New Internationalist

‘The islands belong to Argentina, but…’

give way sign in Falklands-Malvinas
A traffic sign in the Falklands-Malvinas. Neither the British nor the Argentinian government wants to cede on the islands’ sovereignty. Victor under a CC Licence

Miriam is the wife of a military man and she is adamant.

‘She should just leave it,’ she says. I’m suprised. Of all the people I’ve spoken to, I would have expected Miriam to be most positive about attempts by President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to reclaim the islands for Argentina, 30 years after the country’s disastrous defeat in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas war with Britain.

Miriam was herself in the military at the time. But she is unimpressed by the President’s strident and emphatically public attempts to shame Britain into opening negotiations with Argentina over sovereignty of the islands.

‘It’s all for show,’ Miriam says. ‘It’s to distract attention from the things she is doing within the country.’

It should be said at this point that Miriam is no fan of the President, or la mujer – the woman – as she calls her. And this probably colours her view. The Clarin newspaper group that dominates the country’s media takes a similar view on the underlying motives for the relaunched Malvinas campaign.

But even among those generally in favour with the government – or at least strongly opposed to the conservative forces associated with the Clarin group, I’ve encountered little actual enthusiasm for Cristina’s position and that being expressed by her controversial foreign minister Héctor Timerman.

There is, rather, a sense that the situation needs to be resolved at some point, but that there are other, more pressing issues at home – rising food prices and 25 per-cent inflation, a rapid slowdown in economic growth, poverty, unemployment, crime and corruption.

On the international stage, a recently drawn-up memorandum of understanding with Iran to work together to investigate a 1994 terrorist bomb attack at a Jewish social centre in Buenos Aires that claimed 85 lives, has sparked internal as well as external ructions. The country’s large Jewish community is strongly against it, as are members of the Peronist dissident party.

But when it comes to the Malvinas, one thing seems to unite all – the fundamental credo:  ‘The islands belong to Argentina, of course.’ Regardless, it seems, of politics, social background, gender or race.

Just as Britain uses history to back its claim, so does Argentina. Just different bits of history. Neither seem interested in finding out who might have been the islands’ original Amerindian inhabitants.

But many of the Argentinians I have spoken with while researching a forthcoming issue of New Internationalist, recognize that the issue is more complex than official rhetoric would have people think.

The fact that the islands’ 3,000 inhabitants – the so called ‘kelpers’ – see themselves as British and want to remain so, somewhat complicates the official Argentine line that it’s engaged in a liberation struggle against British colonialism.

It throws up plenty of contradictions. So Fernando Orchanis, from the progressive Frente Popular Dario Sandillan, says: ‘We are not suggesting that the inhabitants should change culture or speak Spanish. As an organization we believe in the rights to self-determination. But the islands are Argentinian.’

Gaston Chillier, of the leading human rights organization CELS, makes clear he is not an expert in the area. While stating that the islands are Argentinian, he also acknowledges that the issue is ‘complicated’ and that the islanders have their human rights too. Leading economist Arnaldo Bocca sees the issue as primarily one of the quest for natural resources and economic sovereignty. ‘It’s very complex but it needs to be discussed and resolved. Perhaps the Hong Kong model might provide a solution?’

Currently, proper discussion does not seem to be on the agenda. Britain refuses to discuss sovereignty with Argentina. The government of Argentina, according to the islanders, will not speak to them.

With a British-orchestrated referendum of islanders due in mid-March, both Britain and Argentina have been busy mustering international support for their cause. Britain can count on the Commonwealth; Argentina has the backing of most of its Latin American neighbours and several friendly African states.

This week, US spokesperson John Kerry announced that while his country recognized the  British administration of the islands, it remained neutral on the issue of sovereignty.

In Argentina the US is not seen as neutral. US oil companies are involved with Britain in exploration for oil around the islands. The US is also seen as being keen to maintain, via Britain, a strategic military foothold in the South Atlantic.

