A letter to the President of Argentina

Mrs President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,

You started your letter by noting the date Britain asked a detachment of Argentine troops to leave the Falkland Islands that had previously been settled by us. Let me offer you another date: In 1580 Buenos Aires was re-founded by the Spanish after the initial settlement had been destroyed by the original inhabitants. From that time onwards, the country you now call Argentina, was second only to the United States of America as a destination for European colonists.

1.6% of Argentina’s population identify as Amerindian while over 86% are of European origin – yours is a country inhabited by colonisers. Your own 100 peso bill celebrates the 1870 ‘Conquest of the Desert’ campaign that left 1,300 natives dead and Patagonia in European hands.  For decades Amerindians were subjected to a process of invisibilisation as Europeans colonised ‘empty’ land and responded to raids from displaced tribes with brutal measures.

For all this you find no irony in accusing Britain of being a coloniser and an imperialist power when your own country is founded upon these principles. Indeed the strongest claim Argentina has on the originally uninhabited islands is through the Spanish colonial empire, an empire your people declared independence from citing the importance of self-determination. It is a pity that you do not extend that right to the people of the Falkland Islands.

This is not the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute of Japan and China, this should not be about prestige or academics considering competing historical claims (however much this usually falls in Britain’s favour): these islands are not barren rocks, they are inhabited. You consistently deny the people of the Falkands a voice in their future. Losing or gaining the Falklands will affect Britain and Argentina respectively far less than it will the people who live there. Why will you not recognise the results of a referendum held there? What do you fear by the people making their feelings officially known? In ignoring the wishes of the Falkland Islanders you are acting as countless other colonial powers have done in the past. This dispute is not between Buenos Aires and London, it is between Buenos Aires and Stanley. Britain would stand aside if the Falkland Islanders so wished. Please let them make that decision and honour their referendum results.

You call for negotiations yet your own predecessors ended these when they invaded sovereign territory in violation of international law, in contravention of the UN’s resolutions and against the wishes of the inhabitants. 907 lives were lost and hundreds were left wounded, all for Argentina’s pride in a dubious claim to inhabited islands. It is somewhat ironic that you should accuse Britain of militarising the South Atlantic.

You joke that the Iraqis never had a referendum on Britain invading – I too opposed that war, but I am consistent. I will always defencd the right of the Falkland Islands to be free from unwanted foreign invasion and occupation. You cannot use every mistake of Britain’s to whitewash your own shaky claims to territorial expansion or silence the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.

It is interesting that you coincide your call for the Falklands at a time when your own people have been protesting at the endemic failures of your rightwing government. Argentina faces removal from the IMF and is ranked toward the bottom of the world table on perceptions of corruption. While you ‘never wear an outfit twice’ and cover yourself in jewels and designer labels your own people are suffering. Playing the Falklands card might be a nice smokescreen for your own policy failures but it will not help Argentina out of the mess you have left her in, just as it didn’t help the dictatorial junta that invaded in 1982.

The Falklands have never had an indigenous population – but the current inhabitants have a better claim than anyone to being natives. Like Britain, Argentina has a shameful colonial past – it is therefore odd to act holier than thou when your own country is founded upon the blood of Amerindians. Europeans conquered Argentina, their descendents tried to conquer the Falklands and now, having failed, you act surprised that Britain and the Islanders feel there is nothing to negotiate.

Perhaps one day a President of Argentina will write to a British paper apologising for the invasion, apologising for the dishonouring of our war dead and recognising the Falkland Islanders’ sovereignty. Until then, I too look to the United Nations. So let’s take this back to first principles, Chapter 1, Article 1, part 2 of the UN Charter – the right to self-determination.

James Hallwood

Not a president or a prime minister – just someone who believes the Falkland Islanders are more important than the Argentine, British, or any other governments in deciding their own future.

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