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Falklands/Malvinas, From Rhetoric to Pressure

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 27 2012 (IPS) - Although the latest rhetoric seems to signal a hardening of the historical sovereignty dispute between Argentina and Britain over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, some experts are sceptical and say nothing will change in essence.

The sharp exchange of words between representatives of Buenos Aires and London intensified over the past few weeks, creating a tense climate precisely on the 30th anniversary of the war over this southern archipelago lying 450 kilometres off the continental coast of Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean.

“There is a change in Argentina’s political stance that’s putting Britain on edge, but we don’t know what the costs and benefits of this strategy will be,” said Federico Merke, an Argentine international relations expert.

According to Merke, who teaches at the private Salvador and San Andrés Universities, what Argentina is trying to do is “push up the costs of occupation” for Britain. But, he said, “There’s still a long way to go before there can be any negotiations.”

The Malvinas/Falkland Islands, occupied by Britain since 1833, were invaded by Argentina on Apr. 2, 1982 when the country was under military rule (1976-1983). The dictatorship went ahead with its decision to invade the islands despite a United Nations resolution adopted in 1966 that called on both countries to negotiate the territory’s sovereignty.

The armed conflict, which cost some 900 lives, lasted until Jun. 10, 1983, when Argentine forces surrendered in the face of the military and technological superiority of the British troops.

Relations between the two countries were severed until the 1990s, but Argentina has consistently called for peaceful talks at every international forum where it is represented.

Argentina “is going to continue demanding dialogue and negotiations” and “gathering (international) support”, President Cristina Fernández declared on Jan. 25, in what was her first public appearance following her recovery from thyroid surgery earlier this month.

Over the last two months, the Fernández administration sought and secured the support of other Latin American nations, which pledged to back Argentina’s sovereignty claim over the archipelago.

At its biannual summit held in Montevideo in December 2011, Mercosur (the Southern Common Market), South America’s biggest trade bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, passed a resolution preventing ships sailing under the Falkland flag from putting in at any member’s port.

The decision was ratified individually by the governments of the Mercosur countries and communicated to British Foreign Secretary William Hague during his visit to Brazil.

Chile, too, as an associate member of the bloc, declared that it would ban Falkland ships from its ports. However, it has not yet taken a position with respect to Argentina’s repeated request to cancel passenger and supply flights from the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas to the Malvinas/Falklands.

According to Merke this could be hinging on Argentina’s decision regarding its neighbour’s request for extradition of a Chilean guerrilla leader. In 2010, Argentina granted Galvarino Apablaza, who is wanted in Chile for the murder of a senator, political asylum.

“Argentina has to give something in exchange for Chile’s cancelling of those flights. But I have my doubts. Chile seems very reluctant. If it were to agree to it, things would get very complicated for the islanders,” he said.

Argentine Foreign Secretary Héctor Timerman toured Central America this month and garnered the support of Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Guatemala.

Argentina had already received renewed support from the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), which gathers the 12 countries of South America, as well as of the recently formed Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations (including the English-speaking countries of the Caribbean), and the Organisation of American States (OAS).

“Unasur is key in that it leverages Argentina’s diplomatic efforts. Having all of Latin America united behind it is a great advantage. It’s a success, perhaps not on a major scale, but it’s instrumental,” the expert said.

Nonetheless, London continues to refuse to engage in bilateral negotiations on the sovereignty issue, claiming to defend the islanders’ right to self-determination, and has responded to Argentina’s demands by reinforcing the number of troops deployed there.

British Prime Minister David Cameron rejected Argentina’s efforts to renew talks, calling them “unfounded and counterproductive”, and went on to describe Buenos Aires’s sovereignty claim as “colonialism”.

His administration convened a National Security Council meeting on the Falklands issue and adopted an emergency plan to increase the British military presence in the archipelago ahead of Prince William’s deployment to the islands for Royal Air Force training in February.

President Fernández responded on Wednesday by noting that 10 of the 16 cases of colonialism pending resolution in the U.N. Decolonisation Committee involve British colonies. “If they’re saying that it’s because they have no grounds or arguments,” she said.

Fernández drew a clear line between Argentina’s ongoing diplomatic demands and the 1982 military invasion, and announced that she would be forming a committee to consider the release of the Rattenbach Report on the conflict, which the dictatorship classified for 50 years.

The report – so called after the officer who headed the military committee appointed by the dictatorship to look into the actions of the armed forces in the Malvinas/Falklands war – was never made public officially.

Argentine political scientist Vicente Palermo, author of the book “Sal en las heridas. Las Malvinas en la cultura argentina contemporánea” (Salt on Wounds. The Malvinas in Argentina’s Contemporary Culture), told IPS, “It’s all talk and no action.”

“The Argentine government has made some diplomatic progress with the regional support (it obtained), but that’s about it,” he said. “I don’t see any major progress that could lead to a qualitative change in the balance of power in diplomatic relations.”

Palermo spoke of the strategy aimed at securing increasingly greater support from the region. Timerman is calling on Latin America to rally together to protect its natural resources, including oil and fishery resources around the disputed islands.

Britain recently decided to install a second rig to drill for oil in water south and southeast of the archipelago, while the U.S. oil company Anadarko has expressed an interest in prospecting in the islands.

According to Palermo – who is also a researcher at the Gino Germani Institute of the state University of Buenos Aires – the U.S. State Department’s position, which skirts the underlying issue, is nothing new either.

In an official State Department press release, the Barack Obama administration repeated the position it has adopted in the past, stating, “We recognize de facto United Kingdom administration of the islands but take no position regarding sovereignty.”

Victoria Nuland, State Department spokesperson, further added that this “is a bilateral issue that needs to be worked out directly between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom.”

These statements were celebrated by Buenos Aires as “a major win for Argentina’s side”. As such, it was “welcomed by all of Latin America”, Timerman said.

“Argentina’s strategy is to maximise costs for Britain, but the limitations of that tactic are evident when it incurs costs for itself and now also for the allies from which it demands greater involvement,” Palermo said.

According to this expert, Britain “has always been a bit isolated” in this matter. “It’s not backed by a broad international consensus” regarding its alleged rights over the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, but it will not be easy for Argentina to increase that isolation, he said.

“Nothing of what is going on right now leads me to believe that we’re moving towards a change in the state of affairs,” Palermo said. If the aim is to preserve natural resources, then “it would be more logical to negotiate these matters directly,” he continued.

Instead, Argentina “is putting the cart before the horses by tying everything up to the sovereignty claim.”

“If everything is conditioned to the discussion of sovereignty, the issue will continue at a deadlock,” Palermo concluded.

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