Another Falklands showdown only this time Thatcher and Reagan are not around
News From Around the World
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
UNITED NATIONS — It’s diplomatic déjà vu all over again. The long forgotten Falkland Islands, deep in the South Atlantic, have again regained the spotlight as Argentina presses its political case at the United Nations reviving its perennial political dispute with Britain. Argentina’s Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana met with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to press for UN political involvement in the case. The Minister later told correspondents that the islands, which it calls Las Malvinas, are an integral part of Argentine territory. Tensions rose recently when British companies started drilling for oil in the nearby waters.
Claiming sovereignty, Argentina’s military government invaded the Falklands in 1982 prompting a powerful military response by Britain. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, showing both leadership and iron resolve to safeguard the tiny British territory, boldly launched a naval task force which sailed 8,000 miles into the South Atlantic to recapture the islands from the Argentine occupiers. At the time I recall writing a column, “The Empire Strikes Back.”
Now a quarter century later, the Falkland/Malvinas issue is again ricocheting round the halls of the UN. The left-wing Argentine government is mired in a deep economic crisis. President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, playing on the traditional Peronist populism and buffo nationalism, has decided to turn up the political heat on a long simmering Anglo/ Argentine dispute. Senora Kirchner, whose government was pounded by the opposition in legislative elections last year, needs a nationalist rallying point. The Falklands/ Malvinas provide such an issue.
Though 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, the Falklands are home to only 3,000 people who overwhelmingly wish to remain British. The windswept islands are best known for their sheep and penguins. At issue is oil, and specifically that United Kingdom firms have sent rigs to start exploring for petroleum. This makes the Malvinas far more interesting to an Argentine government in fiscal and economic shambles. A bountiful and beautiful country, Argentina sadly has often had to endure the bane of bad government.
Minister Taiana stressed that Argentina was determined to exert sovereignty over the islands “because they are part of the Argentine territory” even if a majority of inhabitants there wanted to remain British.
In cases like this I always advise, “look at the other guy’s map.” In other words, Argentine maps, both official and even tourist, show the islands as Las Malvinas, and the Buenos Aires government treats the region as its sovereign territory much as Mainland Chinese maps show Taiwan as a part of the People’s Republic of China. Gibraltar also comes to mind.
In a recent meeting of Latin American and Caribbean states, all thirty-two members passed a resolution supporting the Argentine claim to the Falklands and calling on Britain not to drill for oil in the nearby waters. Though Venezuela’s left-wing dictator Hugo Chavez vocally backed the Argentine claim as did Brazil’s Lula, surprisingly so too did English speaking commonwealth countries such as Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad. Moreover the countries meeting in Mexico decided to form a hemispheric bloc without the participation of the United States or Canada, a clear sign of Washington’s slipping regional standing.
The conference “reaffirmed their backing for the Argentine Republic’s legitimate rights in its sovereignty dispute with the United Kingdom” over the islands. Importantly the meeting stressed dialogue and negotiation over the Falkland’s future, adding the two countries should resume talks “in order to find a just, peaceful and definitive solution” to the dispute.
Nobody except hard-line crazies in Caracas or Havana would wish to see a military showdown. The Obama Administration has stressed neutrality in the dispute between both countries; in 1982 during the Falkland War, Ronald Reagan backed Britain to the ire of many in Latin America.
The respected English-language Buenos Aires Herald reported, “Likewise, the U.S., whose intelligence services proved critical to British military success during the short but bloody 1982 war over the Islands possession, offered Britain only tepid support. The State Department has said that it took no position on the sovereignty claims of either country.”
Though the Falkland/Malvinas case has seen quickly-forgotten resolutions in the UN General Assembly, it’s highly unlikely the issue will come before the Security Council as the United Kingdom’s deft diplomacy would likely block it or if it ever got so far, has a veto and would unabashedly use it. While Argentina has renounced the use of force in the current crisis, there’s the danger that Hugo Chavez’s political alchemy could manipulate Christina Fernandez into an incremental confrontation with Britain.
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