The UK government was made aware of the protests when a letter of complaint was delivered to the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. In it the Argentinian foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, declared the exercise scheduled to start later this coming week as “illegitimate” and that “the behaviour of the United Kingdom contradicts the principle of the peaceful settlement of controversies supported unanimously by countries in the region.”
The letter also made specific note of British forces conducting live firing tests of a Rapier Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system. This weapon was responsible for destroying or damaging five Argentine warplanes during the Falklands War in 1982 (the exact figures are disputed but the weapon gained a certain level of notoriety regardless in Argentina).
An MoD spokesperson responded by saying that the exercises were routine being intended to maintain the skills and test the effectiveness of the British garrison that has been guarding the islands since the Argentine invasion 34 years ago. Despite being repelled by a British taskforce the Argentinians maintain a desire to claim the islands for themselves, a cause which has grown in intensity in recent years as oil deposits continue to be found in the region. In January of this year, approximately 500 million barrels worth of oil was discovered in the Elaine oilfield to the north of the islands.
Mrs Malcorra’s letter is an unfortunate step back in Argentine-UK relations after efforts by both parties in the last year to repair the diplomatic damage caused by the presidency of Cristina Kirchner. President Kirchner launched an aggressive foreign policy against the UK regarding ownership of the islands, going as far as asking the new Argentina-born Pope to intervene in support of her country’s claim. Of considerable concern to the UK during this time were the efforts Buenos Aires took to encourage support for their claim from neighbouring Latin American countries resulting in the British warship HMS Clyde being refused permission to dock in Brazil in 2011 because it was on Falklands protection duties.
The situation became so serious that the Falkland Islanders conducted a referendum in 2013 regarding their future in which they voted overwhelmingly to remain a British overseas territory hoping that this would send a message to the Argentinians that they need to accept their position.
Since the presidency was assumed by Mauricio Macri, the situation has improved with new trade deals covering oil, fishing, navigation and trade in and around the islands between both parties. However it is quite clear that the sovereignty of the islands is still an emotive issue in Argentina and that seems unlikely to change in the near future.