Thursday, April 05, 2007

Argentina Heats Up The Falkland Islands Dispute Again, But Use Of Force Excluded For Now

The center-left government of Argentina's President Nestor Kirchner is stepping up his country's claims of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, known in Argentina as "Las Malvinas" in Spanish, despite Britain's continuing stance that it will only enter talks if the 2,900 islanders want it to. This story, originally published on the website, has received virtually no coverage in a celebrity-obsessed mainstream American media establishment.

At an official ceremony held in the world's southernmost city, Ushuaia (more than 3,000 kilometers south of Buenos Aires), Argentina's Vice-President Daniel Scioli asserted that "The Malvinas are Argentine, they always were, they always will be", drawing applause from the crowd of several thousand people. The ceremony commemorated the start of the 10-week long 1982 Falklands War and the sacrifice of 650 Argentine troops (255 British troops lost their lives). "Once again, we urge the United Kingdom to heed international calls and resume negotiations in the appropriate manner, through the United Nations," Scioli continued.

However, although the objective of recovering the islands is considered non-negotiable, the use of force has seemingly been ruled out for now. Argentina's ill-fated Falklands campaign is widely viewed throughout Argentine society as a mistake by the now-discredited military dictatorship ruling at the time. "The objective of recovering our islands can't be renounced," said the head of the armed forces, Jorge Chevalier. "Today the methodology is clear: the diplomatic path, through peace. Too much blood was spilled and that should never be repeated."

Just last week, the Argentine government sent an economic signal of its displeasure with Britain's continuing refusal to negotiate the status of the islands by announcing the end of an agreement with London to explore for oil near the Falklands, citing "unilateral" British efforts to drill. Britain called that a "backward step". In addition, diplomatic scuffles have also arisen in recent years over the issue of fishing licenses in the waters around the South Atlantic archipelago and flights to mainland South America.

And Argentina has picked up some regional support. On April 2nd, the International Herald Tribune reported that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez expressed support for Argentina's claim on the Falklands and urged Great Britain to negotiate their return to Argentina. Chavez also advocated the creation of a common South American defense bloc.

During the ceremony in Ushuaia to honor Argentine soldiers, organisers released bundles of blue and white balloons into the air along with gray doves. War veterans handed out roses for people to toss into the bay to honor Argentina's fallen soldiers. One Ushuaia resident climbed atop a mound of dirt and planted his own giant Argentine flag, with the black outlines of the islands superimposed and the slogan "We will return."

War veteran Jose Ricci endured a three-day bus ride to reach Ushuaia to join the official commemorative act. Ricci was 20 when Argentine forces landed on the Falkland Islands to wrest them from British control exercised since 1833. "It was very important for me to travel the 3,500 kilometers by bus to pay homage. I've got friends whose remains are in the Malvinas and I'm closer to them here," Ricci said as flags snapped in the chilly Patagonian wind.

Wikipedia provides a good summary about the Falklands War, during which the status of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands was also contested. The campaign was basically a draw until midway through, when the Argentine cruiser ARA General Belgrano was sunk by a British submarine, with the loss of 323 crewmembers. Thereafter, Argentine naval ships retired to home ports for the remainder of the war.

Ironically, the General Belgrano, which began its life as the USS Phoenix, survived the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

If Argentina did decide to re-invade the Falkland Islands, they would find a different economy and even different people today than the mostly British-originated sheep ranchers of 24 years ago. On April 1st, 2007, the Barre (VT) Times published a comprehensive article about life in the 21st century Falklands.

Before the war, the Falkland Islands were little more than a giant sheep farm, dominated for more than a century by the Falkland Islands Company. People who lived in "the Camp," the local term for the rolling treeless expanses of pasture and peat bogs that make up most of this Connecticut-sized territory, were tenants, not landowners, and depended upon the company for everything. The overwhelmingly majority were of European origin.

However, the currently population of 2,955 people is considerably more diverse than 24 years ago. The onset of prosperity and corresponding creation of jobs has attracted an influx of outsiders. Jobs like sheep-shearing and nursing are now filled by Chileans, while mixed-race people from the island of St. Helena, which lies some 2,500 miles to the northeast, work as waiters and store clerks. Just offshore, Korean, Taiwanese, Russian and Spanish ships with Indonesian, Filipino and Bangladeshi crews scoop up tons of squid, which has replaced wool and mutton as the territory's principal export.

"There are just not enough of us to do all the work that has to be done," said Mike Summers, a member of the Falklands' legislative council. As a result of affluence and increased contact with the outside world, there is now a growing need "to balance the inevitable tensions you find between 'belongers' and newcomers in any small island," he said.

The Argentine invasion on April 2, 1982, changed all that. First came the trauma of combat, which included not only some of the most extensive naval battles since World War II, but also aerial bombardments and shelling here in the islands' only significant population center that made residential homes targets and drove residents into makeshift bunkers.

"This was not a war waged at a distance," said John Smith, a former Royal Navy sailor whose diary of the Argentine occupation, "74 Days," was published in 2002. "Sometimes there was fighting in your own garden."

In the end, though, the war proved beneficial for the island's residents, most of whom are of English or Scottish descent and are sometimes known as "kelpers," after a type of seaweed found here. "The Conflict," as it is known here, forced Britain to re-examine its relationship with the Falklands and led, for example, to full British citizenship for islanders.

But the biggest changes have been economic, the result of Britain's decision to allow the Falklands government to declare a 200-mile economic zone that gives islanders jurisdiction over the icy but fish-rich waters around them. Islanders had pushed for such a measure long before the war, but Britain had always refused for fear of provoking Argentina. However, Britiain, flush with victory, proceeded to implement the zone, opening up additional employment opportunities and triggering an influx of people, mostly foreigners.

"The war was a catalyst for change, but it was the fishing zone that really kick-started everything," said Andrea Clausen, a legislative council member who oversees fishing matters. "On the backs of sacrifice and suffering, we've been able to build our economy and society and catch up with the rest of the world."

Today, fishing activities bring in about $88 million a year overall, with fishing licenses and taxes providing more than two-thirds of the government's $66 million annual revenues. As a result, the Falklands have some of the highest per capita incomes in the world, about $50,000 a year, as well as bank reserves of $360 million.

And so far, this "diversity" is working out ginger peachy. It will continue to work so long as the jobs and the wages continue to hold out. Most areas experiencing a boom cycle attract considerable diversity, but people working 12 hours a day to make $50,000 or more per year usually don't have much time to get into trouble, and even less use for those who do get into trouble.

But what would happen if Argentina launches another war - and wins? Undoubtedly, the Argies would probably insist that the Falklanders "share" their prosperity a bit more generously with the mainland in the form of higher taxes.

Or what if the fisheries were to suddenly crash, or the sheep population afflicted with some disease making them unsaleable? We've seen the impact of the gradual or sudden loss of a significant segment of the economy right here in our own country. When the auto industry began to unravel in Detroit, guess what? Whites fled, blacks took over the city, and the Detroit metro area sharply fractured along racial lines. Visit the Detroit Is Crap blog to find out how the local residents really cope with "diversity" nowadays. You will find that Detroit's "resurgence" is illusory; Detroit's resident tribal warlord Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is building up downtown into a showcase "Potemkin Village-type" neighborhood by starving the rest of the city. Diversity works only when the economy is optimized and affordable jobs available even to those who can offer no more skills other than the ability to walk and chew gum simultaneously.

And it was much easier for whites to flee Detroit than it would be for Falklanders to flee their island. Argentina currently permits no direct flights between the Falklands and the mainland. Only a single weekly flight by way of Chile is permitted.

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