SANTIAGO – Chile and the other countries with potential sovereignty claims in Antarctica have set aside, for the moment, their territorial aspirations there to focus on scientific research and protecting the environment on the frozen continent.
“Antarctica is an integral part of our territory insofar as we are one of the countries claiming sovereignty,” acknowledged Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz on Monday after the opening in Santiago of the 39th Consultative Meeting of the Antarctica Treaty.
“But (this) is perfectly compatible with the commitments assumed by the Treaty’s signatory countries, now 55 years ago,” he said in response to a question from EFE.
Currently, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, Norway, New Zealand and the United Kingdom maintain territorial claims on parts of Antarctica. These seven nations have set up observation and scientific bases within the territories they claim.
“Chile is not giving up its sovereignty claim (in the Antarctic Peninsula), and neither are the others, but at the same time we have decided to leave that issue frozen to focus on ... scientific research and environmental protection,” said Chile’s chief diplomat.
The Chilean foreign minister, the host of the meeting that will run until June 2, reiterated that Chile is a party to the moratorium on mining and resource extraction in Antarctica.
“Chile has an infrastructure that it places at the disposition of the other countries so as not to have to reproduce more (research) stations that, in the end, will have an environmental impact,” he said.
Thus, Chile is a gateway to Antarctica via the southern town of Punta Arenas, just two hours by airplane from the southern polar continent.
In 2019, Punta Arenas will be the site of the $40 million International Antarctic Center, with “offices, laboratories and infrastructure that all countries who want to get to Antarctica will be able to use,” he said, making it unnecessary to build new bases and scientific installations there.
The meeting is the main Antarctic forum, attracting some 400 representatives from around the world for 10 days of information exchange, planning, decision-making and crafting of resolutions supporting the Treaty’s objectives.