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Argentine Territorial Nationalism


One important cultural factor which has contributed to inhibiting regional cooperation and integration in Latin America lies in the intense territorial nationalism prevailing in several of the Spanish-speaking countries. This frequently underrated phenomenon is an outgrowth of the great number of territorial disputes still to be found in the region and the indoctrination of public opinion through the educational systems and the mass media that often accompanies them.1 At least the following disputes can be considered as having greatly affected the international relations of these countries in recent years:

Argentina vs. Chile. The core of the problem (the dispute over three tiny islands in the Beagle Channel) was solved with the Treaty of Peace and Friendship signed in 1984 and ratified in 1985, but it almost led to war in 1978 and was an excuse for intensive nationalistic indoctrination over several years. It generated arms races and military mobilisation, concomitantly frustrating a natural potential for economic complementarity and integration. The territorial disputes yet unsolved are very minor, but distrust will probably linger on for many years.

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1 de Graziano A. M. Seitz, ‘Los Conflictos Territoriales Iberoamericanos’, Améríca Latina (5 th. Bimester 1984), listed Latin America's territorial disputes on a country by country basis as follows: Argentina with Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Great Britain, and the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty; Chile with Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Great Britain, and the signatories of the Antarctic Treaty; Uruguay with Argentina; Brazil with Argentina, Paraguay and French Guiana; Paraguay with Argentina and Bolivia; Bolivia with Chile, Peru and Paraguay; Peru with Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador; Ecuador with Peru in two parts of its border; Colombia with Venezuela and Nicaragua; Venezuela with Colombia and Guyana; Panama with the United States; Costa Rica with Nicaragua; Honduras with the United States and El Salvador; Nicaragua with Costa Rica and Colombia; El Salvador with Honduras; Guatemala with Belize and its guarantors; Mexico with the United States; and Cuba with the United States.

2 Lynch J., Spanish Colonial Administration, 1782–1810 (London, 1958). See maps pp. 321 and 322. See also Preface, p. vii: ‘…in 1776, in the interests of defence, the vast land stretching from Tierra del Fuego to Upper Peru, from the Atlantic to the Andes… was erected into an independent viceroyalty’. The maps include nearly all of Tierra del Fuego, including some coasts formally in the Pacific ocean, in the Viceroyalty. As will be seen later on in this text, this is not warranted by the overall evidence available.

3 Box P. H., Los Orígenes de la Guerra del Paraguay (Asunción, 1931; Illinois University Press edition, 1927), ch. 3.

4 McLynn F. J., ‘The Causes of the War of Triple Alliance: An Interpretation’, Inter-American Economic Affairs (Autumn 1979).

5 The debate evolved slowly, after the occupation of the Strait of Magellan with the establishment of Fuerte Bulnes by Chile on 21 September 1843. The Argentine protest was filed on 15 December 1847. The first presentation of the Argentine case was probably de Angelis Pedro, Memoria Histórica sobre los derechos de soberanía y dominio de la Confederación Argentina a la parte-austral del continente americano comprendida entre las costas del Océano Atlántico y la gran Cordillera de los Andes desde la boca del Río de la Plata hasta el Cabo de Hornos inclusa la Isla de los Estados, La Tierra del Fuego y el Estrecho de Magallanes en toda su extensión (Buenos Aires, 1852). This was refuted by Amunátegui Miguel Luis, Títulos de la República de Chile a la soberanía y dominio de la extremidad austral del continente americano (Santiago, 1853). Amunátegui was in turn refuted by Sarsfield Dalmacio Vélez, Discusión de los títulos del gobierno de Chile a las tierras del Estrecho de Magallanes (Buenos Aires, 1854). This in turn motivated a new publication by Amunátegui, a leaflet printed in Santiago in 1855. As a consequence of this, two works were published in Buenos Aires, one by Trelles Ricardo Manuel, Cuestión de límites entre la República Argentina y el Gobierno de Chile (1865), and one by Quesada Vicente G., La Patagonia y las tierras australes del continente americano (1875). Trelles also published his views in ‘La República Argentina y Chile’, La Nación, 3 April 1874. These Argentine writings motivated Amunátegui into publishing what was probably the most important and serious work in this debate, that is, Cuestión de límites entre Chile y la República Argentina, (Santiago 1879). Finally, Amunátegui's work generated Quesada's reply, his ‘Historia Colonial Argentina’, published in successive issues of the Nueva Revista de Buenos Aires during 1884 and 1885, that is, after the signature of the 1881 boundary treaty.

