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Latin America leaders back Argentina over Falkland Islands stand-off

In a statement Tuesday, Latin American leaders back Argentina view that British oil drilling off the Falkland Islands is a violation of its sovereignty.

By Staff writer / February 24, 2010

A man burns a Union Jack in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Buenos Aires, Tuesday. Latin American and Caribbean nations backed Argentina's claim of sovereignty to the Falkland Islands on Monday in a growing dispute with Britain over plans to drill for oil off the islands in the Atlantic.

Natacha Pisarenko/AP

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Argentina received unprecedented support from Latin America in condemning Britain for exploring oil near the disputed Falkland Islands, which could give the South American nation a boost as it presses the issue with the United Nations today.

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But the statement in support of Argentina issued by the Group of the Rio Summit, which concluded a two-day conference Tuesday near Cancún, is unlikely to make Britain budge, as it explores for potentially billions of barrels of oil in the south Atlantic around the archipelago ruled by the British since 1833.

“It’s all rhetoric. The British aren’t going to give in,” says Riordan Roett, director of the Latin America Studies Program at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “The Cancún conclave will make no difference at all.” (Read background and see map here.)

Solidarity

The summit of 32 nations in the region voiced their support for Argentina, which briefly fought a war in 1982 to reclaim the islands, which they call the Malvinas and which lay 300 miles off the coast of South America. The statement spelled out “support for the legitimate rights of the Republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom.”

The group also called upon all “unilateral” actions to be halted until a sovereignty dispute is resolved peacefully through negotiations.

Black gold

The potential of oil in this part of the sea is huge, with some estimates placed at 60 billion barrels. Argentina has been fighting British plans to explore oil here for years, and in 2007 backed out of an agreement reached in 1995 to jointly explore the potential reserves.

Argentina maintains that the drilling, which began Monday, is illegal, since the sovereignty question is still unresolved. The British deny any illegal action.

"British sovereignty in respect of the Falklands is absolutely clear in international law.... There is no question about it," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was quoted by Reuters. "The exploration that is going on off the Falklands ... is fully within international law, fully based on precedent.”

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva called for the United Nations to reopen the debate over sovereignty. Jorge Taiana, Argentina’s foreign minister, is to hold talks with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, in New York today.

The British say they plan to explore oil over the next few months. On Monday, Desire Petroleum, a British firm, said it broke ground on the well “Liz.”

Chávez weighs in

The brouhaha could provide a slight political boost for Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose popularity is sagging at home.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez jumped to her side, appealing to Queen Elizabeth to hand over the islands.

“Look, England, how long are you going to be in Las Malvinas? Queen of England, I’m talking to you,” Mr. Chavez said. “The time for empires is over, haven’t you noticed? Return the Malvinas to the Argentine people.”

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