Status Quo Side: Chile
Non-Status Quo Side: Argentina
Region: Western Hemisphere
Conflict Type: Interstate
Issues in Dispute: Territory
Possession of 3 islands in the Beagle Channel (Picton, Lennox, Nueva) had been in contention since the early 1800s colonial period. At stake also were their congruent maritime extensions (30,000 square miles), with fishing and mineral (especially oil) rights, and possible Antarctic rights. Often negotiated, the issue went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1971 which ruled for Chile on May 2 1977. Argentina disputed the decision and sought bilateral negotiations. In July each side protested territorial buoys placed by the other. Argentina repeatedly violated Chilean air and maritime space. Bilateral negotiations failed. On 25 January 1978 Argentina declared the award "fundamentally null."
Tensions increased. Two bilateral commissions, seeking a solution, accomplished little. Chile asked for ICJ mediation; Argentina sought continued negotiation. On December 9 1978 Argentina sent a naval squadron to the Beagle Channel region. Chile followed suit. Both prepared for war. On December 11 Pope John Paul II sent a personal message to both presidents urging a peaceful solution. War preparations continued as did diplomatic efforts to avert hostilities. Argentina complained to the UN; Chile asked the OAS to convene. On December 21 Chile accepted the Pope's mediation. Argentina did so the next day. On January 9 the Act of Montevideo was signed pledging both sides to a peaceful solution and a return to the military situation of early 1977. No significant reduction in tensions occurred until the democratic government of Raul Alfonsin took office in Argentina in December 1983 and on January 23 1984 signed, as did Chile a Treaty of Peace and Friendship.
After 80 per cent of the Argentine electorate voted to accept the Vatican-mediated compromise, a protocol of agreement to a treaty was signed on October 18. It was ratified by Argentina on March 14 1985 and by Chile on April 12 1985.
At the Vatican, Chile and Argentina signed a treaty giving the islands to Chile but most maritime rights to Argentina.
Copyright © 1999 Lincoln P. Bloomfield and Allen Moulton