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Direct negotiations between Chile and Argentina in 19771978

The direct negotiations between Chile and Argentina about the islands and maritime rights in Beagle conflict began after the Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom announced on 2 May 1977 the judgement of the Beagle Channel Arbitration to the governments of both countries. The court ruled that the islands and all adjacent formations belonged to Chile. The direct negotiations finished with the Act of Motevideo on 9 January 1979, where both countries accept the papal mediation after Argentina's call off of the Operation Soberania. This was the most dangerous phase of the Beagle Conflict and there was a real possibility of open warfare.

Internal politics of both countries

Argentina and Chile were both ruled by military governments at the time of the negotiations. The Chilean and Argentine governments shared common interests: internal war against subversion, annihilating the opposition; external war against communism, remaining nonetheless part of the non-aligned movement; modernisation and liberalisation of the economy; a conservative approach towards social and class relations. By the end of 1977, the war against subversion and opposition was substantially over in both countries, as the Operation Condor had lost momentum and detente had improved East-West relations. The two countries maintained good economic relations.

But on 1977, the conflict over the Beagle Channel had become the primary foreign policy imperative of both governments.


There was considerable international condemnation of the Chilean Military Regime's human rights record. President Augusto Pinochet enjoyed absolute authority and was largely unaccountable to other elements within the military, the Beagle conflict was a less significant issue and there was a highly unusual dialogue on the subject with the opposition. Eduardo Frei Montalva, leader of the Opposition, backed the policy of the government in this matterSee "El ano que vivimos en peligro", Informe Especial, Television Nacional de Chile. In Internet youtube:"Se esta alimentando, no por Chile, un conflicto de dramaticas consecuencias":

"They, not Chile, are feeding a conflict of dramatic consequences".

The most important negotiation goal of the Chilean government was to negotiate the maritime border without land loss.


Despite the many violations of human rights in Argentina the junta enjoyed abroad good regards and the human rights commission of the United Nations never condemned the Argentine Junta. In 1978 the World Cup Final was held in Argentina and his team won the FIFA World Cup. The Argentine President Jorge Rafael Videla was considered by journalists at the beginning of its government with sympathySee Berliner Zeitung 5 March 2004 in german language:

Man beschrieb den Diktator als korrekt, hoflich, puritanisch bis zum Exzess, aus tiefstem Herzen Katholik und zeigte Verstandnis:

"The dictator was described as correctly, politely, puritan in excess, deeply catholic and one showed understanding"

In Argentina, the consequences of the dispute for internal politics were more significant. The conflict became a keyword for the extreme nationalist elements within the military junta that controlled the country until 1983. Among many junta members, a conciliatory approach to Chile came to be regarded as a sign of weakness, giving the dispute far-reaching ramifications at the highest levels of Argentine politics. This ultimately produced an environment in which relatively moderate decision makers assumed a more aggressive posture due to the fear of removal.

The Argentine Historian Luis Alberto Romero wrote about the Argentine Government:

''By that time, a bellicose current of opinion had arisen among the military and its friend, an attitude rooted in a strain of Argentine nationalism, which drew substance from strong chauvinistic sentiments. Diverse ancient fantasies in society's historical imaginary-the "patria grande", the "spoliation" that the country had suffered- where added to a new fantasy of "entering the first world" through a "strong" foreign policy. All this combinated with the traditional messianic military mentality and the ingenousness of its strategies which were ignorant of the most elemental facts of international politics. The agression against Chile, stymied by papal mediation, was transferred to Great Britain

Similar arguments apperead in "New York Times on 31 December 1978":

Beagle Channel controversy that has brought the military regimes of Argentina and Chile to the brink of war is an expression of the turbulent revisionism underway in Argentina in reaction to frustrations in national life. Argentine policy is made by military men whose nationalist values are mixed with personal ambitions, phobias against politicians, "progressive"

During the crisis the Argentine Government was divided in two groups, hardliners, which pressured for drastic military actions and softliners that struggled to maintain bilateral negotiations.

