(MintPress) — Argentina’s president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will not be attending the Olympics opening ceremony in London, in protest of the United Kingdom’s ongoing occupation and claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands — an emerging source of oil in the region.
The dispute between the two nations spans decades, with the most famous altercation in 1982, when Argentina used military force to take back the islands, which are located off of their west coast. It was a move met by U.K. resistance, with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher calling for a counter-attack that allowed the country to reclaim the small island system. Nearly 650 Argentinians and 244 Britons died in the war, according to the Telegraph, a U.K.-based newspaper.
The question for the international community has long been why the island just off the shore of Argentina — and 8,000 miles from England — has remained in British control. Some point to resources in the region, most notably oil. Yet the U.K. looks to the islands’ 2,000 residents, who largely enjoy their British citizenship, which was granted in 1983, one year after the end of the short-lived war. For the first time ever, the Falklands will hold a referendum next year to assert this argument.
In 2010, Britain began oil drilling in the region. In recent weeks, British corporations have announced new oil exploration in the island system and its surrounding waters. It’s a move that has angered Kirchner, who sees it as a resource grab by a large world power and an ally of the U.S.
In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. would step in to mediate the tension between the U.K. and Argentina. However, the issue was once again brought up in March, when U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron discussed it with President Barack Obama, who inadvertently showed support for the U.K. by claiming the will of Falkland Island residents should be recognized.
“The U.S. position is that they support the status quo,” Cameron said at an announcement in the U.S. regarding the Falkland Islands, “they don’t argue against the status quo and that is very welcome. They are content with the status quo, they are not challenging the status quo.”
On June 14, the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization asserted that a “peaceful, negotiated settlement of the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom” must made, without taking sides on the matter.
Oil in the islands
It’s no secret that Rockhopper Exploration has a vested interest in the resources of the Falkland Islands. The U.K. company defines itself, in its own words, as an oil and gas exploration company with “interests in the Falkland Islands.”
Established in 2004, the company spent the first years of its existence applying for permits in the Islands. Its attempts were successful, not only securing rights to drill on land, but in the surrounding waters.
In 2010, Rockhopper began drilling — and struck liquid gold.
“Rockhopper’s drilling campaign lasted from April 2010 to January 2012 and resulted in seven successful wells of the ten drilled including Sea Lion appraisal wells, three oil discoveries, three gas discoveries and a successful appraisal well on Casper,” the company’s website reads.
Following the oil discoveries, Rockhopper paired with Premier Oil, another U.K.-based company. The two oil companies struck a deal — Premier would purchase 60 percent of Rockhopper’s oil drilling permits in exchange for $231 million and a $722 million payout for the work Rockhopper did to develop and explore oil in the Sea Lion area.
“Rockhopper has made excellent progress in commercializing the Sea Lion project, which offers attractive returns and fits well with Premier’s proven operating and developing skills,” Premier’s Chief Executive Simon Lockett told the Guardian newspaper.
On July 12, the Guardian reported the government of the Falkland Islands gave the nod for U.K. companies to start drilling in the south Atlantic Ocean, of which Argentina borders.
And while Argentina has remained opposed to such drillings, it doesn’t seem the British companies have any plans to halt the practice. In the same interview with the Guardian, Lockett said the partnership with Rockhopper extends a “strong growth profile beyond 2015 … ”
Yet Rockhopper and Premier aren’t the only British oil companies seeking a piece of the pie. British newspaper the Sun reported in April that an insider revealed the company discovered an oil reserve that could produce a billion barrels.
“Another discovery would transform the potential for the Falklands as a new ‘frontier’ for the global oil industry,” the newspaper claimed.
In March, Argentina’s Foreign Minister Hector Timerman claimed Argentina would not allow continued drilling without a legal fight.
“We will not let a single day go by without filing some action in a court, administrative seat or international tribunal enabling us to protect the reserves which belong to the people and to the Argentine Republic,” he said, according to the British newspaper the Daily Mail.
British citizens living in Falkland Islands
The population of the Falkland Islands is not large by any means. With roughly 3,000 British citizens abiding on the island system, the residents make up a community of those who enjoy a relaxed lifestyle amidst the beauty of the south Atlantic.
While technically British citizens, the Falkland Islands are ruled by its own governing body, with the governor serving as the head. It does, however, rely on the U.K. for military strength. A military base on the island system has a hefty presence, with roughly 2,000 British soldiers based in areas not populated by islanders. English is the language primarily spoken by residents.
A majority of those living in the Falklands are of British descent, as the island system was taken over by the British in the 1830s. While the stories are mixed between Argentina and English versions, the English claim they discovered the islands, which were uninhabited. Argentine president Kirchner stands by her assertion that the islands were taken from Argentina — a claim that was reiterated by the president in June on the 30th anniversary of the end of the 1982 war.
In the midst of such debate, the Falkland legislative assembly announced it would hold a referendum in 2013 regarding whether it would remain a British land. It was a move applauded by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who claimed it would solidify the average islander’s support for the U.K.
In an opinion piece published in the Guardian, Gavin Short, a resident of the Falkland Islands, expresses his desire to remain under British rule.
“For those lucky enough to visit our home, the Falkland Islands, one thing will be immediately obvious: we do not have, and never had, any desire to be ruled by the government in Buenos Aires,” he writes.
Another opinion piece written by islander Rob Burnett and published in the Mirror, echoes those sentiments, while also recognizing the debate over oil rights. While discussing the opportunity for him and his friends to travel to the U.K. for post-secondary education, Burnett makes the assertion that islanders’ determination to remain British “has nothing to do with the potential for a massive cash windfall from oil reserves beneath the South Atlantic waters that lap the coast.”
With the majority of the small population of the Falkland Islands stemming from British descent, it’s unlikely next year’s referendum will pass — cementing Cameron’s claims that its the will of the islanders to remain British citizens. In the meantime, the area just off the coast of Argentina will continue to be a hotbed for oil activity, to the benefit of U.K. companies.