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Beagle conflict

The Beagle Conflict was a border dispute between Chile and Argentina over the possession of Picton, Lennox and Nueva islands and the scope of the maritime jurisdiction associated with those islands that bought the countries to the brink of war in 1978.

The islands are strategically located off the south edge of Tierra del Fuego and at the east end of the Beagle Channel. The Beagle channel, the Straits of Magellan and the Drake Passage are the only three waterways between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in the southern hemisphere.

After refusing a binding international award giving the islands to Chile, the Argentine junta pushed the controversy to the brink of war in 1978 in order to produce a maritime boundary consistent with Argentine claimsSee David R. Mares, Natural Gas Pipelines in the Southern Cone, May 2004, Working Paper 29, page 9, James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy, Energy Forum, retrieved on 26 August 2008See Alejandro Luis Corbacho, Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, page 6, retrieved 26 August 2008: When it became clear that the Chileans wanted full acceptance of the [Court of Arbitration] resolution, the Argentine position hardened, and Argentina began to challenge the Chilean commitment to defend the territory.

The Beagle conflict is seen as the main reason for Chilean support to the United Kingdom during the Falklands War of 1982See The Chilean connection, retrieved on 26 August 2008:

When the Falklands War broke out, Chile still had a long-standing dispute with Argentina over access to the Beagle Channel, making the chance of military co-operation between Britain and Chile a distinct possibility.

The conflict began in 1904 with the first official Argentine claims over the islands that have been always under Chilean control. The conflict passed through several status: unknown territories, since 1881 Chilean islands, since 1904 disputed islands, direct negotiations, submitted to a binding international tribunal, direct negotiations again, brinkmanship.

The conflict was resolved through papal mediation and since 1984 Argentina recognizes the islands as Chilean territory. The 1984 treaty resolves also several collateral issues of great importance, including navigation rights, sovereignty over other islands in the Fuegian Archipelago, delimitation of the Straits of Magellan, and maritime boundaries south to Cape Horn and beyond.


For a long time after its first exploration by Europeans, the zone of Patagonia and the Tierra del Fuego-archipelago remained free from colonial settlements because of its inhospitable climate, harsh conditions and sparse local vegetation. After the disaster of Puerto Hambre (1584) during the regency of Philip II of Spain no other attempts of settlements were made in the zone.

On the year 1843 the Chilean government sent an expedition with the appointed task of establishing a permanent settlement on the shores of the Straits of Magellan. The founding act of the settlement of Fuerte Bulnes took place on 21 September 1843. Few years later, 1848, the settlement moved to Punta Arenas.

Argentine Ushuaia was founded by English born Thomas Bridges in 1869.

In 1881, Chile and Argentina attempted to definitively resolve their territorial disputes through a comprehensive agreement known as the Boundary treaty of 1881 between Chile and Argentina. This agreement provided that the border between the two countries would follow:

the highest peaks and Drainage divide,

mainly the parallel 52S and

mainly the meridian 6834 W and the Beagle channel.

Until 1887 there was no doubt in Argentina and Chile that the islands Picton, Nueva and Lennox belong to Chile:

Also the chief of the Argentine exploring commission of the southern territories, Francisco P. Moreno in a memorandum to the British Embassador in Buenos Aires, 1918, saw the Argentine claim as baseless:

In 1904 the Argentine government solicited Chile to define jointly which was the deepest arm of the Beagle channel in the zone in order to find the demarcation of the border. On the basis of the international cartography of the zone, the descriptions of the discoverer of the channel, and the discourse of the signer of the 1881 Treaty, Chile initially did not attach importance to the note.See Sergio Gutierrez Olivos, "Comentarios sobre el tratado de paz y amistad con Argentina", page 155.

The unresolved conflict continued to simmer. During the Snipe incident, Argentine forces destroyed a Chilean lighthouse on the Snipe islet at the entry of the Beagle Channel installed on 1. May 1958, put up their own and landed marines on the islet, provoking a dangerous build up. Later both countries agreed to pull back military forces and dismantle the lighthouses.See Algunas cuestiones con los paises vecinos in "Historia general de las Relaciones Exteriores de la Republica Argentina", retrieved 24 May 2008, in Spanish language:Las balizas fueron desmanteladas, estableciendose que estas en el futuro no serian de ninguno de los dos paises, y se retiraron los infantes de marina.

Interests of the parties

Over the years the growing importance of the Antarctic, the navigation routes between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, the expectancy of Oil fields in the zone, fishing rights led both countries to become hardened in their positions and the conflict was extended to other issues regarding the zone.

