The Falklands – Latin America’s Shame

By Christian Scheinpflug

This post appeared elsewhere in a slightly different version on January 24, 2017.

In 1982, Argentina and Great Britain fought a 10-week war over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands, which Great Britain won bruised but decisively. That outcome notwithstanding, Buenos Aires has been quite successful in gathering Latin America behind its claim to the islands. This is bad for Falklands democracy, regional stability, and even suicidal in the case of Chile.

Argentina started early to get the region aboard. As hostilities started, the face of the Argentine Junta, General Leopoldo Galtieri, travelled to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro. According to Juan Bautista Yofre, Mr Castro suggested framing the war as anti-imperialist struggle — and ever since Argentine leaders have told the fable of their country’s quest against injustice.

In 2012, right before the Summit of the Americas, and around the rise of the Pink Tide, with Brazil aspiring to a more forceful role in international relations, Argentina’s fortunes increased substantially. Colombia spoke out against British military presence in the region and, gradually, all Latin countries came along, even those that only tacitly supported Argentina during the war, or collaborated with the British, as did Chile.

Yet, in 2013 the Islanders held a referendum on their sovereign status, and nearly all inhabitants favoured the status quo. But instead of recognising the result, as democrats would, Latin America kept quiet when Argentina denigrated the vote as “illegal.” But how could the referendum be illegal when Argentine law doesn’t apply? Accepting that claim, though, would demand Argentina to call on a judge. But it didn’t, because its claim is baseless. President Macri knows as much and so his “new type of relationship” remains populist nonsense, as long as he maintains his country’s demand for negotiations. Ironically, his administration worked hard to suspend Venezuela from MERCOSUR, emphasising democratic deficits, while posturing against the Falklands.

By enabling such cynicism, the countries in the region show that they don’t seem to care about the danger of Argentina’s fantasy. Worse still, country’s like Chile seem blind and naïve about their own security. Chilean General, Fernando Matthei, in charge of the Anglo-Chilean alliance during the Falklands war, flatly states Argentina acted “stupid” back then — except it didn’t. Indeed, even if failed in 1982, Argentina still aptly used the military to achieve diplomatic ends.

Officially, it invaded to recuperate the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands from the British, who had supposedly stolen them. But this myth conceals the link between the Falklands War and the aggression in Chile’s Beagle Channel, which aimed at securing Cape Horn as Argentine military base. Argentine Admiral Jorge Anaya, Bautista Yofre writes, deemed Cape Horn so crucial to Argentina’s interests that it warranted “war with Chile.” The outcome of the ‘Beagle Crisis,’ however, shattered Argentina’s pride, and the Pope’s intervention foreclosed any attempts of trying again. And so, the Falklands came into play.

But war was never the objective. Rather, Argentina replicated the strategy with which it acquired Patagonia from Chile during the Pacific War. At the apex of Chile’s power, when it occupied Lima while beating back Bolivian forces, Argentina threatened to invade Chile if Santiago wouldn’t hand over large parts of Patagonia. With such blackmail, Argentina gained massive territory that eventually fuelled the country’s rise to economic superpower, lasting until the 1930s.

So, using the military to force negotiations regarding the Falklands was neither stupid nor novel. Actually, Argentina’s current strategy is a modification, as it replaced soldiers with diplomats to lever its influence.

Calling for dialogue as blackmail tactic is more promising than using rifles. Negotiations take place only if there’s a problem, so were London participate in talks, it would automatically admit to a mistake, giving Buenos Aires the high ground, which in turn could yield concessions easier than by military force. But any compromise would translate into a weakened status quo and upset the balance of power. Moreover, yielding to Latin America’s demands for talks would violate the 2013 referendum, in which the Islanders already solved the problem of belonging.

Thus, pressing for negotiations is not only an attack on Falklands democracy; it’s also sabotaging Chilean security. Chile’s participation in the scheme reveals therefore deep flaws and naïveté in its foreign policy. Negotiations over the Falklands would establish a precedent for negotiations with Bolivia, because La Paz pursues essentially the same objective: restore sovereignty over presumably stolen land. So Chile in the South Atlantic is undermining its position in the northern Atacama. Luckily, Bolivia seemingly hasn’t stumbled over that argument yet.

Furthermore, Cape Horn and the Falklands carry the strategic potential of serving as doorstep into the waters around Antarctica; a medium-sized power, which Argentina can become, may control the traffic in the region and comfortably access the treasures of Antarctica. A stronger Argentina in the South Atlantic would inevitably pressure Chile in the South Pacific, even more so with the set of alliances that will emerge amidst the international conquest of Antarctica. Sure, things may play out differently; but promoting such a scenario nonetheless, as Chile does, is irresponsible.

In general, Latin America undermining Falklands democracy is a disgrace. The Falklanders deserve their land wholeheartedly, because, unlike Chile or Argentina, they didn’t exterminate indigenous populations to acquire it. So, though Latin American integration is badly needed, cultural genocide must not come of it.

Christian is a columnist at Chile Today. He’s also director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI) and co-editor of E-IR’s book on International Relations Theory. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrScheinpflug

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