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For Falklands oil

Print edition : Jul 13, 2012 T+T-
President Nestor Kirchner passes the baton to his wife, Crisitina Fernandez de Kirchner, in Buenos Aires on December 10, 2007. It was the late Nestor Kirchner who revived the Malvinas issue.-RICKEY ROGERS/REUTERS

President Nestor Kirchner passes the baton to his wife, Crisitina Fernandez de Kirchner, in Buenos Aires on December 10, 2007. It was the late Nestor Kirchner who revived the Malvinas issue.-RICKEY ROGERS/REUTERS

Argentina marks the 30th anniversary of its war with the U.K. over the Falklands/Malvinas by reasserting its rights on the islands.

Argentina marked the 30th anniversary of the end of the war with the United Kingdom over the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands) on June 14. In the 74-day conflict, during which Argentina had briefly reclaimed the islands, 649 Argentine soldiers were killed. As many as 323 of those killed were on board the General Belgrano, the Argentine warship that was sunk by British naval forces. The ship was outside the 200-mile (322-kilometre) exclusion zone when it was torpedoed, and Argentina has characterised the act as a war crime.

Two hundred and fifty-five British soldiers and four islanders also lost their lives during the conflict. The brutal Argentine military junta, which was in power at the time, had miscalculated the British resolve to hold on to the islands. Besides, the British had the solid backing of the United States and its allies in the region. Even neighbouring Chile, also under a military dictatorship, did not support Argentinas cause. Argentinas military debacle hastened the exit of the military regime and prepared the ground for the return of multiparty democracy. But the civilian leaders who held office were more interested in building a strong relationship with the West than in reclaiming the Malvinas.

It was only after the election of Nestor Kirchner, the late husband of the current President, that the issue returned to centre stage. Argentinas elected leaders know that there is no military solution to the issue, which was on the back burner for decades after the 1982 war. Now the government of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has upped the ante by raising the issue of decolonisation forcefully in international forums. On its part, the international community has extended strong support to Argentina on its demand for restarting talks with Britain.

In fact, the whole of South America is now firmly behind Buenos Aires on the Malvinas issue. Regional summit meetings involving groupings such as the Mercosur (the Latin American trade bloc consisting of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) have issued declarations favouring the Argentine position.

Making of a colony

President Cristina Fernandez took the unprecedented step of personally attending the meeting of the United Nations Decolonisation Committee held in New York on June 14. The Falkland Islands, known as the Islas Malvinas in Latin America, were colonised by the British in 1833. They are a cluster of around 77 islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean, 433 km from the Argentine coast. The native population was forcibly expelled at the time the British planted their flag on the islands. The local populace were prevented from returning and were replaced with British nationals.

The historic U.N. Resolution 1514 calls for a speedy and unconditional end to colonialism in all its forms and manifestations. Britain facetiously claims that the descendants of British settlers, now numbering around 3,000, are perfectly happy with the status quo. In an effort to muddle the issue, it announced a plan for a referendum among the islanders next year. Argentina objected and maintained that the islanders did not have the prerogative to decide the future of the territory. Argentinas stand is that a population transplanted by the United Kingdom cannot be considered to have ever been subjected to or subjugated by a colonial power as required by Resolution 1514 as has generally been the case in other issues related to decolonisation.

In 1965, the General Assembly had specifically characterised the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and Britain as a special and particular colonial situation which must be settled by negotiations between the two parties. In 1985, the General Assembly, by a large majority, ruled out the applicability of the principle of self-determination in the disputed islands. The Argentine governments position is that there exists a colonial situation and not a colonised people as regards the Malvinas.

Moves involving referendums and plebiscites, according to the Argentine government, would amount to conniving at an act of usurpation and consenting to the inhabitants of the islands becoming arbitrators in a territorial dispute to which their own country is a party. On several occasions Argentina offered guarantees to the British government about the interests of the inhabitants of the islands being safeguarded, but U.K. has stonewalled all efforts for a dialogue on the sovereignty issue.

Speaking on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the war on April 2, Cristina Fernandez said her government adhered to a global standard for protecting human rights and vowed to respect the rights of the islanders as her country sought to regain control peacefully. We dont have war drums, nor do we wear military helmets, she said. She reiterated this message in her address to the U.N. Committee on June 14. We are not asking anyone to say yes, the Malvinas belong to Argentina. We are only asking no less, no more, than to sit down and talk. Cristina Kirchner told the U.N. Committee that it was an affront to the international community that the Falklands, which is 14,000 miles (22,530 km) away from the U.K., still remains British territory.

The Argentine President held talks with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who acknowledged the strong regional support for the Argentine position on the issue. He said his good offices would be available to resolve the dispute if both the parties agreed to engage in a dialogue. In a statement issued earlier in the year, he had expressed his growing concerns about the escalating row between Argentina and Britain.

Hunt for oil

The windswept island, where sheep vastly outnumber humans, has been more in the news after British oil companies started exploring for oil and gas in the surrounding seas from 2010. Though no significant amount has been found yet, hydrocarbon experts as well as Argentine officials suspect that the area surrounding the islands has huge potential. Four areas that could contain oil have been identified in the waters around the Falklands.

The Argentine government has protested against the unilateral activities of the U.K. that involve exploration for and exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources. These actions, the Argentine government has emphasised, go against the spirit of the various U.N. resolutions on the sovereignty issue.

The British governments insistence on holding a referendum next year is a thinly disguised exercise at exerting control over the rich oil and gas deposits in the area and denying Argentina its legitimate stake.

Argentina has convinced other Latin American countries to ban ships bearing the Falkland Islands flag from their ports. This has had an adverse impact on supply logistics to the British colonial outpost. Recently, Peru cancelled a port call by the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose as a show of solidarity with Argentina. Britains economic interests in the region are also being adversely impacted. There is talk of an economic boycott of British products in Brazil, the economic powerhouse of the region, and other countries as well. The British government has, in recent years, turned the islands into a military fortress. British Prime Minster David Cameron accused Argentina of having colonialist ambitions towards the population of the islands. President Cristina Fernandez retorted by accusing Cameron of mediocrity bordering on stupidity.

Hector Timerman, Argentinas Foreign Minister, alleged that the U.K. was deploying nuclear weapons near the Malvinas and in the process militarising the South Atlantic. Argentina lodged a formal protest at the U.N. in February accusing Britain of deploying a Vanguard class submarine and a state-of-the-art warship in the disputed area. We cannot interpret in any other way the deployment of an ultra-modern destroyer accompanying the heir to the throne, who we would like to see in civilian attire, the Argentine President told a group of Argentine war veterans. Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, was on a six-week assignment as a search and rescue helicopter pilot on the disputed islands.

The U.N. Secretary-General said in a statement that he was concerned with the escalating row. South American regional groupings such as the UNASUR and the CELAC have addressed letters to the Secretary-General urging him to use his good offices to help find a negotiated settlement. Malvinas is not an Argentine cause, it is a global cause, because in the Malvinas they are taking our oil and fishing resources, Cristina Kirchner said recently. And when there is a need for more resources, those who are strong are going to look for them wherever and however they can.