There was a controversy about the east end of the Straits of Magellan. Both countries agreed about the boundary line, but not about the end of the Straits. The Chilean view was that the Straits ended at the boundary line and eastward continued the Atlantic Ocean and therefore Chile had a "beach" at (and its projection over) the Atlantic Ocean and it enjoyed sole control of the Straits themselves. The Argentine view was that the Straits continued eastward of the border and that the east end of the Straits of Magallan belonged to Argentina. Under this view, it was coproprietor with the right to co-regulate the navigation through the Straits and Chile had no border with the Atlantic Ocean.

The west end of the Straits of Magellan was also a cause of conflict. Argentina considered the channels and bays part of the straits and demanded free navigation through all waters as stipulated in the Boundary Treaty of 1881 for the Straits.

On 14 June 1977 the Chilean Government issued the decree n416 over the baselines . The decree had two main implications for the controversy. First, it extended the range from which Chile might attempt to project its 12-miles territorial sea and 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone along a continued line from Picton, Nueva, and Lennox Islands as far south as Cape Horn, thus greatly increasing its potential maritime jurisdiction to the east and southeast. Second, it effectively converted all waters enclosed by the baselines into Chilean internal waters where navigational rights for Argentina would exist only through explicit agreements with Chile. The Argentine port of Ushuaia, located on the north shore of the east Beagle Channel, had no direct free way to the Pacific Ocean. Argentina has so far considered its unfettered use of the waters surrounding the Fuegian Archipelago to be a matter of critical importance for its commercial and military navigation.

The two countries have always linked their Antarctic claims to their continental possessions because the nearness and the projection of the countries over the Antarctic can substantiate a claim over territories.

Beagle Channel Arbitration 1971-1977

In 1971 Chile and Argentina signed an agreement formally submitting the Beagle Channel issue to binding arbitration under auspices of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The court that was to decide the controversy was composed of five judges selected by Chile and Argentina from the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The court of arbitration's final decision would be submitted to the British Crown, which was then to recommend acceptance or rejection of the award of the court but not to modify it. On May 2, 1977 the court ruled that the islands and all adjacent formations belonged to Chile. See the Report and decision of the Court of Arbitration.

On 25 January 1978 Argentina rejected the ruling, and attempted via military force to challenge the Chilean commitment to defend the territory, and to coerce Chile into negotiating a division of the islands that would produce a maritime boundary consistent with Argentine claims.

Direct negotiations 1977-1978

Direct negotiations between Chile and Argentina began after the announcement of the binding arbitration ruling, on 2 May 1977, and ended with the Act of Montevideo, Uruguay, on 9 January 1979, where both countries accepted papal mediation after Argentina aborted Operation Soberania.

In the interim, both countries deployed military forces, moving to the brink of open warfare in tandem with a frenzy of diplomatic activity. This was the most dangerous phase of the Beagle Conflict; open warfare seemed a real possibilitySee page 7 of Alejandro Luis Corbacho: Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, Universidad del CEMA, Argentina, Documento de Trabajo No. 244, September 2003, retrieved 23 September 2008: There was a real possibility of open warfare

Operation Soberania 1978

On 22 December 1978 Argentina initiated Operation Soberania, an attempt to occupy the islands around Cape Horn, intending to judge from Chile's response whether to advance further. However, the operation was aborted within a few hours. Instead of renewing the operation at the next window of opportunity, the junta in Buenos Aires decided to allow the Pope to mediate the dispute through the offices of Cardinal Antonio Samore, his special envoy.

Papal Mediation 1979-1984

On January 9, 1979, the Act of Montevideo was signed pledging both sides to a peaceful solution and a return to the military situation of early 1977.

1980 Argentina rejected the Pope's proposal (already accepted by Chile).

The detention of prisoners on both sides of the border, the following border closing by Argentina on 28 April 1981, and the Argentine repudiation of the General Treaty on the Judicial Settlement of Disputes in January 1982 maintained the danger of war. Six weeks before the Falklands War, Argentina provoked the ARA Gurruchaga incident with Chile at Deceit IslandSee also the article Pinochet ordena el acuartelamiento de las tropas chilenas por el conflicto con Argentina sobre el canal de Beagle in Spanish newspaper El Pais on 06 March 1982, written by J. L. Fermosel in Buenos Aires, retrieved on 26 August 2008:

Los observadores, con quienes coinciden los medios de comunicacion social, estiman que la movilizacion armada se realizo tras comprobarse que la nave de la Armada argentina Francisco de Gurruchaga violo de nuevo la soberania chilena, desplazandose por el sector de la isla Picton -una de las tres, junto a Nueva y Lennox, que se disputan los dos paises en el litigio del Beagle-. En esta oportunidad acompanaban al Gurruchaga otras cuatro embarcaciones..

