Skip to comments.Argentina in new battle over the Falklands
Posted on 07/05/2006 2:32:24 PM PDT by Tai_Chung
There are three perennial passions in Argentina: soccer, the tango and the country's claim to Britain's South Atlantic outpost, the Falkland Islands. Even the build-up to Argentina's World Cup game against Germany last Friday failed to entirely deflect attention from what in the last few months has become the hot political issue. In the latest of a series of provocative moves -- provocative, at least, when seen from the Falklands and Britain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs -- the Argentine parliament last Thursday established a commission to investigate how to win control of the islands Argentines refer to as the Malvinas.
In Britain, the issue is regarded today mainly as historical. Former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Rex Hunt, the Falklands governor when the Argentines invaded the islands in 1982, joined 293 others in London on June 13 to mark Liberation Day. Plans are being prepared at the UK's Ministry of Defense and other government departments for a march-past by veterans next year, the 25th anniversary of the war.
But for Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, a Peronist with left-wing leanings, the issue is more than just historical. He has embarked on a renewed push for the islands and enlisted the support of other left-leaning leaders, from Cuban President Fidel Castro to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. For Kirchner it is personal as well as political. He was born in, and became mayor of, the southern Patagonian port of Rio Gallegos, a city that sits directly across from the Falklands and from where Argentine troops embarked for their failed invasion.
"Kirchner views the Malvinas question with a Patagonian eye, a view hardened by the geographic proximity and the war," according to Rosendo Fraga, a Buenos Aires-based political analyst.
"I don't think it was Kirchner's original intention but the sovereignty issue has provided a rallying point to gather left-leaning Latin American governments into an anti-colonial bloc," Fraga said.
British government officials are privately dismissive, seeing the sudden renewed interest in the islands as little more than a piece of political cynicism, motivated by Kirchner's drive for re-election next year. One of the officials said yesterday that about 200 diplomats, journalists, ex-combatants and legislators took part in last Thursday's commission launch "but it contained few surprises, just the usual rhetoric from firebrands about the islands, depicting the UK as the Evil One."
The British government, while far from alarmed, is expecting the rumbling to continue and become louder as the election draws closer.
Kirchner's approach represents a marked change in the conciliatory, passive approach that Argentina has been more or less pursuing since the fall of the late dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri in the aftermath of the war.
The strategy of trying to woo the islanders reached its height under the presidency of Kirchner's predecessor, Carlos Menem: Argentines still cringe over his decision to mail islanders, as a Christmas present, copies of Winnie the Pooh.
Cooperation between Argentina, Britain and the Falklands has broken down in various areas: fishing agreements, oil exploration, joint scientific cruises and air links between the Falklands and Latin America.
Kirchner succinctly summed up the new approach on April 2 when he spoke at the annual remembrance service for the dead of the 1982 war: "The Malvinas must be a national objective of all Argentines, and with dialogue, diplomacy and peace we must recover them for our homeland. But dialogue, diplomacy and peace do not mean we have to live with our head bowed."
The new mood is reflected in the streets. The Argentine war cry Las Malvinas son Argentinas (the Falklands are Argentine) has resurfaced in graffiti and posters round Buenos Aires. The Malvinas are a matter of wounded pride, not over the calamitous end of the war, which is universally dismissed as the last lunatic act of a floundering dictatorship, but over the original British occupation of the islands in 1833.
The president is not advocating another bout of war but has ordered his country's diplomats to pursue the policy more aggressively. Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana, met UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on June 14 to ask him to intervene to persuade Britain to set out the government's position clearly in a long statement on June 14 to a special UN committee on independence from colonialism.
Taiana claimed the Malvinas had been inhabited by Argentine settlers until they were replaced in 1833 by force with a population of British origin.
He said Argentina had continuously sought an atmosphere favorable to the resumption of negotiations with Britain over sovereignty but had been rebuffed. Last year alone, he said, Argentina had submitted 15 notes of protest to the UK rejecting what it described as illegitimate acts in the Malvinas, including surveying for hydrocarbons and the granting of licences for the exploration and exploitation of minerals.
"These British unilateral acts also refer to the continued presence and recent upgrading of the British military base in the Malvinas islands, whose operating capacity extends beyond the area illegitimately occupied by the United Kingdom," Taiana said.
