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Kevin Bayona: Are we ready for an encore in the Falklands?

Posted: February 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: February 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.

When economic times are bad, what better than to reclaim your sovereignty over a small archipelago located in the frigid waters of the South Atlantic Ocean?

Well, that’s exactly what Argentina’s President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner is doing amid her country’s economic slump and her administration’s falling popularity.

Conflict on the Falkland Islands may, in fact, make an encore appearance on the international scene a little over 30 years since it last took center stage.

The era of colonialism is long gone, but President de Kirchner has been leveling such accusations at the United Kingdom for failing to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

De Kirchner recently wrote an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron in which she said: "Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity."

The British government has refused to discuss issues of sovereignty unless the people of the Falklands (approximately 3,000 inhabitants) wish to do so.

The British have continually argued that the conflict is not one of ownership but of self-determination. The people of the Falklands have persistently chosen to remain under British dominion.

Not a big surprise given the majority of the islanders are of British descent, and the official language is English.

President de Kirchner has foolishly followed in the footsteps of her predecessor, General Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of the military junta that ruled Argentina since 1976, by raising the issue over sovereignty in the Falklands Islands (or Las Malvinas, as they are known in Argentina).

De Kirchner raised the issue in a speech at the UN and decried the British government’s decision to deploy Prince William to the islands during a military mission in 2012.

The Royal Navy also dispatched one of its most powerful ships, the HMS Dauntless, to the Falklands, which drew accusations by Argentina that Britain was militarizing the South Atlantic.

The importance of the Falkland Islands may baffle most, given their utter remoteness. In reality, the islands offer a strategic military and shipping foothold and also lay atop various natural resources, including the possibility of plentiful oil reserves that remain to be explored. The United Kingdom has declared its sovereignty over the islands since 1765. Argentina made its claim to the islands in 1820, but after 1833 Britain regained full control over the islands until the Falklands War of 1982 between the two nations.

In 1982, Argentina invaded the islands, apparently unconvinced the British would respond. Recently released documents suggest the British government did not anticipate and was unprepared for an Argentinian invasion of the islands.

Nonetheless, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did, in fact, respond and recaptured the islands in 74 days by amphibious assault.

Many Argentinians have claimed similarities to Hong Kong and have lambasted Britain for failing to return the Falkland Islands in the way it returned Hong Kong to China.

British analysts have argued no such comparison exists because Hong Kong was leased to Britain, and said lease expired in 1997. There exists no lease for the Falkland Islands, which are entirely under British sovereignty.

De Kirchner has attempted to strengthen her claims by convincing members of the South American Mercosur trading bloc to ban all vessels carrying the Falkland flag from their ports.

So is another military conflict between Argentina and the United Kingdom brewing in the South Atlantic? It’s unlikely. Although many parallels with 1982 exist, there is little appetite for armed conflict on either side.

De Kirchner is wary of the Argentinian military, and the British military has been hit with severe budget cuts and pervasive downsizing.

Even so, Argentina would be no match for Britain and would likely be quickly defeated in another embarrassing blow to the Argentinian people.

Christina de Kirchner should take heed from history and avoid the perilous path she has chosen to walk.

Next month, on March 10, the people of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum over their political status, which is expected to return an overwhelming desire to remain under British control.

Maybe then Argentina will get the point. But, then again, in heated disputes over national pride, the point is usually irrelevant.
Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a BA in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University, and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.



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