The second of a planned series of extended political articles written exclusively for the Penguin News web site by Deputy Editor John Fowler
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the difficulty the population of the Falkland Islands has in finding a voice in a debate, which, if it were to take place, from the Argentine side of the sovereignty issue, would only be between them and the British Government. Far from acknowledging, as did the late and much lamented Dr Guido di Tella, Foreign Minister during the unlamented government of Carlos Menem, that "as the Falkland Islanders are part of the of the problem, they must also be part of the solution," successive Kirchner administrations have not only denied our right to a voice, but, effectively our very existence.
This repeated denial that the Falkland Islands could ever have the right to exist, except as part of Argentina called Islas Malvinas would make dialogue difficult, even if we were allowed to be part of it. It also flies in the face of the fact that far from being the result of some kind of enforced plantation, the Falkland Islands people, - some of whom have lived here for over 160 years - share much in common with the majority of the people of Argentina, being largely descended from people who left their homes in Europe, looking for a better life.
The argument of geographical propinquity which insists that we should be part of Argentina because we are some three hundred or so miles away from the South American continent and 8,000 miles away from Britain, would cause chaos and a major re-drawing of the world map, if applied in Europe, for example. It would also make more sense were it not for the fact that a majority of the Argentine people trace their ancestry back to a plethora of countries almost equally far away from Buenos Aires.
The moral superiority of our claim to existence is instanced by the fact that apart from the claim that a handful of Argentine citizens were forcibly removed from the Islands in 1833, which the historical record proves to be spurious, there was no previous indigenous population on the Falkland Islands to be displaced, subdued or wiped out by force of arms or disease. We had no need of Indian wars or a General Rosas to enable us to settle here.
Current claims by the Argentine Government that Britain is somehow militarising the peaceful South Atlantic are equally spurious. Were it not for the armed invasion of our country by Argentina in 1982 and the continuous threat to our security posed by the Argentine sovereignty claim, we should have no need for a British military presence, which only exists to preserve our rights and not to keep us captive, as has recently been suggested.
A respected North American think tank recently described the Falklands as, "The Elephant In The Atlantic" describing the sovereignty dispute as " a pernicious issue" standing stands in the way of Britain creating long-lasting, meaningful relationships with some Latin American countries. Next year sees the thirtieth anniversary of the armed conflict provoked by the despairing and desperate act of the discredited military dictatorship in Argentina. It would be wonderful if after all this time, there was sign of a way out of the stalemate in which we the Falkland Islanders and the governments of Argentina and Britain find themselves equally and ultimately unprofitably trapped.
It would be wonderful, but maybe in the fantasy realms of flying pigs, if the present democratically elected Argentine administration, which has done much to redress the evils of the military dictatorship, would recognise that this obsession with making good a perceived historical slight is inappropriate for an aspiring first world country, threatening, as it does the basic human rights of people who were not themselves responsible. .
Though deliberately misinterpreted by the Argentine government and media, the position of the British Government towards the Falkland Islands is clear and not necessarily tied to possession. In fact successive British governments have repeated that they are pledged to support whatever the aspirations of the Falkland Islands people may be. That presents us with a challenge which has been taken up in recent years as instanced by constitutional changes leading to complete financial independence and almost complete autonomy.
An answer to the present stalemate, if it is ever to come, must emerge through dialogue – further armed conflict is unthinkable - but it has to be real dialogue, about real issues and involving all the parties concerned. Unfortunately, such dialogue does not seem likely to happen for some time to come.
The great Argentine writer Borges once described the 1982 Falklands War as being like "two bald men fighting over a comb." The possibility of oil under the waters around the Islands makes that rather unflattering analogy less appropriate. If either of the two zones currently licensed for oil exploration around the Falkland Islands become significant fields, Argentina, which already has a developed and geographically handy oil infrastructure, would be well placed to profit, if prepared to cooperate.
Such an offer by Argentina to cooperate in the exploitation of Falklands oil might well be unlikely given current attitudes, but would no doubt find favour with whatever oil companies were involved. Given that the economic and political clout of the world's major oil companies far exceeds that of many countries, they might be able to soften even Madame Kirchner's hard heart, but that of the Falkland Islands Government might be a different matter.
Given Argentina's abandonment of a previous agreement on cooperation in this field and the recent attempts by the Kirchner administration to isolate the Falklands from the continent and bring its economy to its knees, it is more likely that the Falkland Islands Government would insist that, whatever the extra cost and difficulty, exploiting any oil-should not involve Argentina. It is likely also that the expected increased government revenues from oil exploitation would be used in part to develop air and shipping links on routes outside the Argentine sphere of influence.
All of the above is, of course, speculation and dependent on a whole sequence of events yet to come, but does, I would suggest, indicate that among the mixed bag of benefits and dangers that the development of a Falklands oil field might bring, could be that Borges's "comb" develops stronger teeth and a voice which can no longer be so easily ignored.