6 Diego de Almagro, Pedro de Mendoza and Simón de Alcazaba were granted their jurisdictions on the same day, 21 May 1534. Almagro was to have 200 Spanish leagues along the Pacific coast, south of Pizarro's jurisdiction. Mendoza was to enter his jurisdiction through the River Plate and reach the Pacific coast, where he was to have 200 leagues south of Almagro's jurisdiction; his title did not clearly establish how many leagues he was to have along the Atlantic. Alcazaba was to have 200 leagues along the Pacific coast south of Mendoza's jurisdiction, and he was also free to sail from the Pacific to the Atlantic and explore Patagonia, where eventually, said the King, he might also be granted jurisdiction if it so suited his royal interest. According to Amunátegui, one Francisco Camargo, of whose title only one paragraph survives, was heir to Alcazaba, and afterwards was in turn succeeded by Fray Francisco de la Rivera. Concomitantly, the king had granted the lands south of the Strait of Magellan to Pedro Sancho de Hoz. Supposedly, Pedro de Valdivia later unified under his title the jurisdictions of Rivera, de Hoz, Almagro, and Mendoza's Pacific coast, but the Chilean proofs of this unification are extremely obscure. Whatever the case may be, by Valdivia's time the governorship of Chile was established, and he was confirmed as governor of Chile by the king on 31 May 1552. Yet in 1569 the king was still appointing his adelantados in the River Plate-Paraguay region as heirs to Mendoza's entire jurisdiction, as was done with Ortiz de Zárate in that year, theoretically awarding him central Chile, precisely the core of Valdivia's jurisdiction! This, of course, had no practical consequences whatsoever.

7 As an example of unsettled territories which were transferred and which were situated in between settled ones, take the case of Paposo in the Atacama desert. Due to a priest's ambitions to a parish there and to his successful lobbying at the Spanish court, the governor of Chile was ordered to make important investments there on 3 June 1801 and 26 June 1803. The orders were not complied with, and a royal order of 1 October 1803 transferred the territory to Lima's jurisdiction, much to the Viceroy's dismay, who complained to the court on 8 March 1804. At times, what a governor or a viceroy least wanted was the incorporation of unattractive territories into his jurisdiction. On the other hand, the case was very different with respect to attractive territories. Take the case of Arica, under Lima's jurisdiction but coveted by Charcas, which lobbied in the court to have it transferred, thus generating an ambiguous situation when by royal warrant of 22 June 1593 it was ordered that Arica remain under Lima's jurisdiction but that its Corregidor follow the mandates of the Real Audiencia de los Charcas. See Solar J. Vial, Los Tratados de Chile, vol. 1.

8 It is not necessary to go as far as Patagonia to come across these contradictions. Take, for example, the case of the Atacama desert. According to the royal warrant of 10 November 1542, the Audience of Lima bordered with Chile along the Pacific. The royal warrant of 26 May 1573, however, established a larger territorial jurisdiction for the Audience of Charcas, granting it lands along the Pacific coast between Lima's and Santiago's jurisdiction, in the Atacama region. This measure was never nullified, Nevertheless, in 1801 Paposo was dealt with as corresponding to Santiago's jurisdiction and in 1803 it was transferred to Lima's jurisdiction, as was said in note 7 above. Not surprisingly, Chileans and Peruvians have interpreted the royal warrant of 1573 as an error, while the Bolivians have used it as proof of the legitimacy of their occupation of Atacama in the nineteenth century, considerably before the War of the Pacific once again deprived them of it. The truth would appear to be that it was simply a theoretical jurisdiction which was uninteresting to the conquistadors, who preferred not to be burdened with it. In such cases, the Crown frequently omitted efforts to be consistent in the granting of jurisdictions; previous titles were not always formally nullified. My source with respect to the contents of the royal warrants is Vial Solar, op. cit.

