Antarctica birth tourism in the 70s
How the military dictatorships of Argentina and Chile tried to colonize one of the last unclaimed parts of the globe
Welcome avatar! Today we will be talking about a bizarre episode in South American history, on one of the most isolated places on earth: Antarctica. The white continent was part of the controversial battle between two countries that each wanted a slice. This culminated in forcing 11 couples to have children on Antarctica in an attempt to 'mark territory' through the number of inhabitants. Let’s dig in.
Antarctica: The Last Possible Land Grab
Isolated from the rest of the continents by a rough sea and the most inhospitable of climates, Antarctica was not part of any migratory currents and only received inhabitants in scientific and military missions financed by different countries.
Although there were some attempts to exploit its natural resources, none were successful and the countries with a presence on the continent, including Argentina, signed an Antarctic Treaty in 1959 freezing all sovereignty claims.
Regardless of the treaty, Argentina still mentions its Antarctica sectors as part of its territory, but the treaty prevents opening further discussion and Argentina does not have real jurisdiction in the area.
The map below is usually included in official country maps of Argentina (together with the Falklands, or Islas Malvinas in Spanish, but that is a story for another article all together):
Argentina’s Antarctic History
During the presidencies of Julio Roca (1880-1886 and 1898-1904), a coordinated policy was deployed with respect to the southern and Antarctic insular territory.
Among other measures, Roca organized an expedition to the South Atlantic during his first government. The San Juan de Salvamento Lighthouse was built during this expedition (also known as the Lighthouse at the End of the World), and the city of Ushuaia was founded in 1884.
In 1896, the Military Topographical Office drew up a strategic plan for the occupation and scientific study of the Georgia and South Shetland islands.
On February 22, 1904, the Argentine flag was hoisted for the first time in the South Orkney Islands archipelago, becoming the first and oldest permanent base in Antarctica.
Starting that day, Argentina would continuously have a presence on the white continent as it built out more bases and laid claims on further sections of the continent.
After Roca, Perón enters the scene
Antarctic sovereignty was always in the ideology of the Argentine military. Hernán Pujato was a military general during Perón’s first presidency, who founded the country's first bases directly on the white continent.
The scientific station of Esperanza Base was set up in 1953 in Punta Foca of Esperanza Bay on the Trinidad Peninsula, which is located on the Antarctic Strait on the Antarctic Peninsula in Argentine Antarctica.
In 1954, Pujato was the first to propose sending family groups to the site in order to populate the continent.
Several more exploration mission were carried out in the years before Perón’s last presidency in the 70’s, for example by Jorge Edgar Real.
The colonizing plan originally proposed by Pujato gained new impetus when Perón returned to Argentina, and after his death when the Military Junta overthrew his wife’s government in 1976. It became an important part of the actions of Argentina to strengthen the claim of sovereignty over Antarctica.
Official Antarctica Birth Tourism - planting flags
Between the 1970s and 1980s, many governments supported the idea that all unoccupied land belongs to whoever finds it. And it was then that different countries began to claim parts of Antarctica, with some cases of strange strategies, such as those planned by Chile and Argentina.
Keep in mind that during these years (1977-78), Chile and Argentina were in conflict over the Beagle Channel, and this Antarctica land grab was definitely no minor issue in that whole setting.
With the expansionist objective in mind of claiming land on Antarctica, both countries began an unusual race to populate the continent.
Argentina took the first step by sending a woman there when she was 7 months pregnant. And that Argentine woman - the wife of a military captain - gave birth to Emilio Marcos Palma on January 7, 1978 at the Esperanza Base, at the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Palma was effectively the first person in history to be born on the white continent, in addition to having been the southernmost birth.
The reasoning of the Argentine military leaders was that if they managed to register natural nationals on the white continent, that would give them a kind of preferential right over that land. This makes sense from most of the birth rights (jus soli) in the Americas, where citizenship is tied to the land you are born.
With that first Antarctic birth, an old aspiration of Pujato became reality:
“To see Antarctica occupied by men and women so that the two extreme regions of the Fatherland would be truly united.”1
Pinochet does not want Chile to be left behind
Apparently Chile thought along the same lines, because a year later it sent a Chilean couple to Antarctica to raise a family there.
On November 21, 1984, Juan Pablo Camacho Martino was born at the Frei Montalva base and became the first Chilean born on Antarctic soil. But, in addition, since the child was conceived there, Chile considered that it had an even stronger rights over that area of Antarctica.
The baby war intensifies
It was then that Argentina added another Antarctic baby to its balance sheet. And then Chile tied the score with another newborn. Argentina countered with a new birth, with Chile striking back to reclaim the balance with another Chilean birth.
This continued for several years until they reached a count of 11 babies born on Antarctica.
All participating members of this procreation competition in Antarctica survived, which, as expected, ended without winners or losers.
Up until today, the soil of the frozen continent continues without official owners, although it is being monitored with the presence of scientists from Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom.
Argentina still flag planting - and winning?
In November 2020, Argentina created a new Law that incorporates Antarctica and other maritime territories to the traditional map, effectively turning Argentina into a bicontinental country.
It’s typical viveza criolla as the Argentines would call it, that official government websites just make it appear as if the UN recognizes Argentine Antarctica (which it doesn’t), blurring the lines between what is recognized as Argentine waters, and Argentine Antarctica.
One thing is certain: the history of birth tourism and official human presence in the cold territory of the South is far from complete.
With the current state of geopolitical affairs, we could well see additional land grab attempts in the future as more regions of Antarctica are uncovered.
See you in the jungle, frens!
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