The Argentine-British dispute over the Falkland/Malvinas islands is once again heating up, and the latest events point at a new diplomatic setback for Argentina’s legitimate claims over the South Atlantic islands.
By the time many of you read these lines, residents of the 3,200 population British-held Falkland/Malvinas will have held a referendum to decide whether they want to continue being a self-governed British overseas territory. The result is expected to be a massive support for continued British status — a major propaganda victory for the pro-British islanders.
An estimated 60 journalists from around the world were expected to visit the remote islands to witness the referendum, which will be held Sunday and Monday. Top members of the islands’ Legislative Assembly are scheduled to start a world tour in coming days to publicize the referendum’s outcome, and to stress the islanders’ right to self-determination.
While Argentina’s claims over the islands are legitimate — we’ll get to that later — Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s aggressive international campaign against the islanders has backfired.
By demanding bilateral negotiations with Britain without the islanders’ participation, escalating her hostile rhetoric against islanders, preventing ships flying Falkland Islands flags from stopping in Argentine ports and threatening legal action against firms drilling oil off the islands, Argentina has effectively pushed the islanders to hold this referendum, and to take their case to international forums.
While not as suicidal as Argentina’s military dictatorship’s ill-fated 1982 invasion of the islands, Argentina’s latest offensive against the islanders may go down in history as a text-book case of diplomatic incompetence. Great Britain’s Foreign Office is already exploiting it to its advantage.
In an extended interview last week, during a stop in Miami during a trip that included New York, Washington, Mexico and Cuba, British Foreign Office director of Latin American affairs Kate Smith told me that “what really prompted the Falkland islands government to hold this referendum was their concern that the Argentine government was strengthening its rhetoric in a way that discounted the views of the islanders.”
Smith added that “having a referendum that actually demonstrates officially what their view is will really enhance and strengthen the islanders’ position.”
Smith charged that Fernndez”s government has been waging a diplomatic and economic campaign to “strangle the prosperity of the islanders.”
“’There was a time, a few years ago, when we did have constructive discussions (with Argentina) on fisheries, on communications, and indeed on hydrocarbons, but that period’s sadly over,” Smith told me. “’With this Argentine government, we haven’t been able to pursue that sort of cooperation at all.’’
Sen. Daniel Filmus, head of the Argentine Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee and a strong Fernández backer, told me that the Falkland/Malvinas referendum “doesn’t have any importance,” because — unlike that of East Timor and others — it has not been conducted by the United Nations.