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Argentina Insists On, UK Resists Talks on Malvinas/Falklands

BUENOS AIRES, Apr 2 2012 (IPS) - Three decades after Argentine troops disembarked in the Malvinas/Falklands Islands, the government of President Cristina Fernández is pressing Britain to negotiate the sovereignty of the islands, which have been under British occupation since 1833.

Fernández set in motion a strategy to gain stronger international support for Argentina’s position, and to rouse nationalist sentiment among the people of her country, who still long for the peaceful recovery of the South Atlantic islands.

“The goal of the strategy is to force the British government to negotiate the sovereignty of the Malvinas,” and of the nearby South Georgia and South Sandwich islands, political analyst Rosendo Fraga told IPS.

“But in the present context, the dispute is being handled in a way that is causing a resurgence of nationalism,” he said.

Fraga, the director of the New Majority Studies Centre, a local think tank, said President Fernández believes that she has managed to “globalise” the issue, by putting it firmly on the regional and international agendas, and that she is on the right path.

The centre-left Fernández administration deployed its strategy of winning support in Latin America in the run-up to the 30th anniversary of the outbreak of the two-month war on Monday, Apr. 2.

At the cost of paying an internal and external political price in some cases, the countries of the region as a bloc made a commitment to Argentina’s position, which also received support from countries in Asia and Africa, and from multilateral agencies.

In Peru, for instance, President Ollanta Humala was criticised by the opposition for not allowing a British frigate arriving from the Malvinas/Falklands to dock at Peruvian ports. London expressed “disappointment” over the decision.

Last week Argentina recruited the support of six Nobel Peace Prize winners, who sent an open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron asking him to “review the British government’s position of refusing to dialogue on this matter.”

The British refusal to talk to Argentina “places in serious risk peace and coexistence in this part of the world,” said Nobel laureates Mairead Corrigan-Maguire (1976) of Northern Ireland, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1980) of Argentina, Desmond Tutu (1984) of South Africa, Rigoberta Menchú (1992) of Guatemala, Jody Williams (1997) of the United States and Shirin Ebadi (2003) of Iran.

The Nobel laureates pointed out that London is in breach of a resolution of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation, which since 1966 has repeatedly requested Argentina and the United Kingdom to resume talks on a peaceful settlement of the Malvinas/Falklands Islands question.

Argentina’s claim to the islands is based on the principle of territoriality, while the United Kingdom defends the islanders’ alleged right to self-determination. The Kelpers – the islands’ native residents – have been opposed even to opening discussions on the sovereignty issue since the 1982 war.

Federico Merke, a political scientist at the private Universidad del Salvador and Universidad de San Andrés, told IPS this would not be an easy road to travel either. “The resolution does not say either side is right, it merely urges them to negotiate,” he said.

Argentina does not have a clear position on what it might be willing to give up, said Merke, who says diplomatic circles in this country are divided between “hawks” who subordinate everything to negotiation over sovereignty, and “doves.”

The “hawks,” according to Merke, consider “the identity of the country is incomplete until the islands are recovered, and they are very hardline.” This group has the upper hand in the Foreign Ministry at present, he said.

The “doves”, on the other hand, argue for bilateral cooperation with the UK on matters like oil and fishery resources – an approach the “hawks” regard as having failed in the 1990s.

In addition to its international overtures, the Argentine government is appealing to the nationalism of its own citizens. At Fernández’s urging, football, the country’s most popular sport, has come on board the Malvinas campaign.

The second and final stage of the first division football league championship, being played in the first half of this year, was named “Crucero General Belgrano” after the Argentine cruiser sunk in 1982 off the coast of Argentina by torpedoes from the British nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror.

Three hundred and twenty-three Argentines died in the attack, half the total Argentine casualties from the Apr. 2 start of the war to the Argentine surrender on Jun. 10. Most of the casualties were young men doing their obligatory military service; they perished in flames, were drowned or died of hypothermia.

The trophy for the football tournament also evokes war memories, as it is called the “Gaucho Rivero” Cup, in tribute to Antonio Rivero, a farm labourer born in the Argentine province of Entre Ríos, who was working in the Malvinas/Falklands in 1833 when the British invaded the islands, and led a rebellion against the invaders.

“The Malvinas are not in the forefront of public opinion, but when the issue is raised it brings on a resurgence of nationalism,” Fraga said. “Nine out of 10 Argentines believe the islands belong to Argentina and should be recovered.”

In a survey by Ibarómetro, a consultancy, 74 percent of respondents said that the Malvinas question, refloated by the statements exchanged between the two governments in the dispute, is “very” or “fairly” important.

The opinion poll also found that 80 percent of interviewees backed diplomatic negotiations of some sort, and only 2.9 percent said they would not mind if the verbal conflict escalated into another war.

Members of the Argentine Congress were overwhelmingly in agreement, even across traditionally hostile party lines. The senate and lower house alike passed unanimous resolutions affirming “legitimate and inalienable sovereignty” over the southern islands. In spite of this unanimity, there are sectors that are more critical of Fernández’s actions, such as intellectuals, lawyers and journalists who consider the Malvinas are not a “sacred” national concern, but rather one that should be debated.

This group, which includes political scientist Vicente Palermo and essayist Beatriz Sarlo, wrote a document saying Argentina should “refrain from imposing (on the islanders) a sovereignty, a nationality and a government they do not want.”

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