The Falklands War 1982

In 1982, Argentina went to war against the United Kingdom in the Falklands War and again both Chile and Argentina deployed their respective militaries to the border.

In 1982 Argentina still officially considered Chile an enemyThe Informe Rattenbach, an Argentine official investigation over the war, confirms that. See 718 part "a" in Informe Rattenbach. One of the reasons given for the absence of the Argentine Navy and higher numbers of soldiers during the Falklands War was that these forces had to be kept in reserve in case they were needed against Chile. Chile argued that it was not bound to support Argentina against Britain under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance because that treaty was defensive in nature, while Argentina was the aggressor in this case.See Editorial of Argentine newspaper Rio Negro En su logica by Carlos Torrengo on 01 September 2005 in Spanish Language, retrieved 05 September 2005:

Chile no ignora que la historia suele pegar brincos insolitos. Argentina -por caso- podia salir airosa del conflicto. Ya por una negociacion exitosa para sus intereses, ya por derrotar a los britanicos. Si esto sucedia, que le impediria a Leopoldo Galtieri y compania apoderarse de las islas del Beagle? O que los condicionaria a tomar iniciativas de esa naturaleza sobre espacios que, en aquel entonces, eran materia de disputa entre Argentina y Chile?See Oscar Camilion, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina from 29 March 1981 to 11 December 1981, in his "Memorias Politicas", Editorial Planeta, Buenos Aires, 1999, page. 281:

Los planes militares eran, en la hipotesis de resolver el caso Malvinas, invadir las islas en disputa en el Beagle. Esa era la decision de la Armada

(transl.:The military planning was, with the Falklands in Argentine hand, to invade the disputed islands in the Beagle Channel. That was the determination of the (Argentine) navyKalevi Jaakko Holsti, The State, War, and the State of War Cambridge Studies in International Relations, 1996, 271 pages, ISBN 052157790X. See also here On page 160:

Displaying the mentality of the Argentine military regime in the 1970s, as another example, there was "Plan Rosario" accordingto which Argentina would attack the Malvinas and then turn to settle the Beagle Channel problem by force. The sequence, according to the plan, could also be reversed.See article of Manfred Schonfeld in La Prensa (Buenos Aires) on 2. Juni 1982 about the Argentine Course of Action after the War:

Para nosotros no lo estara [terminada la guerra], porque, inmediatamente despues de barrido el enemigo de las Malvinas, debe serlo de las Georgias, Sandwich del Sur y de todos los demas archipielagos australes argentinos, ...

All articles of M. Schonfeld in "La Prensa" from 10. January 1982 to 2. August 1982 are in "La Guerra Austral", Manfred Schonfeld, Desafio Editores S.A., 1982, ISBN 950-0205-00-9. In any event, Anglo-Chilean relations had already deteriorated due to the Sheila Cassidy Affair. During the war Chile provided the UK with limited, but significant information.

In a interview with the Argentine magazine Perfil Basilio Lami Dozo, chief of the Argentine Air Force during the Falklands war, stated that Argentina purposed to attack Chile after the Falklands war:

On top of that Leopoldo Galtieri said in a speech: "[Chile] have to know that what we are doing now, because they will be the next in turn.

Treaty of Peace and Friendship of 1984 between Chile and Argentina

Tensions between Argentina and Chile did not subside until the democratic government of Raul Alfonsin took office in Argentina in December 1983. Still isolated diplomatically due to the War, the Alfonsin administration made great efforts to stabilize the border situation. Without the support of the opposition, Alfonsin called for a national plebiscite on 25 November 1984, and some 80 percent of the Argentine electorate voted to accept the Vatican-mediated compromise::

The voting was close only in the territory of Tierra del Fuego, which includes the Argentine sector of the disputed Beagle Channel and many military personnel. The vote there was narrowly in favor of the treaty. On 29 November 1984 Argentina and Chile signed a protocol of agreement to a treaty at Vatican City giving the islands to Chile but maritime rights to Argentina.

Cultural impact

The mountain pass of Puyehue was renamed Cardenal Antonio Samore Pass for Antonio Samore, one of the mediators from the Vatican state in the conflict.

Leon Gieco created the song "Solo le pido a Dios" ("I only Ask of God") in 1978 as a response to the warmongering in Argentina. Three years later, during the Falklands War, the Argentine junta used the song against the Falklands War after the invasion.

In 2005 the Chilean movie Mi Mejor Enemigo was released. The film recreates the story of a simple recruit in late 1978 when both countries were on the brink of war.