9 Quesada went as far as going to Seville and bringing back an adulterated copy of Mendoza's title, which instead of saying that he was awarded 200 leagues hacia (towards) the Strait of Magellan, said hasta (up to) the said strait. The correct text can be consulted in Colección de Documentos Inéditos del Archivo de Indias, vol. 22, p. 35. This was, of course, inconsistent with the words used in the other two titles awarded on the same day by the king, where the word hacia was used, and it is absolutely contradictory with Alcazaba's title, which granted him a jurisdiction south of Mendoza's hacia the Strait of Magellan. The king did contradict himself frequently, but not so blatantly and on the same day. Besides, the capitulaciones were available. Quesada's lie is so naīve that it could not possibly convince experts. Rather, it would appear that his purpose was probably to set up a pseudo-juridical justification which would facilitate indoctrination in the (then likely) event of war. Amunátegui resorts to more subtle but equally dishonest tricks. For example, he refuses to acknowledge that Mendoza's jurisdiction along the Atlantic coast is not clearly defined, and wants to make believe that it is the same as his 200 leagues along the Pacific coast. He also attempts to make his readers believe, through extrapolation, that Alcazaba's right of exploration of the Patagonian coasts amount to a title deed, when the king explicitly says that he may grant him such lands, which were not included in the award, if it suited his royal interest, and he never did.

10 The Cano y Olmedilla map can be consulted in Oxford's Bodleian Library Map Room. It is also available at the Public Record Office, Kew Gardens, London, and at the Archivo General de Indias, Seville. If Patagonia was in Chilean jurisdiction in 1775, then it could not be in Buenos Aires' jurisdiction when the Viceroyalty was founded a year later. The only way to argue that it came under River Plate jurisdiction in 1776 is by proving that it belonged to Cuyo, which by virtue of the royal warrant that created the Viceroyalty was transferred from Chile to the River Plate. Yet the Argentine arguments nearly always tried to prove that it belonged to Buenos Aires. In contrast, some Chileans did make an effort to prove that it was not a part of Mendoza (in turn, part of Cuyo); they took the map as absolute evidence and felt that there was no need to prove that it was not a part of Buenos Aires. On the other hand, after the creation of the Viceroyalty many an expedition to Patagonia was put under the charge of Buenos Aires. Quesada mentions several well-documented cases which the Chileans do not refute. The Argentines argued that an order to explore, establish settlements, or expel foreigners is demonstrative of jurisdictional rights. Pragmatic considerations such as the fact that the king would do so with whatever capital had the necessary resources at a given time, and that he need not be consistent about an administrative practice which had nothing whatever to do with the establishment of sovereign rights, are never taken into account by either of the sides. Further support for the pragmatic (administrative) assumption lies in the fact that nearly all expeditions to the present-day Argentine province of Neuquén, in Andean Patagonia, were ordered by the central authority to be organised and depart from Santiago, which was geographically closer.

11 The Langara map can also be consulted at Oxford's Bodleian Library. It is bound together with the Cano y Olmedilla map, in a volume titled Los Dominios Españoles en América.

