Colonial posturing will not change right and wrong on the Malvinas

By Jane West

Cameron’s absurd posturing on the issue of the Malvinas (Falklands), including launching a ‘referendum’ among the island dwellers on whether they wish to remain ‘British’, isolates Britain in Latin America in particular but also in the wider international community.

This comes on top of the great offence taken to the provocative posting of Prince William to the Malvinas in February last year to mark the 30th anniversary of the war.

Sean Penn, the actor, who backs Argentina on the Malvinas, correctly described Britain’s claim as ‘colonialist, ludicrous and archaic’, said of William’s posting: ‘It’s unthinkable that the United Kingdom can make a conscious decision to deploy a prince within the military to the Malvinas, knowing the great emotional sensitivity both of mothers and fathers in the United Kingdom and in Argentina who lost sons and daughters in a war of islands with a population of so few… It’s not necessary, when the deployment of a prince is generally accompanied by warships, to send them into the seas of such shared blood.’

Further offence was taken to the imperial grandstanding reflected in ‘renaming’ part of Antarctica as ‘Queen Elizabeth Land’ – to mark the Diamond Jubilee! – when it was well-known internationally that Britain’s claim to the area was also long disputed by Argentina

Cameron’s Malvinas’ ‘referendum’ does not solve anything. Apart from anything else it is outside international law. The votes of a small settler population can never legitimise colonial possession in the Malvinas or anywhere else.

As the head of Argentina’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee put it very clearly, ‘the appearance of popular participation in an implanted population… has no validity for international law.’

The absurd claim by the British government that the vote amounts to ‘the right of self-determination’ is not only invalid in law, but denies history. Britain conquered the Malvinas in 1833 forcing an Argentinean garrison to leave. The UK then placed settlers in the Malvinas. The referendum was only among the descendants of these settlers and others who have since moved to the Malvinas when they were already under British control.

Moreover leaving aside its lack of legitimacy, initiating the referendum is in clear breach of UN General Assembly Resolution 31/49, which requires the UK and Argentina to each abstain from actions that introduce unilateral modifications in the situation relating to the islands.

It is notable, in this light, that not even the US has said anything in support of the British ‘referendum’ initiative.

The fact is that the Malvinas are 450km from Latin America, but 12,656km from London. It is an absurd colonial fiction to persist with a British claim to the islands.

On 28 January the heads of government of the Community of Latin and American States, reiterated ‘their strongest support to the legitimate rights of the Argentine Republic in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas.’

Many Latin American countries are stepping up their actions against Britain in response to the rising tensions.

Brazil already bans shipping flying Falkland’s flags into its territorial waters. In an escalation of this ban, in January it denied permission for a British naval ship to dock in Rio de Janeiro because it had travelled directly from the Malvinas. Even more seriously, direct container traffic from the Malvinas to Rio Grande in Brazil will be suspended from June.

Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, explained her government ‘stands on the long tradition of Brazilian diplomacy in support of the Argentine claim.’

Condemnation of Britain’s approach has begun to spread beyond Latin America. All 54 African countries endorsed Latin America’s position at the February Malabo Summit of South American and African countries. The summit declared: ‘We recognize the legitimate rights of the Argentine Republic in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas Islands.’

In 1982, under Thatcher, Britain fought a war over the Malvinas that had immense costs both materially and in human lives. The existence of a military junta under Galtieri in Argentina did not justify that war, but it was used to lull public opinion at home and internationally, and give Britain’s allies a justification for their support.

In 2013 there is no such excuse. It is unlikely there will be another Malvinas war. But by pursuing a bellicose position on the Malvinas, Britain is waving an imperial flag at the countries of Latin America that is no more justifiable than direct intervention.

Cameron’s colonial policy should be opposed, his absurd referendum given no credibility and Argentina’s right to the Malvinas should be defended.