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  • Stamps of South American Antarctica, the South Atlantic Islands, and Popular Culture
  • Jack Child

This article is based on the keynote address by the author at the annual Symposium of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, DC, September 30, 2010.

In an earlier Studies in Latin American Popular Culture article, “Popular Culture in the Perón Years: A Philatelic Approach” (vol. 28, 2008), we argued that postage stamps can be considered legitimate subjects of popular culture scholarship. This article applies that concept to the stamps of South American Antarctica (involving mainly Argentina, Chile, and the United Kingdom, but also Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, and Ecuador), and the islands of the South Atlantic, mainly the Malvinas/Falklands and South Georgia Islands, and the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.


Exploratory drilling for oil in 2010 by British firms some 150 kilometers north of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas to the Argentines) has placed new strains on the relations between the United Kingdom and Argentina over competing claims to the Islands and similarly competing claims to large areas of Antarctica. Claims to also competing large areas of the submerged continental platform are exacerbating and complicating the situation.

The differences between these two countries (plus Chile) are reflected in the stamps focusing on this area and the national claims of sovereignty; these stamps can be considered icons of popular culture. The claims in a sense reflect the relationship between the “three South Americas”: mainland, Antarctica, and the South Atlantic Islands in between.

This article will use relevant stamps and maps as cultural objects to examine three factors involved, especially for the Argentines: different perspectives, propinquity (the notion that proximity to a disputed area conveys certain rights), and lastly the way geopolitical thinking in South America has affected these issues.

The vision of Antarctica held by Northern Hemisphere European nations, Japan, China, Korea, and the United States is that the frozen continent [End Page 4] is a distant and exotic place, difficult to reach, and in some ways more like a planet than a piece of the Earth. However, for New Zealand, Australia, and the nations of South America’s Southern Cone, and especially Argentina and Chile, Antarctica is close (approximately one thousand kilometers from Cape Horn Island to the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It is linked to their continental homeland by geography, geopolitics, possible resource exploitation, nationalism, propinquity, search and rescue, tourism, science (especially ozone depletion concerns), and presence. As one initial and rough measure of these different perspectives, a recent search on the web for items dealing with Antarctica in a one-month period resulted in the following: US-New York Times: 6; US-Washington Post: 6; Chile: Mercurio: 9; Argentina: Nación: 27. This difference of perception is at least partially molded not just by propinquity (special rights because of closeness) but by geopolitical thinking, especially in Argentina and Chile, and Brazil to a lesser degree.

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Figure 1.

The Far, Far South.

[End Page 5]

Geopolitical Thinking in South America

Geopolitical thinking in South America was especially influential and prolific during the long periods of military governments in that area from the 1960s to the early 1980s. Geopolitical and strategic thinking strongly influence each other, so it should not be surprising that both foreign and domestic policy should be significantly informed by geopolitical thinking during periods when the military is in power. The Southern Cone military governments who believed in the National Security State, the organic theory of the nation-state, and in the need for a state to have space to live and grow depended for much of their ideological framework on various aspects of geopolitical thought.2

But it would be a mistake to think of South American geopolitical thinking as thriving and influential only during periods of military dictatorship. For many decades geopolitical ideas had been taught in schools using curricula prescribed (and enforced) by a ministry of education in a highly centralized arrangement. These geopolitical ideas were linked in these schools, and in the media, to patriotism, history, and national identity. If a country had lost territory in the past to another nation (and many South...


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