THE issue of sovereignty over the Malvinas (the Falkland islands) is once again on the front burner. The people of Argentina marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the war with the UK over the Malvinas (Falkland) in June this year. In the 74-day conflict, during which Argentina had briefly reclaimed the islands, 649 Argentine soldiers were killed. The majority of those killed were on-board of the Argentine warship General Belgrano which was sunk by the British Navy during the course of the 1982 war. The ship was outside the 200 mile exclusion zone when it was torpedoed. Argentines have characterised the sinking of the warship resulting in the loss of 323 lives as a war crime.
255 British soldiers and four islanders also lost their lives during the conflict. The brutal Argentine military junta which was in power at the time had miscalculated the British resolve to hold on to the islands. Besides, the British had the solid backing of the US and its allies in the region in the eighties. Even neighbouring Chile also under a military dictatorship did not support Argentina’s cause. Argentina’s military debacle hastened the exit of the ruthless military regime and prepared the ground for the return of multi-party democracy. But the civilian leaders who held office were more interested in building a strong relationship with the West than in reclaiming the Malvinas.
It was only after the election of Nestor Kirchner, the late husband of the current president that the issue once again came to the centre stage. Argentina’s elected leaders know that there is no military solution to the Malvinas issue. The issue which was on the backburner for decades after the 1982 war has now been resurrected diplomatically. The government of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has now given the issue top most priority. The Argentine government has upped the ante by forcefully raising this issue of decolonisation in international forums. Argentina has received strong support from the international community on its demand that talks with Britain be restarted.
STRONG REGIONAL SUPPORT
The whole of South America is now firmly behind Buenos Aires on the Malvinas issue. Regional summit meetings involving groupings like MERCOSUR, UNASUR, CELAC and ALBA have all issued Declarations favouring the Argentine position on the Malvinas.
The Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez, took the unprecedented step of personally attending the meeting of the UN’s Decolonisation Committee held in New York on June 14. The Falkland Islands known as the Islas Malvinas in Latin America were colonised by the British in 1833. They are a cluster of around 77 islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, lying 433 km from the Argentine coast. The native population was forcibly expelled at the time the British planted their flag on the islands. The local populace were prevented from returning and replaced with British nationals.
The historic UN Resolution 1514 has called for a speedy and unconditional end to colonialism in all its forms and manifestations. Britain facetiously claims that the descendants of British settlers now numbering around 3000 are perfectly happy with the status quo. The British government in an effort to muddle the issue has announced that it is planning a referendum among the islanders next year. Argentina has strongly objected to this move maintaining that the islanders do not have the prerogative to decide the future of the territory. Argentina’s stand is that a population “transplanted by the United Kingdom” cannot be considered to have ever been subjected to or subjugated by a colonial power as required by Resolution 1514 as has generally been the case in other issues related to decolonisation.
In 1965, the UN General Assembly had specifically characterised the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and Britain as a “special and particular” colonial situation which must be settled by negotiations between the two parties. The UN General Assembly had again in 1985 had with a large majority specifically ruled out the applicability of the principle of self determination in the disputed islands. The Argentine government’s position is that “there exists a colonial situation and not a colonised people” as regards the Malvinas. Moves involving referendums and plebiscites, according to the Argentine government “would amount to conniving at an act of usurpation and consenting to the inhabitants of the islands becoming arbitrators in a territorial dispute to which their own country is a party”. Argentina had on several occasions offered guarantees to the British government about the interests of the inhabitants of the islands being safeguarded but London has been stonewalling all efforts for a renewed dialogue on the sovereignty issue.
Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the war on April 2, president Fernandez said that her government adheres to a global standard for protecting human rights and vowed “to respect the rights of the islanders” as her country seeks to peacefully regain control . “We don’t have war drums, nor do we wear military helmets”, she said. She reiterated this message in her address to the UN Committee on June 14. “We are not asking anyone to say yes, the Malvinas belong to Argentina. We are only asking no less, no more, than to sit down and talk”. Kirchner told the UN Committee that it is an affront to the international community that the Falklands that is 14,000 miles away from the UK “still remains British territory”.
The Argentine president held talks with the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who acknowledged the strong regional support for the Argentine position on the issue. The UN secretary general said that his good offices would be available to resolve the dispute if both the parties agree to engage in a dialogue. In a statement issued earlier in the year, the UN Secretary General had expressed his growing concerns about the escalating row between Argentina and Britain.
EYE ON OIL & GAS
The wind swept island where sheep vastly outnumber humans has been more in the news after British oil companies started exploring for oil and gas in the surrounding seas from 2010. Though no significant amount has been found yet, hydro carbon experts as well as the Argentine officials suspect that the area surrounding the islands has huge potential. Four areas that could contain oil have been identified in the waters around the Falklands. The Argentine government has strongly protested against the “unilateral activities” of the UKthat involve “exploration for and exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources”. These actions, the Argentine government has emphasised, go against the spirit of the various UN Resolutions on the sovereignty issue. The British government’s insistence on holding a referendum next year is a thinly disguised exercise at exerting control over the rich oil and gas deposits in the area and denies Argentina its legitimate stake.
Argentina has convinced other Latin American countries to ban ships bearing the Falkland Islands flag from their ports. This has had an adverse impact on supply logistics to the British colonial outpost. Recently Peru cancelled a port call by a British Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose as a show of solidarity with Argentina over the Malvinas issue. Britain’s economic interests in the region are also being adversely impacted. There is talk of an economic boycott of British products in big countries like Brazil, the economic powerhouse of the region.
The British government has in recent years turned the islands into a military fortress. The British prime minister, David Cameron has accused Argentina of having “colonialist” ambitions towards the population of the islands. President Fernandez had retorted by accusing Cameron of “mediocrity bordering on stupidity”. Hector Timerman, the Argentine foreign minster has alleged that the UK is deploying nuclear weapons near the Malvinas, in the process of militarising the South Atlantic. Argentina has lodged a formal protest at the UN in February this year accusing Britain of deploying a Vanguard Class submarine and a state of the art warship in the disputed area. “We cannot interpret in any other way the deployment of an ultra-modern destroyer accompanying the heir to the throne, who we would like to see in civilian attire”, the Argentine president told a group of Argentine war veterans. Prince William, the second in line to the British throne was on a six week assignment as search and rescue helicopter pilot on the disputed islands.
The UN secretary general has said in a statement that he was concerned with the escalating row between Argentina and Britain. South American regional groupings like UNASUR and CELAC have addressed letters to the UN secretary general urging him to use his good offices to help find a negotiated settlement to the dispute. “Malvinas is not an Argentine cause, it is a global cause, because in the Malvinas they are taking our oil and fishing resources”, president Kirchner said recently. “And when there is a need for more resources those who are strong are going to look for them wherever and however they can”.