Argentinian reports that Britain has been packing the island with military personnel raise questions of what impact this is likely to have on the referendum, in which an overwhelmingly majority is expected to vote in favour of remaining part of Britian. As one Argentinean friend put it: ‘The fact is, the kelpers don’t really want anything to do with us and our culture.’

Twenty-three-year-old student Diego Martinez does not see why Britain should want to return the islands. ‘There was a war. Lots of people died. Can you expect the winners, 30 years later, to just hand back the islands and say – there you are?’

Meanwhile, increased British military presence and oil exploration is seen by Argentinian authorities as a provocation to Argentina, which is trying to increase its energy sources – and is even looking into the possibility of ‘fracking’ with US oil giant Chevron. There were also reports this week in the Argentine media that Britain was sending nuclear weapons to the area – which is meant to be nuclear free.

In Britain, a recent Sunday Times article suggested that Argentina’s accord with Iran was to do with collaborating on the development of long-range missiles to reach the Falklands/Malvinas. The story is dismissed by the Buenos Aires Herald as ‘dubious’ – but it will have ticked at least two boxes for British paranoia.

Maybe Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is not the only one spinning this issue for political gain.

Plus ça change?

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  1. #1 Matt 27 Feb 13

    Stop using Goebbels....repiting a lie until it becomes true....Argentina doesn't have the purchasing power of the UK, but it has less unemployment, less debt, it doesn't have fiscal deficit, etc....
    So CFK is not trying to distract the argentinians from anything...in fact The UK has more reasons to distract the british than argentina...

  2. #2 nigelpwsmith 27 Feb 13

    Your article has fallen for some of the propaganda being spread by the Argentine government. The Referendum was not orchestrated by the British government. It was organised by the Falkland Islands government in consultation with the Islanders and is supported by the British government as an exercise of the Islander's rights of Self-Determination, inherent under Article 1.2 of the United Nations charter. It is demonstrating the wishes of the Islanders, whom Argentina would seek to ignore on the grounds that to give them any dialogue whatsoever, would recognise these people's rights to determine their own future.

    Argentina has engaged in spreading false history to their own people since the 1940s, with the purpose of indoctrinating them to make them unconditionally believe that the Falklands belongs to Argentina. This is despite the fact that there are documents in the Argentine National Archives which prove categorically that their government has been lying to the public & the rest of the world.

    For instance, the Argentine government has repeatedly stated that ALL Argentines were forced to leave the Falklands in 1833. This is untrue. José María Pinedo prepared a report (in Spanish) for his courts martial by the United Provinces government, to detail exactly what happened. His report states that 22 civilians remained on the Islands and 12 of these were Argentine (United Provinces). The Argentine goverment has known this all along, but conveniently disregards it when spreading their lies.

    Just recently, articles appeared in Argentina which confirmed that there were Argentines on the Islands after the United Provinces garrison left. The Argentine government has been forced to amend their propaganda to remove any reference to the forced removal of 'ALL' Argentines in 1833 in any of their promotional leaflets.

    This is not all, the Argentine government has been repeatedly lying to the United Nations in furtherance of their claim. This misleading information has been documented:~
    (English) http://www.falklandshistory.org/false-falklands-history.pdf
    (Spanish) http://www.falklandshistory.org/historia-falsa.pdf

    The Argentine government is using the Falklands issue as a diversion from economic failure at home. The IMF is not happy with the official inflation statistics & this could mean that Argentina will be denied access to much needed investment for any recovery. Moreover, a larger number of Argentines are concerned at the diminishing value of the Pesos, the unemployment, the crime & the enrichment of politicians and either seeking to leave Argentina, or consider a change in government.

    Oil exploration has produced interesting results & whilst they have yet to strike a major oil find, it won't be long before they do, given that they've already found extractable quantities. United States oil companies are investing heavily in this oil exploration/extraction and this will make it increasingly difficult for the Argentine government to take any action, legal or militarily, to disrupt the Falklands oil business. It is certain that the Falkland Islanders will become extremely wealthy, whilst ordinary Argentines look on with envy.

