The Falklands – Latin America’s Shame

In 1982 Argentina and Great Britain fought a ten-week war over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, which Great Britain won bruised but decisively. That outcome notwithstanding, Buenos Aires has been quite successful in gathering Latin America behind its claim to the islands. This is bad for Falklands democracy, regional stability, and even suicidal in the case of Chile.

Argentina started early to get the region aboard. As hostilities started, the face of the Argentine Junta, General Leopoldo Galtieri, travelled to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro. According to Juan Bautista Yofre, Mr Castro suggested framing the war as anti-imperialist struggle — and ever since Argentine leaders have told the fable of their country’s quest against injustice.

In 2012, right before the Summit of the Americas, and around the rise of the Pink Tide, with Brazil aspiring to a more forceful role in international relations, Argentina’s fortunes increased substantially. Colombia spoke out against British military presence in the region and, gradually, all Latin countries came along, even those that only tacitly supported Argentina during the war, or collaborated with the British, as did Chile.

Yet, in 2013 the Islanders decided on their sovereign status via referendum, and nearly all inhabitants favoured the status quo. But instead of recognising the result, as democrats would do, Latin America kept quiet when Argentina denigrated the vote as “illegal.” But how can something if illegal when Argentine law doesn’t apply? Or, if illegal, why doesn’t Argentina call on a judge? Because this claim is baseless, and President Macri knows it; his “new type of relationship” remains populist nonsense, even more so as he maintains his country’s demand of negotiation. Ironically, his administration worked hard to suspend Venezuela from MERCOSUR, emphasising democratic deficits, while posturing against the Falklands. Unfortunately, the countries of the region enable such cynicism.

They don’t seem to care about the danger of Argentina’s fantasy. Worse still, country’s like Chile seem blind and naïve about their own security. Chilean General, Fernando Matthei, in charge of the Anglo-Chilean alliance during the Falklands war, flatly states Argentina acted  “stupid” back then — except it didn’t. Indeed, even if failed in 1982, Argentina still aptly used the military to achieve diplomatic ends.

Officially, it invaded to recuperate the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, from the British, who had supposedly stolen them. But this myth conceals the link between the Falklands War and the aggression in Chile’s Beagle Channel, which aimed at Cape Horn as future military base. Argentina’s Admiral Jorge Anaya, Bautista Yofre writes, deemed Cape Horn so crucial to Argentina’s interests that it warranted “war with Chile.” The outcome of the ‘Beagle Crisis,’ however, humiliated Argentina’s pride, and the Pope’s intervention foreclosed any attempts of trying again. And so, the Falklands came into play.

But war was never the objective. Rather, Argentina replicated the strategy with which it acquired Patagonia from Chile during the Pacific War. At the apex of Chile’s power, when it occupied Lima while beating back Bolivian forces, Argentina threatened to invade Chile if Santiago wouldn’t hand over large parts of Patagonia. With such blackmail, Argentina gained massive territory that eventually fuelled the country’s rise to economic superpower.

So, using the military to force negotiations regarding the Falklands was neither stupid nor novel. Actually, Argentina’s current strategy is a modification, as it replaced soldiers with diplomats to lever its influence.

Calling for dialogue as blackmail tactic is more promising than using rifles. Negotiations take place only if there’s a problem, so were London participate in talks, it would implicitly admit to a mistake, giving Buenos Aires the high ground. Exploiting this advantage, Argentina could easier yield concessions than by military force. Any compromise, of course, would translate into a weakened status quo, upsetting the balance of power. Moreover, yielding to Latin America’s demands for talks would violate the 2013 referendum, in which the Islanders already solved the problem of belonging.

But pressing for negotiations is not only an attack on Falklands democracy; it’s also sabotaging Chilean security. Chile’s participation in the scheme reveals therefore deep flaws and naïveté in its foreign policy. Negotiations over the Falklands would establish a precedent for negotiations with Bolivia, because La Paz pursues essentially the same objective: restore sovereignty over presumably stolen land. So Chile in the South Atlantic is undermining its position in the northern Atacama. Luckily, Bolivia seemingly hasn’t stumbled over that argument yet, but it will.

Furthermore, Cape Horn and the Falklands carry the strategic potential of serving as doorstep into the waters around Antarctica; a medium-sized power, which Argentina can become, may control the traffic in the region as well as comfortable access to the treasures of Antarctica. A stronger Argentina in the South Atlantic would inevitably pressure Chile in the South Pacific, even more so with the set of alliances that will emerge amidst the international conquest of Antarctica. Sure, things may play out differently; but promoting such a scenario nonetheless, as Chile does, is irresponsible.

In general, Latin America undermining Falklands democracy is a disgrace. The Falklanders deserve their land wholeheartedly, because, unlike Chile or Argentina, they didn’t exterminate indigenous populations to acquire it. So, though Latin American integration is badly needed, cultural genocide must not come of it.

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Christian Scheinpflug
About Christian Scheinpflug 37 Articles

Christian is an analyst and editor based in Santiago de Chile. He is member of the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and writes about Latin American geopolitics and Chilean foreign policy. He also volunteers as Lead Editor and Director of the Board for E-International Relations and tweets under @ChrScheinpflug.

13 Comments

  1. The Falkland Islands/Malvinas remain, so long as they are under British control, a symbol of imperialism. Castro was right. The British seized Port Louis in 1833, ending, by threat of force, the administration, from Buenos Aires, by the United Provinces of the River Plate. This was following the invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807, when the British attempt to establish a foothold on the continent of South America ultimately failed.