The Argentine Challenge

Argentina took steps to increment the pressure upon Chile:

in October 1978 the presidents of Bolivia and Argentina signed a demand for a Bolivian sea entrance, the Argentine Claims over the Falkland Islands and the Argentine Claims in the Beagle conflictSee article Argentina refuerza militarmente su frontera con Chile in spanish newspaper El Pais 27. October 1978: En una declaracion conjunta, suscrita al finalizar la entrevista de un poco mas de cinco horas, ambos mandatarios ratificaron el derecho de una salida al mar para Bolivia, la soberania de Argentina sobre las islas Malvinas y otros territorios ubicados en el extremo sur de este pais..

the Argentine Armed Forces planned the Operation Soberania, to occupy the islands, wait for the Chilean Reaction and then reply.

Mobilization orders were issued, the navy sailed southwards and the army was deployed to the border.

4000 Chilean Citizens were expelled from ArgentinaAs denounced by the Chilean Ambassador in the OAS, see Fabio Vio Valdivieso, La mediacion de su S.S. el Papa Juan Pablo IIpage 111.

Blackout drills were conducted in various cities, even if the cities were unreachable for the overaged Chilean Air Force

abject warmongering:

General Luciano Menendez, Chief Commander of the III Argentine Army CorpsSee Diario El Centro, Chile also in Diario Pagina12

Si nos dejan atacar a los chilotes, los corremos hasta la isla de Pascua, el brindis de fin de ano lo hacemos en el Palacio La Moneda y despues iremos a mear el champagne en el Pacifico:

If [our government] let us attack the Chileans, we will chase her away up to Easter Island, we will celebrate the New Year's Eve in La Moneda and afterwards we will go for a Champagne-slash to the pacific beach

An Argentine OfficerCited in the book of Martin Balza, Dejo Constancia: memorias de un general argentino

Cruzaremos los Andes, les comeremos las gallinas y violaremos a las mujeres:

We will cross the Andes, we will eat the chickens and rape the women''

the Argentine Borderpolice (Gendarmeria) closed the border to Chile several times, a step regarded as preliminary stage to the war

Jorge Videla, President of Argentina threatened war if Chile didn't accept the Argentine Conditions: Las negociaciones directas constituyen la unica via pacifica para solucionar el conflicto See Cuestion del Beagle. Negociacion directa o dialogo de armas, Juan E. Gugliamelli, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1978

The Chilean Reaction

Chile held the islands de facto at least since 1881 and de jure after the judgement. There was no reason to start a war for. But the Chilean government, aware that the war clouds were gathering, prepared the defense without disturb the population.

The Chilean newspaper El Mercurio annotated about the pre-war dispositionSee special edition 20 anos del Tratado de Paz y Amistad entre Chile y Argentina in El Mercurio, Santiago de Chile

A diferencia de Chile, donde preparativos de guerra se hicieron en medio de gran reserva para no alarmar a la poblacion, los argentinos se movilizaron en medio de sonoras concentraciones

In difference to Chile, where the preparation of war was inconspicuously in order not to alarm the population, the Argentinier made its mobilization in the middle from loud demonstrations.

Also the Ambassador of the United States of America in Buenos Aires in 1978, Raul Hector Castro, described in similar words the situation in ChileSee the interview of M. Aizenk with Ambassador Castro in El papel de la Embajada, Newspaper Clarin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 20 December 1998 (Source in Spanish Language)

M. Aizenk: Y la misma presion que ejercieron ustedes en Buenos Aires la ejercieron en Santiago?

R.Castro: No. Yo sentia que en los chilenos habia un ambiente mas calmado. No habia esa decision de inmediatamente cruzar la frontera. No notaba eso en el ejercito chileno:

M. Aizenk: Did you exert the same pressure in Santiago as in Buenos Aires?

R.Castro: ''No, I found a a calmer atmosphere among the Chilean. There was not the resoluteness to cross the border immediately. I didn't see any thing like that in the Chilean Army

The meetings

About the issues of the negotiations see Interests of the Parties

One day after the announcement of the award on 2 May 1977, the Argentine Minister of Foreign Affairs foreshadowed a possible refusal: no commitment obliges a country to comply with that which affects its vital interests or that which damages rights of sovereingty.

Frenzied diplomatic activity occurred alongside the military preparations.