    The missed opportunity over the passed 30 years has been the Argentine governments propensity to use bullying tactics to force the Islanders to bow to Buenos Aires will. Argentina clearly does not understand the British. Britain did not submit to Hitler's bullying in 1940, nor did we to Galtieri in 1982.

    What Argentina should have done all along, was to court the Islanders by offering investment to develop the Islands, to be seen as a willing business partner, instead of someone seeking to 'rape' the Islands & steal them for themselves. If Manuel Moreno had proposed a joint venture with the British back in 1833, that Argentina would invest heavily in the Islands, then as Samuel Fisher Lafone, of Montevideo did, they would have become the forefathers of the Islands, as Lafone did when his business became the Royal Falkland Land, Cattle, Seal and Whale Fishery Company in 1851 and later the Falkland Islands Company of today.

    All along, Argentina has sought to aggressively bully the Islanders, just as they bullied the Amerindians in Patagonia, the Chileans, the Uruguayans and others. It seems to be a national trait that they would rather fight to steal something, than to work to build something instead. The Falkland Islands will never be Argentine, so long as Argentines bully the Islanders.

  3. #3 Santiago Oyarzabal 27 Feb 13

    This article lacks of any substantial research on the subject and is based on non trusty and completely irrelevant sources, also taking newspapers as reflecting the core of the discussions over the islands.
    I expected much more of a New Internationalist article, and the approach to the subject makes me doubt of the magazine's take in other matters where I thought NI offered more trusty and research-based view that was really placing a new agenda, other than the offered by big media corporations.

  4. #4 Rufus 27 Feb 13

    There seem to be a few misconceptions in your article, if I may:

    Britain doesn't refuse to discuss soverignty with Argentina, Britain is obliged to only discuss soverignty with Argentina only with the express permission of the Falkland Islanders (which isn't likely to happen) or their presence (which would appear to be unacceptable to Argentina, going by Hector Timmerman's no-show for the London meeting).

    The referendum wasn't orchestrated by Britain at all, the UK Electoral Commission has helped with the exact wording of the question (with a population of under 3,000 you can't expect that many constitutional lawyers) but the referendum is the idea of, and for the most part the work of the Falkland Islanders.

    The British military personnel that are supposedly being packed onto the islands (which oddly enough are probably of a similar number to those returning home) won't have any influence on the referendum given that they don't have a vote in it.

    Argentina can't have it both ways with respect to the British military presence. After 1982 there were numerous accusations that the British left the Falkland Islands relatively undefended to provoke an invasion from Argentina. How then can a garrison big enough to defend against a repeat performance be viewed as provocative?

    Concerns about Argentina's new accord with Iran (who are developing long range missiles) might seem to be paranoid, but bear in mind that the Argentine Foriegn Relations Secretary (Eduardo Zuain) who this week accused the UK of having nuclear weapons on the Falklands, without a shred of evidence (this followed on from Hector Timmerman's duplicate performance, complete with powerpoint presentation of file photos to the same UN committee last February). This is especially laughable as the UK nuclear deterrent consists of submarine launched missiles with a range only fractionally less than the distance between London and Buenos Aires.

    The fact of the matter is that whichever way you cut it, the Falkland Islands belong to the Falkland Islanders and will be protected by the British for as long as they desire it. Argentina doesn't get a say

  5. #5 BritBob 27 Feb 13

    Britain claimed the Falklands in 1765 - Argentina did not inherit them from Spain. Settlements came and went and for long periods the islands were uninhabited. Vernet the Argentine hero was given permission from Britain to set up a seal business on the islands but he was later made governor by the Argentine's - an illegal act. In 1833 the British asked Vernet's Argentine garrison to leave the islands but the majority of settlers chose to stay. Only 5 returned to 'today's Argentina' and they had only been on the islands a few weeks - this is the basis of Argentina's claim.
    Argentina terminated peaceful sovereignty negotiations with the UK under UN resolution 2065 in April 1982 and instead chose to settle its claims of sovereignty by its illegal invasion and unlawful disregard to UN resolution 502. Ban Ki-Moon confirmed on 12th November 2012 that the UK was not in breach of any 'relevant' UN resolutions over the Falklands and that the 3,000 Falkland Islanders DO have the right to self determination. Argentina's claims to the Falklands are based on proximity only and if they had a 'case' they would take it to the Courts of International Justice and seek a judgement.

