JOURNALIST and author Jimmy Burns, who has a wide knowledge of Latin America and Argentina, has sent an open letter via his website to Sean Penn on the subject of Penn's recent utterings on the Falkland Islands and Argentina.
I am writing in response to your comment in today's Guardian (23 February). We seem to have missed each other when you were recently in Buenos Aires
I note that you were granted a meeting with 'President Kirchner' (sic)- that was her late husband. I am surprised your knowledge of Argentine matters did not extend to calling her by her official and family name Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. But don't worry this kind of slip won't matter a damn to the current incumbent of the Casa Rosada whose style of government and public utterances are surrealistic.
I am told that Cristina - as her supporters like to call her - is delighted to have met one of her favourite actors - a true world celebrity and campaigner to boot-who seems to have provoked more column inches in the British media than the rather limp and ill-conceived presentation the other day of foreign minister Hector Timerman. Cristina's sister in law, Alicia who as you know is a good friend of a brave and hard working priest in Haiti, must also be thankful that you came there not only waving the Malvinas flag, but also in your capacity as ambassador at large not just for one island, but several, and one country.
Unlike you I did not have personal access to Cristina - she does not give interviews to investigative journalists and avoids press conferences like the plague - but I have spent rather more days than you have in Buenos Aires, a city (and a country) I happen to know pretty well having been posted there as a correspondent both in the lead-up to and during the Falklands War. I have revisited the country on several occasions since.
So let me take issue with just some of the points you raise in your comment.
Contrary to what you suggest, the current diplomatic deadlock was provoked not by a pre-emptive intimidation by the UK but by the decision taken in 2007 by President Kirchner-Cristina's late husband - to unilaterally ditch a cooperation agreement on oil exploration around the Malvinas/Falklands.
The agreement formed part of a broader compromise reached by Argentina and the UK during the Menem and Blair governments in the late 1990's to put the issue of sovereignty 'under an umbrella'- i.e. set it to one side in order to make progress on bringing about a better engagement between the islands and the mainland, while also improving diplomatic relations between the UK and Argentina.
But Kirchner-in a position shared by his widow-insisted, like Galtieri, that recognition of Argentina's sovereignty claim should be back at the top of the agenda, and therefore a sine qua non of any resumption of constructive diplomacy. In recent weeks, Cristina Fernandez has upped the ante by getting Falkland flagged transport and fishing boats banned from Argentine and neighbouring countries' ports while threatening to cut off flight communications , carrying food and other products from the mainland to the islands in a move that would amount to a virtual trade embargo.
This, I would submit is intimidation, not the alleged military escalation that the Fernandez government has denounced and which ignores or rather distorts the fact that the dispatch to the islands of a vessel by the Royal Navy has been a regular and routine practice since the end of war, and that Prince William's role on the islands is not commander in chief of an Imperial Task Force but as a member of a Search and Rescue team which is there to save lives, regardless of their nationality.
You suggest that those who rule Argentina today are not tainted by their involvement in the brutal repression of fellow citizens carried out in the 1970's and early 1980's by their military. Granted they have put several military officers in jail but it was President Alfonsín back in 1985 that had the guts to put the juntas on trial. Closer scrutiny of the current president and her late husband's political background would show that your assertion that the very people who suffered and fought most enduring against the military junta are the ones who now lead the country gives a slightly misleading impression that they led the resistance after the1976 coup and that Argentina today is a fully functioning democracy when it is not.
Neither Christina Fernandez nor her husband Nestor played a prominent role in the resistance to the military after coup. Nor did they take a public stand against the invasion of the Faklands like Alfonsin did. Today the President, whose ideological ally is Chavez, is surrounded by a small clique of unquestioning ministers and officials supported by sectors of the media the government controls, and a praetorian guard of young nationalistic neo-Marxist Peronist activists called La Campora who have taken key positions in government departments and state companies. A new anti-terrorism law has been drafted to curb opposition which is increasing as the economy deteriorates and the social compact with favoured business leaders and trade unionists is no longer solid. While you were in BA, government media censored details of the brutal repression by riot police and hired thugs of those protesting on ecological grounds the ravages to earth and water threatened by private gold mining companies in the northern province of Catamarca.
I doubt, Sean, whether during your quick visit to BA you had time-as I had, to talk to critics of the government like journalists at Clarin, Argentina's mass circulation paper that has been subjected to a relentless campaign of harassment because of its exposure of government cronyism and alleged corruption..
Finally there is one fact more than any other that you - precisely because if your undoubted track record in standing up for decent causes- should understand and empathise with. The wish of the Falkland islanders not to be Argentine even if Argentines are quite free to visit and settle on the islands if they wish. This is not because their colonial masters are gagging them but because they believe in, and Argentina rejects, a very democratic principle that should be close to your campaigning heart, dear Sean: the right to self-determination.
All in justice and solidarity Jimmy.
Jimmy Burns is a Spanish born English author and journalist with long experience in Latin America and Argentina. He arrived in Buenos Aires in the middle of a military palace coup and three months before the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentine armed forces sparked off a three-month war with Britain. He was the only full-time British foreign correspondent to remain in Argentina prior to, during, and well beyond the conflict, covering the country's transition to democracy, as well as political developments in Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay. He continued to regularly contribute articles on Latin America to other media outlets in the UK, Europe, and the US.