On 5 May 1977 the Argentine Government sent to Chile the Chief of Staff (jefe del Estado Mayor Conjunto), Admiral Julio Torti with the proposal for direct discussions regarding the consecuences of the arbitral award, specially the maritime border.

This overture eventually led to two rounds of discussions, held from July 5 to 8 1977 in Buenos Aires and October 17 to 20 1977 in Santiago de Chile.

On 14 June 1977 the Chilean Government issued the decree n416 over the baselines complicating the situation still further.

On 5 December 1977 Admiral Torti returned to Santiago with a new proposal. The new proposal conceded the Picton, Nueva and Lennox Islands group to Chile, but it called for joint ownership of three other islands to the south that Chile considered unequivocally Chilean: Evout, Barnevelt, and Cape Horn Island. The Torti proposal also provided for a maritime boundary that would extend south for 200 miles along a meridian passing through Cape Horn.

The new proposal extended the problem beyond of the "Hammer" (ABCDEF) to all islands south from the Tierra del Fuego as far as Cape Hoorn.

In December 1977 met the Ministers of Foreign Affairs Patricio Carvajal of Chile and Oscar Antonio Montes of Argentina. Both meetings were unsuccessful.

On 10 January 1978 Chile invited Argentina to submit the dispute to the International Court of Justice. But the Argentina, having been defeated in the arbitration, had little appetite for further juridical proceedingsSee also Las relaciones con Chile Cema: la Junta Militar rechazo la propuesta chilena, percibiendo que la misma tenia por objetivo presentar a la Argentina como pais no respetuoso de los compromisos internacionales ante la Corte de La Haya''.

The Argentine and Chilean presidents met in Mendoza on 19 January 1978 and they agreed to meet again in March in a definitive attempt to reach a settlement through direct negotiation.

On 25 Januar 1978 Argentina repudiates the binding Arbitral Award. On 26 January 1978 Chile declared the Award binding and unappealable.

On 20 February 1978 Argentine and Chilean presidents signed the Act of Puerto Montt establishing a formal structure for further direct negotiations.

Negotiations held in accordance with the Act of Puerto Montt were unsuccessful.

On 20 November 1978 Chile proposed again to submit to the International Court in The Hague as provided by a 1972 treaty and was unofficially informed that Argentina would consider that option as a Casus belli, but a mediation was accepted by the Junta.

The two foreign ministers met on December 12 in Buenos Aires to decide who would be asked to mediate. The candidates were the President of the United States of America Jimmy Carter, the King Juan Carlos of Spain, a European President and the Pope. Both minister asserted that the only acceptable candidate was the Pope, but in the evening the Chilean Minister received a phone call to inform him that the Argentine Junta didn't authorized the sign of the mediation agreement.

The failure of the December 12 1978 meeting convinced many decision makers in both Chile and Argentina that war was both inevitable and imminent.

On December 14 1978, in a See Alejandro Luis Corbacho: Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, page 11. meeting the Comite Militar, formed by the president, the three members of the Junta, the secretaries of the three armed forces and two more members both from the army's staffSee Alejandro Luis Corbacho: Predicting the Probability of War During Brinkmanship Crises: The Beagle and the Malvinas Conflicts, page 9., (President Videla and the Foreign Minister were not invited) decided on military action: the Operation Soberania should begin on 22 December 1978.


The Chilean Armed Forces were not able to impose by presence the Arbitral Award of 1977. Neither Pinochet's Regime could prevent through international pressure the Argentine Declaration of nulity. It was undoubted one of the largest defeats of the Chilean dictatorship on international terrain.

The Argentine Regime encumbered a problem for years that they could not resolve. Neither through the threat of war nor through negotiations could move Chile to change the (land) border that defined the award.

The military tension at the border persisted until the Falklands War was the reason for the Chilean Support for United Kingdom during the war.

After the return to democracy in Argentina, Chile accepted to shift the maritime Border to west.

See also

Falklands War

Argentina-Chile relations

Foreign relations of Argentina

Foreign relations of Chile


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, 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

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

Argentine Telecast of History Channel: Operativo Soberania YouTube, 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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