A War of Words: The Continuing Saga of las Falklands
Dec. 15, 2011
Argentina was accused of bullying Uruguay into supporting them by banning ships flying the Falklands flag from docking in Uruguay ports (mainly the Port of Montevideo). President José ‘Pepe’ Mujica of Uruguay has worked hard over the past two years to improve relations with Argentina, and “in the last few months three Falklands flagged vessels called in Montevideo and the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported them to Uruguay, expressing ‘deep disappointment’ with Montevideo’s attitude.”
Several articles used the term “bullying.” While none of them made mention of specific threats or forms of intimidation, the implication is that the more Argentina accuses Uruguay of allowing the ships to dock, the more nervous Mujica becomes. The Uruguayan opposition has long criticized the Mujica Administration of a perceived policy of appeasement with Argentina.
Dec. 16, 2011
President Mujica denied that he has been bullied by the administration of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (often referred to simply as “CFK”). He said that the press got it wrong: Argentina hasn’t been pressuring him at all. He further noted that British ships are welcome in Uruguayan ports, as are the ships of any other country as recognized by the UN. While Uruguay supports the Argentine claim to las Malvinas, if the Falklands are really a British possession, they must sail under the British flag.
After President Mujica’s public statement regarding the ban on Falklands flagged vessels, the British Embassy in Montevideo quickly jumped into action, discussing the implications of such a policy with Uruguayan authorities. The same article reports that Uruguayan Port authorities are concerned that these ships will move to ports in Brazil, rather than running up a non-Falklands flag, which would affect business (and jobs) in the Port of Montevideo.
As for local perspectives, the Falklands have an eight-member Legislative Assembly. A different article by MercoPress quoted Dr. Barry Elsby, who was recently elected to the Legislative Assembly, saying:
“We are already under an effective sea-blockade but with the 30th anniversary of the (1982 Falklands) conflict next year, I think things will get worse. We must actively prepare for this in order to protect our tourist and oil industries and our own freedom to travel. We can’t let Argentina win.”
MLA Elsby also stated that “I feel we are entering one of the most difficult, dangerous but also exciting time since the conflict of 1982.”
I appreciate his realistic optimism, but this could prove to be an understatement.
Dec. 17, 2011
MercoPress provided a piece summarizing the responses of the Foreign Ministries of both Uruguay and the UK. Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro explained that “If we are consistent with our position that the Malvinas constitute the only remaining European colonial enclave in Latin America, we definitively must have a position regarding those vessels coming to Uruguay flying those colours.” He went on to explain that the Uruguayan policy is consistent with the policies of UNASUR.
Meanwhile, the British Foreign Ministry released a statement regarding a meeting they convened with the Uruguay Ambassador in London:
“The Uruguayan position is potentially very worrying and we are carefully considering our next steps”, said a Foreign Office brief message. “It would be most disappointing that Uruguay has decided to back the shameful attempts by Argentina to harm the economy and way of life of the inhabitants of this small archipelago by blocking access to free trade”.
The Foreign Office message adds that Britain has no doubts about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and will continue to support the right of the Islanders to determine their own political future.
“Nor we or the Falklands will yield to those pretending to intimidate or blackmail the Islands”.
In the war of words, both Argentina and the UK are clearly adjusting aim and increasing firepower. But in a conflict, words are often meaningless–when they aren’t harmful–in situations where both sides have already made up their minds before talking.
Dec. 19, 2011
A Spanish vessel received special attention as it sailed through disputed waters under the auspices of a Falklands Island fishing license: it was followed by water and by air. When the Spanish vessel set sail from the Port of Montevideo, an Argentine Coast Guard vessel (GC 24 Mantillas) began following from a distance. It didn’t take long for the Uruguayan Navy to launch a Super King Air 200 from a nearby naval air station, “to protect the right to free navigation of the Spanish vessel so it could reach the high seas.”
The Spanish Ambassador to Uruguay, Aurora Diaz-Rato, called the incident a mistake on the part of Argentine authorities. In context, the Argentine Coast Guard seems to be making a habit of hasseling Spanish vessels in disputed waters.