    The referendum in 2013 on the Islands was a sham exercise in democracy. The Islanders voted, yes. But they voted for more of the same. There was no alternative on the ballot papers. Vote not to stay British? Unlikely. The referendum was a successful public relations exercise, an attempt to arrest the burgeoning support for Argentina and its claim. The Islanders, once subject to the economic monopoly of the Falkland Islands Company, administered in absence from the UK, are still subject to the Crown and cannot elect their own leader. It would have been more meaningful to hold a referendum addressing that flaw in their democracy.

    Argentina’s claim is wholly just and the British Government knows it. Conservative governments, however, are lily-livered and want to trade with Argentina and the rest of South America. So in order not to upset sensibilities they stand by the feeble pretence of self-determination for the islanders. That is to say that there will be no talks on sovereignty unless the Islanders want them.

    This position, however, is defying the will of the United Nations. The resolution 2065 (XX) Question of the Falkland Islands/Malvinas, passed in 1965, deliberately omits reference to self-determination for the inhabitants of the Islands and calls on the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom to engage in talks with a view to settling the dispute over sovereignty. The UK continues to ignore this resolution.

    Democratic Chile rightly supports the Argentinian claim.

    • You would, of course, support a worldwide return to the borders of 1833 or maybe earlier. We could make the cutoff date 1800 and return all of Latin America to Spain or Portugal, except of course, Patagonia. That would be returned to the Mapuche.

    • I am hard pressed to think of any time in the past 200 years when rule from BA or Madrid would have been better than rule from London. The history of Argentina is littered with military dictatorships and utterly corrupt civilian rule. At least your savings might be safe as UK or Falkland Islands pounds, whereas the Argentine peso was and remains best changed into a more stable currency at the earliest opportunity, such as pounds, USD or euro.

    • You say “under British control”, but offer no evidence to support your claim. Britain didn’t “seize Port Louis”, as you put it; Vernet had requested of the British that he set up a business killing the cattle, of which there were many thousands, in 1829. Following murder and mutiny among his employees, the British expelled his business and the vast majority of those employees elected to stay on, becoming part of the population that had been encouraged to become pioneers and settlers.

      The referendum was overseen by several outside parties, notably from Uruguay, to ensure it was carried out correctly, in accordance with international law. Several people did, indeed, choose other than to remain British, resulting in a 98.6% vote in favour of remaining British. We continue to elect our own government, overseen by our Governor who is appointed by the Queen, who is head of the Commonwealth, of which we are members. He has no real power, but ensures that law is administered fairly and in accordance with British Law.

      UN Res. 2065 states that a resolution of the question of sovereignty be arrived at by “peaceable means”. Argentina’s invasion in 1982, and it’s subsequent ignoring of UN Res. 502 to back down and cease their aggression, effectively nullified 2065. The Right of Self-Determination is not ignored by 2065, however. The Right of Self-Determination is part of the Charter of the United Nations and is the entitlement of all signatories of the UN. In 1988, Argentina made the decision to drop the application of UN Res. 2065.

      Similarly, on the several occasions that Britain has invited Argentina to sit down and talk, Argentina has either refused or simply walk out once they realise that Falkland Islanders will also be present. If Argentina were serious about their claim they would have taken it to the International Court of Justice, again something they will never do because they are on very shakey ground.

  2. Very well said! Argentina’s imperial designs to build the “Blue Pampas” should be resisted at all costs. The vast maritime empire which Buenos Aires seeks from Buenos Aires to Antarctica should never happen. The British territories are legitimately British and Argentina refuses to go to the International Court of Justice, but only will accept a “political solution” with “talks”.
    It is all based on the fanaticization of all young Argentines when they are at school, the fascist indoctrination put there by General Peron and his fascist colleagues since 1941 when they invented the “Malvinas” cause when London was under the bombs and they then started to sing the Malvinas anthem while they lied to their people telling them that this is a problem from 1833!

  3. Well said!
    The vast maritime empire which Buenos Aires seeks and which they call the Blue Pampas should never happen, it is all a fruit of the indoctrination of General Peron and his indoctrination of all Argentines which still remains in their education system since the 1940’s decade. In 1941 when London was under the bombs they started to sing the Malvinas Anthem! However they tell their people that this is a problem from 1833!
    The war occurred because of this fanatisization and the need for Argentine military dictators to stay in power and not to answer for the serious crimes like Argentines throwing other Argentines out of Argentine planes piloted by Argentine pilots.
    Argentina refuses to go to the International Court of Justice and Mr. Macri said that he couldn’t understand the sovereignty issue in such a large country like Argentina and that the Falklands would cost Argentina a lot of money to run.
    Now that Macri is in power he must obey the fascist written constitution which silences the truth and he dare not repeat what he said as a private individual.

  4. “In general, Latin America undermining Falklands democracy is a disgrace. The Falklanders deserve their land wholeheartedly, because, unlike Chile or Argentina, they didn’t exterminate indigenous populations to acquire it. So, though Latin American integration is badly needed, cultural genocide must not come of it.”

    …Do you know how Britain acquired the Falklands, and all of their empire? Almost comical writing.

    • A lot of the British expansion of their empire was because they offered a better deal. Here in New Zealand, the Maoris were indulging in the most disgusting civil wars, with stronger tribes invading the territory of the weaker, killing and often eating the men while enslaving the women and children. The British offered a way out of that and many (but not all) the Maoris signed a treaty, putting themselves under British administration. What the British did not tell them was that they would steal their land.

  5. The author of this article lacks elementary knowledge about the Argentine-British longstanding dispute.

    NOTE: Comment has been edited to remove hyperlinks. Please respect this section as a space of debate, and don’t misuse it for the promotion products./cs

  6. Disgraceful piece of propaganda. See how Roger Lorton promotes his website (part of Operation Quito) and Marcos comment gets edited out to remove hyperlinks. Pathetic.

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