Thursday, April 7, 2011

The South Atlantic

The islands out there in the South Atlantic have been in the headlines rather more frequently as of late. Of course the subject is one that never really goes away in Argentina but political cynicism suggests that the government’s choosing to harp on about it right now might have something to do with the up-coming national elections in October.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner definitely portrays herself as a president who is capable of ‘getting back what is rightfully Argentine’ and her publicly solid stance will no doubt secure her some extra votes come Election day. And it is clear that the more time she spends rallying the people with patriotic promises, the less time she spends addressing the real problems her government ought to be facing up to; potential vote losing topics like increasing inflation and troubling insecurity.

This 2 April, a national holiday in Argentina to commemorate the War Fallen and Veterans of the 1982 military conflict, not only saw the standard protests outside the British Embassy in Buenos Aires and parades throughout the country, but also various political announcements.

After screaming to a crowd in Rio Gallegos that the South Atlantic Islands “will be forever Argentine and this government will never yield our claim,” President Kirchner went on to say that “Argentina will continue to seek to resolve the issue in abidance with the UN,” stating that her country “only participates in peace missions,” while the UK sorts out its conflicts by “dropping bombs on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya.”

Argentine map of the Islands
Of course the arguments about who is abiding by the UN and whether the Islands should remain British or become Argentine have been going on for years with both sides delving into the history books to defend their claims, while accusing one another of improper or counter-productive behaviour.

A recent exchange of articles has taken place between London authors Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, and Andrés Cisneros, Argentina’s Deputy Foreign Minister during the 1990s Menem government.

In their first article ‘Unilateral Facts’ Pepper and Pascoe discuss Argentina’s recent accusations that the UK is acting ‘unilaterally’ and is ‘in breach of UN Resolution 31/49.’

The UN Resolution, which was agreed in December 1976, states that ‘each side should refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications.’ Pepper and Pascoe write that any talk about the Resolution post the 1982 War is absurd and suggest that the Argentine government is acting ludicrously and hypocritically in doing so now.

Cisneros responds in The Buenos Aires Herald with his article, ‘Unilateral Facts Indeed’ by emphasizing that the debate should go back a lot further than the UN Resolution and 1982 War and take into consideration the 19th Century ‘when London abused force by invading the islands and threatening with a display of weaponry all the Argentine inhabitants,’ - a response which prompted Pepper to argue about what is the ‘real history’ of the islands in ‘Unilateral Facts II’. All articles are very much worth the read.

The fact is most Argentines are firm in their belief that the UK is illegally occupying Argentine territory – and this popular viewpoint is as open to exploitation today as it was during the 1982 invasion. (NB ‘invasion’ is not a word Argentines will employ with respect to the incident citing the example that if someone was squatting in your property, you wouldn’t be labelled an invader if you went there to kick them out). 

And with the recent successful offshore oil explorations in South Atlantic waters, coupled with the October elections, the subject of the Islands' sovereignty is again being raised by the Argentine government.

This week the Argentine ambassador to the UN, Jorge Argüello has given a conference with the launch of 'It takes two to Tango.' Its idea is the promotion of a world-wide discussion on the whole issue.

The cenotaph at Plaza San Martín
And the announcement was made that the country is set to change its protocol for visiting officials by obligating them to pay homage at the cenotaph in Buenos Aires which lists the names of the 1982 War’s fallen soldiers.

Cristina Kirchner also announced that at as of 2012 a letter sent from the Islands by volunteer soldier Julio Cao will be read to all children in every school in Argentina. Shortly after joining the Military Junta’s campaign, Cao, a primary school teacher, sent the letter to his pupils to express his feelings about defending ‘the Argentine flag.’

Whether you believe these acts are pure politics or true patriotic gestures, the fact is the issue is not likely to go away soon but while the UK and Argentina quibble about the future, the Islands’ residents will continue to get on with the task of living.

“We are happy with the status quo, and do not like being told by others what to do,” said the Islands’ Legislative Assembly Member Emma Edwards during a UN seminar last year. “We are currently not ready for independence, but we do express our right of self-determination with almost all of the people on the Islands wishing to remain and enjoy our British Overseas Territory status.”


  1. Argentine Foreign Affairs Minister Hector Timerman hand-delivered a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon yesterday reiterating Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the Islands. Timerman said “Argentine democratic governments have always searched for a peaceful solution to the conflict and it is the United Kingdom that systematically refuses to address the issue.”

  2. I think they were probably encouraged by Hillary Clinton calling them the Malvinas fairly recently as well.

  3. and I notice that you skillfully manage to avoid calling them that or the Falklands. A career in diplmacy awaits!

  4. Some time ago, on this same forum there was a quotation from Daily Telegraph in London, in which the author stated that the British government follows the line of Simon Bolivar: self determination of nations. These islands may be closer to Argentina than the UK, but the residents are not Argentinians nor do they seem to desire to become that.