In response to the growing tensions, the Uruguay opposition leaders lambasted the Mujica Administration. Among other things, they criticized President Mujica for being “submissive” to Argentina even to the point of being ” excessively obsequious” on a matter that does nothing to further Uruguay interests. Luis Alberto Lacalle, a leader of the main opposition party in Uruguay, was quoted as saying this:
“All Uruguayan elected governments and even the military dictatorship have been next to Argentina in her claims over the Malvinas Islands sovereignty; however we can discuss about UK war vessels heading for Malvinas, but certainly we can not damage our legitimate interests as the hub port for fishing vessels in the South Atlantic.”
He went on to say that the perceived submissiveness does not go both ways. While the Mujica Administration responds immediately to matters of Argentine interest within the region, the CFK Administration has not reciprocated with sympathies for matters of Uruguayan interest.
The timing of President Mujica’s statement was also called into question, given that vessels bearing the flag of the Falklands have conducted trade in the Port of Montevideo for several decades in spite of official Uruguayan support of Argentine claims to las Malvinas. A Falklands fishing industry official also questioned why Mujica spoke up now, asserting that “international law pertaining to flags has not changed, and the Falklands flag remains an internationally recognised registry.”
Dec. 20, 2011
At the Mercosur Summit, CFK made a spech calling for the regional bloc to support Argentina in the war of words for las Malvinas. La Capital reported (en español) that la Presidenta stated before Mercosur: “Malvinas aren’t an Argentine cause, but a global cause.” She didn’t pull any punches, going on to say that “They [the UK] are taking our oil and fish resources.” She also asserted that Argentina is not just doing this as a matter of national sovereignty, but rather out of a respect for multilateralism. After all, it is the UK that has been uncooperative with UN calls for peaceful negotiations. (MercoPress provided coverage in English.)
In response to CFK’s address, Mercosur–a regional trade bloc comprised of Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Paraguay, with Ecuador and Venezuela lobbying for admission as full members–drafted a resolution that would bar ships bearing the flag of the Falklands from docking in any port of a Mercosur member state. This resolution was actually proposed by Mujica, not CFK.
In discussing the Uruguayan policy, President Mujica explained that while they have joined Argentina in the ban of Falklands flagged ships, Uruguay would never join in a maritime blockade against the Falklanders themselves. He stated that “we understand this is not helpful, is in violation of human rights and contrary to creating the necessary conditions for a peaceful negotiations, the only path to find a way out for the historic dispute.” Mujica also posited that while Uruguay has nothing against the UK, they do have more for Argentina.
But the fact remains that with this Mercosur resolution, the ability of Falklands flagged ships to dock anywhere in Latin America is significantly diminished. Earlier talk of vessels abandoning the Port of Montevideo in favor of docking in Brazil now seem to be overstated.
Meanwhile, the Argentine Foreign Minister publicly thanked President Mujica for his support on the issue of las Malvinas, confirming that “Uruguay has honoured its word.”
Dec. 21, 2011
The BBC posted a short video summarizing the issue. The video includes a clip from CFK’s speech at the Mercosur Summit, as well as an interview with a member of the local Falklands government.
Professor Mark Jones, a political scientist and Latin America expert from Rice University in Houston, explained to the Guardian that this is a classic diversionary tactic used by Argentine governments that want to distract their constituents from domestic issues:
“This issue has historically been used quite a bit by Argentinian presidents when they want to distract the public,” he said. “The Malvinas issue is always a good one to distract and also to rally people around the government. It’s always a political winner.”
The Falkland Islands Fishing Companies Association (FIFCA) issued a statement expressing regret over Uruguay’s docking ban, and the effect it will have on the Port of Montevideo. The statement, signed by FIFCA Chair Cheryl Roberts, said:
“We are extremely disappointed with Uruguay’s decision not to allow Falkland flagged vessels entry into Montevideo. In doing so Uruguay serves to punish its own people as without doubt, the effect on their economy due to this decision will be significant.”
