca. As for the “Antarctic logistics complex,” it is a joint project (since 2008) between the province of Tie-rra del Fuego and the Federal Planning and Defence Ministries.
“Freeing this land (from the Navy) will boost Ushuaia’s growth and at the same time generate income to relocate our base and construct the new port,” adds Puricelli.
“We want to launch this project as soon as possible,” the minister continues. “We did not want to do it earlier in order not to interfere with the gubernatorial election campaign,” he says, “even though Governor Ríos and Senator Rosana Bertone (the Victory Front candidate and the July 3 runoff rival of Ríos) were working shoulder to shoulder on the project.”
“Ushuaia will be the port of entry for the Antarctic,” said Governor Ríos a few days ago. Meanwhile in order to go financing the project studies in Ushuaia, the Austral Trust, signed into existence by President Cristina Kirchner and Ríos in March, 2010, has already given the province 35 million dollars in uncollected federal revenue-sharing of royalties plus a monthly half of fossil fuel royalties accruing from the offshore exploration concessions granted by the national government.
In conversation with the Herald, Arturo Puricelli also referred to some more concrete future aspects such as the Short-Term Military Capacity Plan or Plan Camil (a four-year plan, which happens to coincide with the length of the next presidential term) to invest into military “instruments” for the Air Force, Army and Navy — not organized according to the lobbying of each force but in an “integral manner” according to the requisites of defence planning to determine the investment priorities and urgencies for each of the three forces.
“This Plan Camil,” explains Puricelli, “will annually increase defence investment by around 0.1 percent of Gross Domestic Products, rising from a budget of 0.9 percent of GDP to 1.5 percent by the year 2015.”