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Mercosur: Member Countries Block Entrance of Ships with Falkland Islands Flags

(Dec. 30, 2011) Argentina and the United Kingdom have disputed sovereignty over the territory of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands ever since the UK's occupation of the islands in 1833. The dispute had culminated in a war in 1982 that ended with Argentina's defeat and the deaths of more than 1,000 soldiers. Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands, however, refusing to acknowledge British control, as reflected by its referring to them as the Malvinas Islands and not the Falklands. (Conflicto entre Mercosur y Reino Unido por las Islas Malvinas, EL PAÍS (Dec. 21, 2011).)

On December 20, 2011, during the MERCOSUR summit meeting in Montevideo, Uruguay, the member countries (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay) agreed to block access to their ports to any ship with a Falkland/Malvinas Islands flag. The presidents of the four member countries signed a declaration agreeing to “adopt, in accordance with international and domestic law, all the necessary measures to prevent the entry of vessels flying the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands.” (Declaración de los Estados Partes del MERCOSUR y Estados Asociados Sobre Buquesque Enarbolan la Bandera Ilegal de las Islas Malvinas, MERCOSUR website (Dec. 20, 2011) (official site).) The MERCOSUR decision was adopted at the initiative of the Government of Argentina after a recent incident involving a Spanish fishing ship with a Malvinas flag in the shared territorial waters of Argentina and Uruguay. (Barcos con Bandera de Malvinas no Podrán usar Puertos del Mercosur, DIARIO ÁMBITO FINANCIERO (Dec. 20, 2011).)

According to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the Malvinas Islands issue is not limited to Argentina; it is a global issue, because the British are taking all the natural resources in the region, especially petroleum and fish. While at present it is Argentina's resources that are at stake, the British might use force to go after the nature resources of other countries of the region, she added, if they are not stopped. (Id.)

This is not the first measure of this kind. In November 2010, member countries of Unión de Naciones Sudamericanas (UNASUR), comprising all South American nations, including the MERCOSUR countries, adopted a similar decision, to prohibit the entry of Malvinas-flagged vessels into their ports. (Declaración de la UNASUR Sobre los Buques que Viajen a las Islas Malvinas, ISLAS MALVINAS ONLINE (Nov. 27, 2010) (official site).)

Argentina's recent claims of sovereignty over the Falklands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands were a response to a surge in oil and gas exploration in the area by British companies. Under a decree issued in February 2010, Argentina started to require ships sailing to or from the Falkland, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands to seek permission if they wanted to travel through Argentine jurisdictional waters. (Decree 256/2010 [in Spanish] (Feb. 16, 2010), INFOLEG (official source).)