He blamed Britain for the failure to establish direct scheduled air services between the island and the Argentine mainland, saying Buenos Aires was still awaiting a reply to an Argentine proposal suggested three years ago.
The most recent point of contention is a British unilateral decision, in an apparent contravention of a joint agreement on conservation of fishing stocks, to extend fishing licences from one year to 25, he said.
Nicholas Winterton, the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Falklands, who attended the June 13 reception in London, is unimpressed by the new Argentine push.
"Argentina got a bloody nose 25 years ago and similarly I would advise them not to try again," he said.
Britain deploys 1,200 military personnel to protect the estimated 2,600 islanders, at a cost of ?110 million (US$203.4 million) a year. Is it worth it? Winterton said it was.
He said that Argentina was historically wrong in claiming the Falklands, the islanders had a right to decide their own future, the islands were important strategically, standing at the gateway to Antarctica and Britain owed them a debt for their participation in both world wars.
"This outweighs the cost," he said.
Britain's Ministry of Foreign Affairs concurs.
A spokesman said: "The UK will not negotiate on sovereignty unless and until the islanders wish it."
And the Kelpers, as the islanders are often known, do not wish it. Robert Rowlands, who lives in the Falklands capital Port Stanley, said discussion of sovereignty will happen "only when the islanders are ready" and that would be "never."
The islanders said they were unconcerned about the political moves in Argentina.
"We've been hearing these sorts of noises since I was a child," said Sue Buckett, 49, whose family settled in the Falklands in 1833.
They complain about bullying tactics by Argentina. Jan Cheek, a fishing company owner whose squid trawler was detained earlier this year after allegedly entering Argentine waters, said: "We'd be happy to have neighborly relations, but their claims get in the way of that."
Argentine government officials dismiss the British government's claim that Kirchner is using the Malvinas to win re-election, insisting it has been on his agenda before and since the last election.
The US will back the UK fully,and I suspect if the Argies keep pressing this issue they will get another round of arse kickings.
LAS MALVINAS SON ARGENTINAS! Jeanne Kirkpatrick was right on this one.
How does he figure that the US bailed them out?
I don't recall any US ships or planes joining the task
force nore were any US troops involved. It was Royal Marines, the Paras, and the RN.
There is not ONE Argentine who lives there.
Another left wing government looking for a beatdown.
My money's on the UK in this battle.
And besides, it's British territory anyway.
I believe he was addressing a hypothetical future scenario.
Aren't there hydrocarbon deposits in the continental shelf around the Falklands?
sad thing is, for domestic political purposes of distracting a population from gross mis-governance and general incompetence and corruption, wag the dog WORKS as often as not. get these people worried about 2 lumps of land in the south atlantic, not about unemployement, devaluation and forced conversion of dollars a few years ago, kleptocratic governing institutions, etc.
It takes a special kind of silliness to want to turn the clock back to 1830.
The irony is that prior to the war, Britain was trying to get rid of the islands, they were trying to knit relations between the islanders and South America in general, to slowly and smoothly create a situation in which they could back out of the picture. Remember, Britain has steadily gotten rid of her overseas possessions.
But the Argentine generals found themselves at the edge of being overthrown, and seized upon a war with Britain as a way of rallying the people behind them. It didn't work, and they were overthrown when they were defeated.
Which is why Argentina owes a debt of gratitude to Margaret Thatcher; it is thanks to her that Argentina is a democracy. It is thanks to her that Kirchner could even run for president and be elected. And it is thanks to the generals that Britain's attempt to slowly divest itself of the Falklands was stopped in its tracks. Fat chance Argentina will ever get its hands on the islands now. They can thank their generals for that.
True. But the task would have been much longer and bloodier were it not for US intelligence assets, especially spy satellite coverage.
That "fictional" setting is pretty much what would have happened in 1982, had the French not given the Brits the information they needed to defeat the Argentine's Exocet missiles. Regardless, the Brits were very lucky and still had a hard time with things.
The whole Falklands/Malvinas question is entirely ludicrous. Both General Galtieri and Thatcher decided to fight purely for domestic political reasons -- the islands are otherwise completely worthless.
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