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Montevideo, March 27th 2023 - 04:42 UTC



Prince Charles visit to the River Plate and the Falklands, with a little help from Uruguay

Monday, September 19th 2022 - 09:47 UTC
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Then Prince Charles with president Julio Sanguinetti during his full agenda in Uruguay Then Prince Charles with president Julio Sanguinetti during his full agenda in Uruguay

In March 1999, King Charles III, then Prince of Wales made a three countries visit, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. A visit which was mainly a retribution to the one then Argentine President Carlos Menem and his daughter Zulemita, acting as First Lady, had done to London the year before, October 1998.

A visit, partly reconciliation from the still fresh South Atlantic war and partly merit to the efforts of Foreign minister Guido Di Tella to have Argentina become a firm member of the Western Alliance.

Tony Blair was Prime Minister and it can be said it was probably the best moment of Argentine/UK relations in decades. Nevertheless Falklands war remained a sensitive issue, so in comes Uruguayan diplomacy to make things smoother.

Apparently there was good chemistry between the Argentine visitor and Queen Elizabeth, who was invited by Menem to visit Argentina. Among other achievements by the charismatic Argentine leader was marveling the Queen with the gift of a vicuña coat.

The Queen decided it was the Prince of Wales would visit Argentina, recalling also that in the twenties a century ago then Prince of Wales, and later abdicated Edward VII, had been in the River Plate, both in Argentina and Uruguay.

Agustin Espinosa at the time, was Uruguay's ambassador before the British government since June 1998. An experienced diplomat and an expert in trade and Mercosur issues, Espinosa was also ambassador in Brazil and Egypt, before retiring to become a professor at several universities in Montevideo. With the proclamation of King Charles III, ambassador Espinosa revealed some of Uruguayan diplomacy touches of class which helped the Prince of Wales tour.

In effect in March 1999, Espinosa receives a phone call from Foreign Office minister for the Americas, Peter Westmacott, requesting a special favor from the Uruguayan government, that is to invite the Prince of Wales to Uruguay, for diplomatic reasons.

“Towards the end of the nineties relations of the Argentine government and the UK, with Tony Blair prime minister were going through a great moment following on the aftermath of the war”, pointed out Espinosa.

Furthermore there was a great rapprochement, Menem had been invited to London, and in retribution Menem invited the Queen, who decided on the Prince of Wales.

However, “this generated a big problem. A visit of the Prince of Wales landing in the Buenos Aires airport could be interpreted as a UK concession to Argentina in the sovereignty dispute over the Falklands/Malvinas islands” And according to Espinosa “this was solved by saying that the Prince was going to Buenos Aires, but also to Uruguay”.

“The purpose of the trip was clear, to avoid any reading misunderstanding of events” the Uruguayan ambassador revealed. On Westmacott request, Espinosa immediately called then president Julio María Sanguinetti, and suggested the Prince be officially invited, to which the president replied Yes, immediately.

That is how in March 1999, the Prince of Wales landed in Buenos Aires and then for the same number of days in Montevideo. The visit was to the two countries of the River Plate, “a precious achievement,” underlines Espinosa. From Montevideo, Charles then flew to the Falklands.

Espinosa was appointed to accompany the Prince during his visit to Uruguay, and as is well known Charles III has a special interest in architecture, art, the environment and urbanism. ”The Prince was marveled by the Uruguayan coastline but disapproved of the high-rise apartment buildings along the Montevideo coast promenade (rambla), since they shadowed the natural landscape, trees and vegetation“ .

Before leaving Uruguay the Prince organized a private lunch in his suite and invited Espinosa, Westmacott and a collaborator. ”It was a great success, Uruguay helped to improve relations between Argentina and the UK,“ affirmed Espinosa.

Espinosa also in a brief interview with local television, recalled when he visited the Queen on 4 June 1998 at the Court of St James, as the newly appointed ambassador in UK, and the fact he was among the first ambassadors to have a picture taken with the monarch during the ceremony, which was not customary until then. ”This caused much 'envy' among my predecessors because they had no pictures with the Queen“.

But meeting the Queen is not simple, a strict protocol must be followed, with very clear instructions, ”for which I had to prepare and study. I has a tutor and the Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps showed me how I was to behave on that day at the Court of St James,“ revealed the former Uruguayan ambassador.

”I was taught all the formality aspects of the presentation but also, what could be addressed and what could not be addressed, particularly since it's the monarch that starts the conversation and what issues to address“. The Marshall said the Queen does not talk about politics, since foreign policy belongs to government, and there is a certain physical distance that must be respected, ”which sounds strange for us a republican nation“.

”The Queen started the conversation pointing out that the Crown was familiar with Uruguay, since her uncle, King Edward VII as Prince of Wales had visited Uruguay,“ and then to Espinosa´s great surprise, the ambassador was asked to convey to the Uruguayan government the gratitude of the British nation for the humanitarian support provided to British vessels and aircraft during the Falklands' war”.

“It was strange since, so I believed, the Queen does not talk politics, but it is also true that Uruguay supports Argentina's claim over the Falklands, and during and after the conflict has emphasized a humanitarian approach to the dispute”.

Espinosa added that when the ceremony is over, the ambassador abandons the room, “you say good bye to Her Majesty, but walking backwards which is complicated, you need to look at the carpet to make sure it is the right path...”

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  • viejopatagon

    During his visit Prince Charles visited the British Hospital.

    Sep 19th, 2022 - 01:11 pm 0
  • Malvinense 1833

    Three countries? two countries, Argentina and Uruguay.
    capisce Mercopress?

    Sep 19th, 2022 - 02:03 pm 0
  • Tænk

    I remember that visit...!

    Chuckle..., chuckle...

    Sep 19th, 2022 - 03:25 pm 0
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