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Las Malvinas or Falkland Islands: British or Argentinean?

Graves of Argentinean servicemen killed by UK forces in the 1982 war. AAP/EPA/Flight Sergeant Andy Carnall
Protestors hurl paint at the HSBC bank in Buenos Aires after the UK announced Prince William would be posted to Las Malvinas. AAP/EPA/Leo La Valle

The first buildings in Las Malvinas – or the Falklands as the British call the islands in the South Atlantic – were houses made of stone and were built by Argentinean hands.

It was in 1831 when forty men – led by Luis Vernet, the first Argentinean commander in Las Malvinas – settled here. Along with him came his wife, María who gave birth a girl who was christened Malvinas. The Argentinean settlement in this merciless land didn’t last long though.

In 1833 the British colonial power invaded Las Mavinas, and what happen afterwards is now called “ethnic cleansing” – hundreds of English settlers were artificially introduced while all Argentineans were expelled.

The British invasion and the thorny question of who owns Las Malvinas - has been reignited with unprecedented fervour on April 2, the date marking the 30th anniversary of the Argentinean and British war, in 1982. The tension between Buenos Aires and London has escalated.

The Union Jack is torched outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires. AAP/EPA/Daniel Feldman

The war of 1982 was a folly led by the madness of the then Argentinean dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri, who couldn’t find anything better to do than recover the islands by force. The conflict, which lasted 74 days, caused the death of 649 Argentinean soldiers, 255 British and three civilians. His military jaunt – more of an attempt to divert attention from his crumbling dictatorship than anything - had nothing to do with the genuine aspiration of Argentina to recover Las Malvinas.

The current push by Argentina to recover Las Malvinas, encapsulated by the energetic diplomatic offensive of the Argentinean president Cristina Kirchner, is today not only genuine but also legitimate. President Kirchner has described the recovery of Las Malvinas as a “struggle against colonisation”.

Kirchner has transformed the recovery of Las Malvinas into a central piece of her renewed political mandate; she was re-elected recently with an overwhelming majority. And - in contrast to the military adventurism of 1982 - President Kirchner’s renewed claim for La Malvinas is not a political “gambit”, as the British media and commentators have tried to discredit it.

“A struggle against colonialism”: Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner. AAP/EPA/Leo La Valle

President Kirchner is articulating a genuine national aspiration and she is playing by the rules. Her foreign minister Héctor Timerman has been tireless running up and down the corridors of the UN trying to get the British government to sit down and discuss a peaceful solution to the conflict. He has sought mediation at all levels of the UN, General Secretary, General Assembly and the Security Council. All of them have pledged to help.

But London has plainly ignored the diplomatic efforts made by Buenos Aires and has stated that it will not negotiate over the sovereignty unless the inhabitants of the islands wish to do so.

Similarly, the UK has never acknowledged the United Nations 1514 resolution – the Declaration over the Independence of Countries and Colonial People - that establishes that any attempt to break the national unity and territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the principles and purposes of the UN.

The uncooperative approach taken by London has been further worsened by the UN British ambassador Mark Lyall Grant “warning” Argentina that any attempt to use the April 2 anniversary to launch a “military adventure” would be confronted by a “robust defence.” As if the Argentinean government was planning to do so.

Lyall Grant’s unhelpful statement is a reflection of the aggressive approach taken by London, one that has been accompanied by the British government’s hasty militarisation of Las Malvinas and the Southern Atlantic.

“British out from Las Malvinas: we shall return” - graffiti in Buenos Aires. Antonio Castillo

In the last few months this remote part of the world has witnessed the arrival of several Typhoon II – the latest generation of warplanes (they have been used in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq); HMS Dauntless – the most advanced war ship of the British navy; and HMS Vanguard – a nuclear submarine. This in contravention of the 1967 Treaty of Tlalelolco that banned nuclear arms in Latin America, the Pacific and Caribbean region.

“Great Britain has transformed Las Malvinas Island into a key military base for the control of the South Atlantic, the inter-oceanic access and projection into the Antarctica securing the exploitation of the natural resources of the South Atlantic that belongs to the Argentinean people,” an Argentinean Ministry of Foreign Affairs communiqué said.

Buenos Aires has no doubt that the militarisation of the zone – a bit disproportionate by all accounts - has nothing to do with the defence of the 2,500 British citizens living in Las Malvinas. But it has everything to do with the control of the vast natural resources in the area.

The British government announced an ambitious plan to drill in the area that seems to contain, according to some experts, the equivalent of 60 million barrels of crude oil.

The British action is in contravention of the United Nations ban on unilateral development and exploitation of territories still under dispute. On this, one has to concur with Argentina’s foreign affairs minister Héctor Timerman that the British government is acting “above the judicial international order.”

Prince William poses with a map of Las Malvinas ahead of his posting to the British possession. AAP/EPA/Sgt Andry Malthouse Abipp

The militarisation of the South Atlantic and certainly the British colonial presence in the region has not gone down well in Latin America. After all, this is a region that has suffered to this day the damaging effects of imperialism and colonisation; first under Spanish colonial rule and then under US imperialism.

No wonder Las Malvinas’ sovereignty is no longer an Argentinean aspiration only. It has become a Latin American claim. The largest majority of Latin American countries have acted in block to support Argentina’s legitimate claim, including Chile - a traditionally pro-English country that under the military dictatorship of General Pinochet provided logistic support to the British in the war of 1982. Last December several Latin American countries announced they would block any ships navigating under the “Falklands” flag.

In addition several Latin American leaders have expressed their support for Argentina’s claim. Ecuadorean president Rafael Correa wrote on Twitter an impassionate message: “Las Malvinas is a Latin American cause, dear Argentina not one step back!”

In the light of this overwhelming domestic and regional support, it is very unlikely that President Cristina Kirchner will take a step back. On the contrary, she will strengthen her position around a legitimate post-colonial ideal sharply expressed by Cuba’s leader Fidel Castro – “the English have nothing to do here, they have to negotiate and leave.”

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