You have to admit: The current crop of Latin American socialist leaders is the gift that just keeps on giving. December brought us Venezuelan Prime Minister Hugo Chávez’s declaration that the CIA was behind a plot to infect leftist Latin American leaders with cancer. Not to be outdone on the Ridiculous Scale, Comrade Cristina Kirchner of Argentina chose January to beat our favorite dead horse: the territorial status of the Falkland Islands – excuse me, “Las Malvinas.”
Argentina has long claimed that the barren islands off the coast of Tierra del Fuego are their sovereign territory, even going to war over them in the ill-fated Falkland Islands Conflict. But their irascible President has chosen this month to launch a diplomatic spat over this long-dead controversy. She claims that their claims are a “human rights issue.” This could not be further from the truth. Argentina has tenuous claims to sovereignty over an island populated overwhelmingly by British settlers. This has little to do with human rights; rather, it is an attempt by Argentina to exercise the very colonialism they claim to be protesting: an exercise in reverse-colonialism.
The 30th anniversary of the Falklands Conflict of 1982 was commemorated earlier this January, and Argentina’s heavily-botoxed President Kirchner is not mincing words on the subject. In a speech to the heads of state of Mercosur (the common market of Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay) on December 21st, she launched into an angry tirade directed at the UK: “The United Kingdom is a permanent member of the UN Security Council yet they do not respect a single, not a single resolution. We are not asking them to come here and recognise that the Malvinas are Argentine but what we are saying is for them to comply with the United Nations, sit down and dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” Following her speech, Mercosur members agreed to a resolution blocking all ships flying the Falklands flag from docking in their ports, effectively blockading the export of Falklands goods to their nearest markets.
The irony in Cristina’s speech – beyond her allegation that the UK has not respected a single UN resolution, which hardly bears acknowledgement – is that Argentina’s policy towards the Falklands has been characterized by anything but dialogue. They have rejected nearly every multi-party overture proposed by Great Britain, including an offer by the latter to adjudicate the matter at the International Court of Justice. The appeal before that Court was halted before a ruling could be made when Argentina declared that it would not abide by the Court’s decision.
But tensions reached their boiling point when David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, branded the Argentine saber-rattling as “colonialism:” “The future of the Falkland Islands is a matter for the people of the Falklands themselves… and as long as they want to remain part of the United Kingdom ... they should be able to do so…. We support the Falkland Islanders' right to self-determination, and what the Argentineans have been saying recently, I would argue is actually far more like colonialism because these people want to remain British.” Kirchner would not let Cameron have the last word, calling the Prime Minister’s comments,"[A]n expression of mediocrity and stupidity... a crude colonial power in decline."
Never mind that the overwhelming majority of the Falklands' 3000 person population is of British descent and speaks English. Never mind that Argentina’s claims to the islands are the result of a brief occupation by Argentina’s predecessor state, the “United Provinces of the Río de la Plata,” in the 1810s.
Cristina’s actions are not motivated by a desire to see “human rights protected” in a hapless colony fighting for freedom. On the contrary, she knows that nothing gets votes in her country like raising the specter of the Falklands Conflict. And with its 30th anniversary providing such good timing, what better way to shore up support? The fact remains that Kirchner only won reelection because of the wave of sympathy following her husband’s timely death and the opposition squabbling to pick a viable candidate. Before Nestor – Cristina’s husband and ex-President – went the way of Evita, her public approval levels were hovering around 20 percent.
Argentina has little chance of “reclaiming” their Malvinas anytime soon. However, the rhetoric employed by its leaders is troubling. More troubling still is their ability to convince their allies to follow suit and declare economic warfare over what amounts to two rocks in the South Atlantic and ignore repeated overtures for mediation. The Argentine Constitution of 1994 states that the “recovery of said territories [the Falklands] and the full exercise of sovereignty, respectful of the way of life of their inhabitants and according to the principles of international law." Maybe dear Cristina should give it a read?