The constant territorial claim. "The Malvinas are Argentine!" Photo via Shelley Travel

At his first meeting with the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, President Mauricio Macri pronounced that UK-Argentine bilateral relations would continue under an “umbrella,” echoing former President Carlos S. Menem’s foreign policy on the subject.

Back up: what is this umbrella business?

Menem, who has been compared to both Reagan and Voldemort on these pages and was President during the ’90s, enacted a “sovereignty umbrella” foreign policy which left out the Argentine claim to the Malvinas in favor of economic advancement. Menem’s Foreign Affairs Minister Guido Di Tella also favored including the wishes of the islanders, implementing such strategies to bridge the rift such as the “Winnie the Pooh” initiative (not even kidding) by which he would send them Christmas gifts such as books of said beloved bear with a personal message within.

Winnie the Pooh aside, favoring economic cooperation is exactly what Macri proposed doing during his meeting with Cameron. Macri stated that Argentina will maintain its territorial claim while seeking to move forward on other subjects. It being Davos, the other subjects apparently got more attention. In fact, on leaving the meeting with Cameron, Macri said that, “it was a good and constructive meeting, there is a desire to begin a relationship in which all the [bilateral] issues are on the table, under the same umbrella, right?”

Cameron, on his end, emphasized that the British stance remains unchanged, citing the referendum that was held in 2013 as inalienable proof that the islanders wish to remain British.

Prince Charles and former President Carlos S. Menem in 1998, a highlight of bilateral relations at the time. Photo via Getty Images
Prince Charles and former President Carlos S. Menem in 1998, a highlight of bilateral relations at the time. Photo via Getty Images

Macri’s comments caused anger across the board, including former ambassador to the UK, Alicia Castro:

“The meeting between Cameron and Macri was very bad for Argentina. Yesterday, the government did not represent the country in its claim for sovereignty over the islands. Macri gave the Malvinas no importance, as the UK did.”

Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra counters the Malvinas are “a Constitutional issue, not an optional one,” just like the previous administrations, but considers that they were “too tough” about it.

“One does not always achieve the best results by completely hardening one’s positions [on something]. That doesn’t mean that one should give way on any of one’s principles.”

Malcorra has stated that a British delegation will be coming to Argentina to officially relaunch bilateral relations in the second half of the year.

Indeed, Macri’s approach to the sovereignty issue is a radical departure from his predecessor’s.

Cristina defined the sovereignty issue as State policy, often taking it to multilateral forums to consistently urge the UK to negotiate. Then exploration for oil began around 2010 and tensions reached their peak during 2012 in a bilateral diplomatic crisis: it was the 30th anniversary of the war and Prince William of England had arrived to the islands on a military mission. Rhetoric escalated to pointed insults and at a G20 summit the Prime Minister refused to accept a letter that Cristina kept trying to push into his hands. Not a good moment for either of them.

Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was very vocal about the Argentina's claim to the Malvinas in multilateral forums such as the UN. Photo via La Nación
Former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was very vocal about the Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas in multilateral forums such as the UN. Photo via La Nación

So what now? It’s going to be an interesting balancing act, for sure, assuming that investment and the territorial claim carry the same weight for the new administration. For now, the priority seems to be economic advancement but they have been adamant on keeping the claim alive, so we’ll see.