  6. #6 DanRowe88 27 Feb 13

    Some of the readers seem to have failed to understand the difference between a news article and a blog post! @ Santiago Oyarzabal, maybe learn the difference between the two before throwing your toys out of the pram.

  7. #7 miguel webb 27 Feb 13

    We argentines are no saints as british colonial rule was not precisely a pacific altruistic enterprise. We colonized Patagonia with the same ruthless methods that Britts took over India and Africa. There is no place for morals in the conquest of territory. To discuss what happened 133 years later is pure waste of time or a distraction of public stupidity (both nations).
    I agree with the article: we argentines beleive the ’Malvinas son argentinas’ as most britts sing God Save the Queen- but we wouldn´t bet our shirts on that.
    Meanwhile: posession is 9/10 ths of the law

  8. #9 Tom Wilde 01 Mar 13

    A pretty good article, but though I'm no expert I did spot one error.

    You say ’Neither seem interested in finding out who might have been the islands’ original Amerindian inhabitants.’ but there is a reason for this. The reason is that almost no evidence has ever been found of any Amerindian presence in the Islands. When I say ’almost no’, the total evidence that I've heard of is (a) the remains of a wooden canoe - but it could have been brought there by the tides and (b) some have speculated that the ancestors of the warrah (aka Falkland Islands wolf, now extinct) might have been brought to the Islands by Amerindians. However, the warrah seems to have been significantly different from its mainland South American counterparts, and evolution takes time, so the warrah probably arrived a very long time ago, perhaps before humans reached South America at all.

    There were certainly no human inhabitants when the islands were discovered by European sailors. After initial colonisation by the French, Spanish and British, the islands were uninhabited again by the early 19th century. A small colony was started by businessman Louis Vernet with both Argentine and British permission in the late 1820s. The colonists chose to remain on the islands (with only 4 exceptions) when the British took control in 1833. Therefore the current population effectively are the 'original inhabitants'.

    However, fascinating though history always is, I'd say that it is largely irrelevant anyway. The people living today clearly have been there for many generations. Anywhere else in the world, this would be sufficient for their rights to be recognized. If we ever go back to deciding who owns which bit of the globe on the basis of centuries-old history rather than on the choices of the people living there today, we'll all be in a heck of a lot of trouble!

  9. #10 Timmy 03 Mar 13

    Sovereignty issues will always be a distraction and rallying cry for Argentinian politcs. The kelpers have possession of the islands and possession is 9/10th's of the law. But for the life of me, I can't figure out why the interested parties can't make a deal to share the exploitation of local resources. A win win situation.

  10. #11 Noel Braddon 07 Aug 13

    I'm Argentinian and not all of us believe this propaganda. I'm tired of this government of Cristina, I hope she will be out of the job sooner than expected, I hope so. I want her to shut up. I live in another province, no in Buenos Aires, but her paws are everywhere.

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About the author

Vanessa Baird a New Internationalist contributor

Vanessa Baird lived and worked as a journalist in Peru during the tumultuous mid-1980s, and she maintains a passionate interest in South America. She joined New Internationalist as a co-editor in 1986 and since then has written on everything from migration, money, religion and equality to indigenous activism, climate change, feminism and global LGBT rights. She also edits the Mixed Media, arts and culture section of the magazine.

Vanessa’s books include The No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (2011), Sex, Love and Homophobia (2004), The Little Book of Big Ideas (2009) and, People First Economics (2010). In 2012 she won a prestigious Amnesty International Human Rights Media award.

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