The statement also described the CG 24 Mantillas incident as a “complete disregard for maritime law and the right of innocent passage through territorial waters”, adding that “from the earliest days of settlement the Falkland Islanders have above all been resourceful.” They will adapt and overcome. While Montevideo has traditionally been the primary port used by fishing vessels sailing under Falklands licenses, it’s not the only port in South America.
The Falklands’ elected Legislative Assembly also released a statement indicating that they, too, regretted the Mercosur decision, but that they understood Argentina’s “bullying tactics.” The statement, read by MLA Jan Cheek, reassured the world community that: “We are resourceful people, and we will not bow to Argentina in their attempts to undermine our home and way of life.” It went on to remind all of the countries in South America of “the long and mutually beneficial trade relationship we share with countries in the region, [and to] encourage them to respect us as the valuable and reliable regional partner we have strived to be.”
The Legislative Assembly also made a point of explaining that “The [British] Foreign Office has reassured The Falkland Islands that no one should doubt the UK Government’s determination to protect the Islanders’ right to determine their own political future.”
Roger Spink, President of the Falklands Chamber of Commerce, agreed. He also observed that “If we were Palestine, the European Union would be up in arms.”
Dec. 22, 2011
An Op-Ed published by The Independent observed that “simply ignoring Buenos Aires’ claims of sovereignty will not make them go away.” The Op-Ed ended with a call to action: “It is time to defuse the situation. Last year, Hillary Clinton suggested she broker talks between Britain and Argentina. We should take her up on the offer.”
Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Lord Alan West called for a show of force in the Falklands. Speaking as a veteran of the 1982 Falklands War and former head of the British Navy, he asserted that “The great thing about military forces, and particularly the Navy, is that it’s a very good deterrant. And it needs to be used as a deterrant.”
Dec. 23, 2011
The Falklanders responded to the Dec. 22 Op-Ed from The Independent:
“We are very appreciative of the strong support from the UK for our right to self determination under the UN Charter. We are equally disappointed that countries in the region with which we’ve had a long and mutually beneficial relationship seem ready to join Argentina in ignoring this right. As a people we have the right to determine our own future, and we have made a choice – to maintain our relationship with Britain. It is this right, and this choice that we have made, that is being ignored.”
The response went on to explain that while the issue would be settled through diplomatic talks “in an ideal world”, the only talks of interest to Argentina involve infringing upon the rights of the Falklanders to self-determination.
After a (phone) meeting between Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, it would seem that the only conclusion the two ministers came to was to agree to disagree.
In the annual Christmas address to the Islands, British Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to never surrender the Falklands as long as the Falklanders wish to be associated with Britain. He minced no words:
“Whatever challenges we face in the UK, the British government’s commitment to the security and prosperity of the overseas territories, including the Falklands, remains undiminished.
“So let me be absolutely clear. We will always maintain our commitment to you on any question of sovereignty. Your right to self-determination is the cornerstone of our policy. We will never negotiate on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless you, the Falkland islanders, so wish. No democracy could ever do otherwise.”
The Prime Minister went on to say: “We want to work with Argentina on those issues. But the Argentine government has continued to make statements which challenge your right to self-determination, and we can never accept that.”
Meanwhile, Alberto Díaz, president of Uruguay’s Ports Authority, indicated that the move by Mercosur is “more symbolic than anything else”. In order to get around the ban, all the ships need to do is take down the Falklands flag and run up the Union Jack.
A few thoughts
This certainly has been an interesting saga to watch. Neither Argentina nor the UK is willing to back down, but both seem reluctant to go to war. Both Argentina and the UK have provided logical, rational arguments for their respective policies of colonization of the Islands that have been weakened by some pretty stupid arguments.
It’s interesting to note that with the exception of two, all of the articles I linked to are from MercoPress, the Guardian, or the BBC. As noted in my previous blog post, at this point, the US seems fairly indifferent when measured by the lack of reporting in the US media.
Still waiting for the big name media sources in the US to pick up the story of las Falklands. In the meantime, I’d like to wish the UK a merry Christmas; Argentina a feliz Navidad; and peace and quiet to the inhabitants of las Falklands.