By Vikki Graves
Argentinian President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner is in London today for the G20 summit. The discussions will focus on solving the global economic crisis, but for Argentinians, today’s date has another significance. It marks the anniversary of Argentina’s landing in The Falkland Islands, which sparked a bitter 74 day war. Ironically, President Kirchner will be marking the anniversary on British soil. She will attend a commemorative event at the Argentinian Embassy in London.
Last weekend, British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, met President Kirchner at the Progressive Governance forum in Vina del Mar, Chile. While Mrs Kirchner was keen to discuss Argentina’s claim to sovereignty of the islands, Mr Brown had stated in advance that there was “nothing to discuss from our side”.
The talk is reported to have lasted 35 minutes of which 15 were devoted to discussing the Falklands. It was described as “constructive” by both sides, who also, according to a British official, “agreed that they have differences of opinion”.
But this seems to be the only thing they agree on. Argentina’s claim to the islands, known in Spanish as ‘Las Malvinas’ is a powerful tool in domestic politics. Opinion is particularly strong in Tierra del Fuego, the province at the southern tip of the country, 300 miles from the islands. One Argentinian claims “for the world Malvinas are forever Argentinian”.
A British tourist, who visited Argentina in 2007, during the 25th anniversary of the war, confirms the strength of public feeling on the issue. “When I was in Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, there was a lot of grafitti saying things like ‘Malvinas for Argentina!’ and ‘The English are Pirates’. If you speak to the locals, many of them will agree that the Islands should join Argentina and become part of their province.”
Argentina’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Taiana, said “the President clearly established that in the 21st century the persistence with an archaic colonial enclave [by the British] is something not consistent with the world’s rhythm”. Gordon Brown, however, focussed not on a British sovereignty claim, but on the rights of the island’s inhabitants.
“The essential principle has always been that the Islanders should determine the issue of sovereignty for themselves and, let us be clear, our first priority will always be the needs and wishes of the Islanders.” – Gordon Brown
But what do the Islanders want? They were granted British citizenship in 1983, but the consitution supports their right to self-determination. They are ruled by a Governor, appointed by the Queen and advised by Executive Council and an elected Legislative Council.
A statement release by the Falkland Islands Government on Monday made its position on the Argentinian sovereignty claim very clear.
“…our Argentine neighbours remain in a time warp, still pressing their anachronistic claim to territorial sovereignty. In short, they wish to colonise the Falkland Islands.
We have been encouraged by the UK Government’s clear and unshakeable position that the sovereignty issue is not for negotiation. There is no turning back from this.
Falkland Islanders have expressed their views freely and unequivocally over many years. We wish to remain British. Our constitution enshrines the right to determine our own future. Surely no-one who supports democracy and human rights can oppose this?”
Yesterday, yet another coincidence befell President Kirchner. On the the eve of the anniversary of the beginning of the war, it was announced that Raul Alfonsin, the democratically elected president who took over at its end, died in his sleep aged 82.
Alfonsin’s government replaced the military dictatorship which started the war and, controversially, put nine of its former rulers on trial. He is widely seen as a symbol of a return to democracy for Argentina. The announcement of his death could well overshadow any plans Mrs Kirchner may have to restate her claim to the Falklands.