Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne and Chilean Foreign Affairs Minister Alfredo Moreno agreed to respect their legitimate differences regarding the Argentine/UK dispute over the Falklands’ sovereignty but also emphasized the Chilean (and other Mercosur members) position contrary to an economic blockade of the Islands or isolating its population.
Browne spent two days in Chile, ahead of President Cristina Fernandez official visit to that country which begins on Thursday.
“We understand the position of the Chilean government and the need for Chile to have a constructive relation with its neighbours. At the same time I believe that the Chilean government understands the British support for the self determination principle of the people of the Falklands”, said Browne following the meeting with Moreno which closed his agenda of contacts in Chile.
The Browne visit so close to that of the Argentine president caused certain unease in the administration of President Sebastian Piñera, and although admitting the Falklands in the agenda was described primarily as a business tour of three South American Pacific countries with the most vigorous economies.
This was Browne’s second visit to Chile but contrary to what happened in August 2010 he did not meet with President Piñera and was left at ministerial level.
However Browne pointed out that Minister Moreno did agree that an economic blockade of the Falklands would be a huge mistake and that caution must prevail with any attempt to isolate the population of the Islands.
This statement is closely linked to the informal request by President Cristina Fernandez to his peer Piñera last September during leaders’ meetings at the UN General Assembly, to review the commercial air link Punta Arenas MPA in the Falklands which is covered by Lan Chile.
“The cancelling of the flights ultimately will not be decided by the governments of the UK or Chile” said Browne pointing to the Argentine government that is demanding a review of the 1999 communications agreement between UK, Argentina and the Falklands’ elected government.
Cristina Fernandez made an offer of three flights a week instead of the only one from Lan which is once a month also calls at Rio Gallegos and is used mostly by Malvinas war veterans wishing to visit the Islands, the cemetery or battle fields.
But the flights offer which needs clarification would be with Aerolineas Argentinas and from Buenos Aires. Islanders have said they are most satisfied with the weekly Lan Chile commercial flight and suggested that as a first gesture Argentina lifts the ban on charter flights, which hinders the local tourism industry.
Regarding the barring of Falklands’ flagged vessels from Mercosur members and associates’ ports, Browne was pragmatic.
“This clearly has no practical effects since vessels can change flag. But we would like all countries to participate of the international agreements spirit on maritime rules and we believe the free movement of people and trade can only bring benefits to the countries involved”, said the FCO minister.
In his latest statements Moreno has said Chile would not accept vessels flying the Falklands’ flag, “since it is a flag we do not recognize. However any commercial vessel with another flag sailing to, or coming from the Malvinas will have no problem in Chilean ports”.
But overall it is a challenging year for the Piñera administration since this year the International Court of the Hague is expected to make a ruling on the maritime litigation with its northern neighbour Peru, and Chilean diplomacy wants to limit all regional frictions or potential misunderstandings.