Three TV productions about the conflict (in Spanish) focus on Operation Soberania:

Chilean Telecast of Television Nacional de Chile "Informe Especial", Theme: El ano que vivimos en peligro ("The year when we lived in danger")

Chilean Telecast of Corporacion de Television de la Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile "annonimos", Theme: Beagle: La guerra que no fue

Argentine Telecast of History Channel: Operativo Soberania

Economic impact

The arms race at both sides of the border after the Argentine refusal of the decision of the Court of Arbitration caused huge costs for the economy of the countries, until after the Falklands War:

* Costs in Millions of USA Dollars 1979.


The Beagle conflict was argued in legal and juridical terms, although it was eventually resolved as a political compromise.

During the 1990s, under the presidency of Carlos Menem in Argentina and Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle in Chile, they resolved almost all of their disputes, e.g. Laguna del Desierto and both countries began to work together both economically and militarily.

A number of prominent public officials in Chile still point to past Argentine treaty repudiations when referring to relations between the two neighborsNotes of the Chilean Foreign Minister Jose Miguel Insulza, in La Tercera de Santiago de Chile vom 13. Juli 1998, retrieved on 26 August 2008: "Enfatizo que, si bien la situacion es diferente, lo que hoy esta ocurriendo con el Tratado de Campo de Hielo Sur hace recordar a la opinion publica lo sucedido en 1977, durante la disputa territorial por el Canal de Beagle."See notes of Senator (not elected but named by the Armed Forces) Jorge Martinez Bush im La Tercera de Santiago de Chile vom 26 Juli 1998, retrieved on 26 August 2008: "El legislador expuso que los chilenos mantienen "muy fresca" en la memoria la situacion creada cuando Argentina declaro nulo el arbitraje sobre el canal del Beagle, en 1978."See notes of the Chilean Foreign Minister Ignacio Walker Clarin de B.A., 22 July 2005, retrieved on 26 August 2008: "Y esta en la retina de los chilenos el laudo de Su Majestad Britanica, en el Beagle, que fue declarado insanablemente nulo por la Argentina. Esa impresion todavia esta instalada en la sociedad chilena."See also "Reciprocidad en las Relaciones Chile - Argentina" of Andres Fabio Oelckers Sainz in PDF, retrieved on 26 August 2008: "Tambien en Chile, todavia genera un gran rechazo el hecho que Argentina declarase nulo el fallo arbitral britanico y ademas en una primera instancia postergara la firma del laudo papal por el diferendo del Beagle"See notes of Director academico de la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales Flacso, Francisco Rojas, in Santiago de Chile, in La Nación de Buenos Aires vom 26 September 1997, retrieved on 26 August 2008: "Desde la Argentina, cuesta entender el nivel de desconfianza que hoy existe en Chile a proposito de la decision que tomo en 1978 de declarar nulo el laudo arbitral"Notes of Chilean Defense Minister Edmundo Perez Yoma in "Centro Superior de Estudios de la Defensa Nacional del Reino de Espana", apperead in Argentine newspaper El Cronista Comercial, 5 Mai 1997, retrieved on 26 August 2008: ...Y que la Argentina estuvo a punto de llevar a cabo una invasion sobre territorio de Chile en 1978.... These notes were later relativized by the Chilean Government ..

See also

Falklands War

ArgentinaChile relations

Snipe incident


Beagle Channel Arbitration between the Republic of Argentina and the Republic of Chile, Report and Decision of the Court of Arbitration

Mark Laudy: The Vatican Mediation of the Beagle Channel Dispute: Crisis Intervention and Forum Building in Words Over War of Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict.

Alejandro Luis Corbacho: Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, Universidad del CEMA, Argentina, Documento de Trabajo No. 244, September 2003

Ruben Madrid Murua: Estrategia Nacional y Militar que planifico Argentina, en el marco de una estrategia total, para enfrentar el conflicto con Chile el ano 1978", Memorial del Ejercito de Chile, Edicion N 471, Santiago, Chile, 2003, Spanish Language

Karin Oellers-Frahm: Der Schiedsspruch in der Beagle-Kanal-Streitigkeit, Berichte und Urkunden: Max-Planck-Institut fur auslandisches offentliches Recht und Volkerrecht, German Language

Sergio Gutierrez Olivos, Comentarios sobre el tratado de paz y amistad con Argentina, Academia Chilena de Ciencias Sociales, 1985, in Spanish language

Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores de Chile: Relaciones Chileno-Argentinas, La controversia del Beagle. Genf 1979, English and Spanish Language

Andrea Wagner: Der argentinisch-chilenische Konflikt um den Beagle-Kanal. Ein Beitrag zu den Methoden friedlicher Streiterledigung. Verlag Peter Lang, Frankfurt a.M. 1992, ISBN 3-631-43590-8, German Language