12 Although Spain had treaties with other European powers which established her rights to these regions, such compacts with respect to unsettled areas were not really taken seriously when an interest arose over them. France, for example, did not respect the terms of the Family Compact and established a garrison in the Falkland Islands (Port Louis). When Spain complained, she turned the settlement over to that power, but only after a Spanish payment of the considerable sum of £24,000. The lack of effective occupation by Spain was obviously a factor in this affair. Sebald's Islands were not res nullius previous to 1764? Maybe not juridically, but from any practical point of view they were: France behaved as if they were, and although Spain protested, she was willing to pay to make her protest valid. On the other hand, in the context of Spain's declining power successive treaties between England and Spain represented temporary balances of power which soon became obsolete, after which the treaties were violated, war ensued, and a new treaty with further concessions from Spain would follow. This happened throughout the eighteenth century. Meanwhile, English, Dutch and other non-Iberian cartographers usually place the southern limits of the Spanish empire in Chiloe Island on the Pacific coast, and north of the Rio Salado (present-day province of Buenos Aires) on the Atlantic. The entire Patagonian region usually appeared as res nullius and was called Terra Magellanica (see, for example, Bowen's well-known map of 1747, which can be consulted at the Bodleian Library, Oxford). The fact that in their treaties the British had theoretically committed themselves to refrain from settling these uncolonised territories did not affect these pragmatically minded cartographers. With respect to contemporary historical atlases, I have not come across one such work printed in the United States or non-Iberian Europe which does not consider the far south to have been res nullius until the mid-nineteenth century (take, for example, the easily accessible Hammond, Anchor or Penguin editions). Despite the treaties, these territories were indeed res nullius for all practical purposes, especially if we consider the additional conceptual difficulties involved in extrapolating Argentine and Chilean rights from theoretical Spanish rights. The idea that these subversive states should ‘inherit’ the theoretical (and themselves debatable) rights of Spain to, for example, Tierra del Fuego, was not to be easily accepted by the European powers, and I have not found one mid-nineteenth century English map which awards Tierra del Fuego to either Argentina or Chile. It was Indian territory which from a European point of view would belong to whichever power occupied it convincingly. Both Argentina and Chile did, and this was a mutual expansion and success.

13 In other realms the same cultural characteristics which appear to combine crudely materialistic behaviour with a deeply rooted morally oriented ideology would seem to lead to the impossibility of legally executing a convict and to the concomitant state-inspired slaughter of thousands. This digression is warranted in so far as the existence of parallels suggests that the territorial-loss perceptions vis-à-vis the territorial-gain realities that we are analysing are part of a complex cultural Gestalt. Naturally, these ideas can be put forth only as tentative hypotheses.

14 Donghi T. Halperín, Guerra y Finanzas en los Onígenes del Estado Argentina, 1791–1850 (Buenos Aires, 1982), ch. 1.

15 Menéndez R. F., Las Conquistas Territoriales Argentina; (Buenos Aires, 1982), introduction. Colonel Menéndez (who is not be be confused with other Argentine military men of the same surname) is a professional officer who dedicated himself to the study of history after retirement. In his book (which is a pioneer work) he presents a revision of Argentine history which is in direct contrast to the typical military and nationalist ideology. Paradoxically, it was published by Círculo Militar.

16 Oszlak O., La Formatión del Estado Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1982), pp. 21–5, 156.

17 A probabilistic urban sample of 1,000 cases was used, which included the Greater Buenos Aires area and seven provincial cities, representing 60 % of the country's urban population.

18 Same type of sample as above (note 17).

19 Moreno I. Ruiz (h), Historia de las Relaciones Exteriores Argentinas 1810–1955 (Buenos Aires, 1960), pp. 1516.

20 Scenna M. A., ‘Argentina-Chile: el secular diferendo’, part I, Todo es Historia, no. 43 (11 1970), p. 10.

21 Emma J., ‘Nos Ilenaron la represa’, Humor magazine, no. 95, p. 38.

22 Ferrari G., Esquema de Político Exterior Argentina (Buenos Aires, 1981), pp. 1828; Puig J. C., ‘La Política Exterior Argentina y sus tendencias profundas’, Revista Argentina de Relaciones Internationales, no. 1; Tulchin J. S., ‘Una perspectiva histórica de la política argentina frente al Brasil,’ Estudios Internationales, no. 52.

2 3Scenna M. A., ‘Argentina–Chile; el secular diferendo’, part III, Todo es Historia, 45 (01 1971), p. 89.

24 Probabilistic sample of 800 cases from the Greater Buenos Aires area for 1981; for 1982 and 1984, 1600 cases from the Greater Buenos Aires area and three of the largest provincial cities. The Greater Buenos Aires area includes the Federal Capital and the 19 highly urbanised districts that surround it.

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Journal of Latin American Studies
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