Karl Hernekamp: Der argentinisch-chilenisch Grenzstreit am Beagle-Kanal. Institut fur Iberoamerika-Kunde, Hamburg 1980, German Language

Andres Cisneros y Carlos Escude, "Historia general de las Relaciones Exteriores de la Republica Argentina", Las relaciones con Chile, Cema, Argentina, Buenos Aires. Spanish Language

Annegret I. Haffa: Beagle-Konflikt und Falkland (Malwinen)-Krieg. Zur Aussenpolitik der Argentinischen Militarregierung 1976-1983. Weltforum Verlag, Munchen/Koln/London 1987, ISBN 3-8039-0348-3, German Language

Isaac F. Rojas und Arturo Medrano: Argentina en el Atlantico Chile en el Pacifico. Editorial Nemont, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1979, in spanischer Sprache.

Isaac F. Rojas, La Argentina en el Beagle y Atlantico sur 1. Parte. Editorial Diagraf, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Spanish Language

Carlos Escude und Andres Cisneros: Historia general de las relaciones exteriores de la Republica Argentina , in spanischer Sprache.

Fabio Vio Valdivieso: La mediacion de su S.S. el Papa Juan Pablo II, Editorial Aconcagua, Santiago de Chile, 1984, Spanish Language

Alberto Marin Madrid: El arbitraje del Beagle y la actitud argentina. 1984, Editorial Moises Garrido Urrea, id = A-1374-84 XIII, Spanisch Language

Luis Alberto Romero, Argentina in the twentieth Century. Pennsylvania State University Press, translated by James P. Brennan, 1994, ISBN 0-271-02191-8

Divisionsgeneral (a.D.) Juan E. Gugliamelli: Cuestion del Beagle. Negociacion directa o dialogo de armas , in Spanish Language. (Book compiled from articles of Argentine Magazin "Estrategia", Buenos Aires Nr:49/50, enero-febrero 1978, erschienen sind.

General Martin Antonio Balza und Mariano Grondona: Dejo Constancia: memorias de un general argentino. Editorial Planeta, Buenos Aires 2001, ISBN 9504908136, Spanish Language

Francisco Bulnes Serrano und Patricia Arancibia Clavel: La Escuadra En Accion. Chile, Editorial Grijalbo, 2004, ISBN 9562582116, Spanish Language

External links

Chilean Telecast of Television Nacional de Chile "Informe Especial", Theme El ano que vivimos en peligro, , Spanish Language

Chilean Telecast of Corporacion de Television de la Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile "annonimos", Theme: Beagle: La guerra que no fue, in Spanish Language

Argentine Telecast of Argentine History Channel: Operativo Soberania , Spanish Language

Special edition of El Mercurio, Santiago de Chile, 2 September 2005, Spanish Language. There are Interviews with contemporary witness like Ernesto Videla, Jaime Del Valle, Helmut Brunner, Marcelo Delpech und Luciano Benjamin Menendez. Spanish Language.

Interview with the Chief Commander of the Argentine Army Martin Balza in El Mercurio de Santiago de Chile, 2 September 2005, Spanish Language

Interview with Sergio Onofre Jarpa, Chile's Ambassador in Argentina 1978 to 1982 in La Tercera, Santiago, Chile, 17 March 2002, Spanish Language

Interview with Argentine General Luciano Benjamin Menendez, Commandant of the III Army Corps in El Mercurio de Santiago de Chile, (from the Argentine Magazine "Somos"), Spanish Language

Interview with Pio Laghi, Nuntius in Argentina, 1978, in Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998. Spanish Language

Interview with the Ambassador of the United States of America in Argentina, Raul Hector Castro, in Clarin Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Interview with the former Chief of the "Secretaria General del Ejercito" (a Think-Tank of the Argentine Army), General Reynaldo Bignone, President of Argentina after the Falkland War, in Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article Cartas desde el Abismo, Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article El belicismo de los dictadores Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Article Beagle: historia secreta de la guerra que no fue La Nacion, Buenos Aires, 12. August 1996, Spanish Language

Article Historia de la santa mediacion en Clarin, Buenos Aires, 20 December 1998, Spanish Language

Chile-Argentina Relations, Spanish Language

Toma de decisiones politicas y la influencia de los discursos oficialistas durante el Connflicto del Beagle: Chile - Argentina 1977-1979, Spanish Language

Text of the Tratado de Paz y Amistad de 1984, Direccion de Fronteras y Limites de Chile, Spanish Language

Text of the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1984, Copy to the United Nations, English Language

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