Argentines seek peaceful resolution in Falklands

Last Updated: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 09:45

Buenos Aires: London`s tabloids and British leaders are depicting Argentina as dangerous and belligerent 30 years after its invasion of the Falkland Islands. Argentines say Britain should consider its own history of waging war around the globe, and acknowledge that the islands and seas around them rightfully belong to Argentina.

Despite weeks of overheated rhetoric, there seems to be zero hunger among Argentines for another "military adventure" no matter how much they want to reclaim the islands 300 miles off their southern shores.

Tensions are sure to rise even more with the London`s Daily Mail reporting on Saturday that British Prime Minister David Cameron personally approved sending a nuclear submarine to the Falklands before the April 02 anniversary.

The sub reportedly carries a team of Spanish speakers to monitor regional communications, and cruise missiles to deter Argentina`s military.

Cameron`s office and the UK Foreign Office referred calls to the Ministry of Defence, which said it does not comment on submarine deployments, but Argentines were already upset that London dispatched Prince William to the islands on a six-week military tour, along with the Royal Navy`s most advanced destroyer, the HMS Dauntless.

"It seems to me to be an ostentatious and unnecessary show of force," Argentine Defence Minister Arturo Puricelli said on Friday. "We could have told them that they could have saved themselves thousands of pounds."

Every Argentine schoolchild is taught that the British stole the Malvinas, as Argentines call the islands, as well as the South Georgia and South Sandwich islands nearly two centuries ago, claiming along with them a huge expanse of the South Atlantic.

But hardly anyone here wants to use force to recover them, least of all President Cristina Fernandez.

She has ordered the declassification of the Rattenbach Report, a long-secret analysis of mistakes made as the 1976-83 military junta went to war with Britain in 1982. She said she wants it understood that her campaign to recover Argentine territory will remain one of diplomacy and economic pressure.

Argentina`s dictatorship invaded to cover up its torture and killing of political opponents and distract people from a devastated economy, Fernandez said. "They couldn`t think of anything better to do than send unprepared boys to a suicidal war."

A total of 649 Argentines and 257 Britons died in the 74-day war, humiliating the junta and hastening Argentina`s return to democracy. Declassifying the report, which described the invasion as a poorly planned "military adventure”, will show "it wasn`t a decision of the Argentine people, but of a despotic government," Fernandez said.

Colonel Augusto Rattenbach recalled in an interview with a news agency how his father, General Benjamin Rattenbach, challenged the junta, calling dictators to testify and then urging them to reveal their mistakes. He died suddenly of a stroke only days after learning his work had been shelved.
"My father didn`t want to hide anything," Rattenbach said, insisting that "many of the report`s lessons are just as valid today”.

For years, Argentines were so ashamed of the dictatorship that they wanted to forget about the islands. Polls suggest that`s no longer the case.

Almost three-fourths of Argentines, cutting across all ages and classes, say recovering the islands is important, and more than two-thirds said they support Fernandez`s campaign, according to the Ibarometro polling firm.
Yet despite a radical group`s burning of a British flag on Thursday that was widely broadcast in Britain, just 3 percent of Argentines say they would support a military solution, the firm found. The findings were based on a January 24 survey of 1,000 people in metropolitan Buenos Aires, home to a third of Argentina`s population. The poll`s error margin was three percentage points.

Nearly 79 percent of those surveyed favour diplomacy or negotiations to resolve the dispute.

Such unity is "not often found in an Argentina so divided and politicised”, said Ignacio Ramirez, Ibarometro`s polling director.

"Any way of recovering the islands is considered legitimate, except for war," he added. "There is a widespread attitude among Argentines of not wanting to repeat the errors of the past."

Britain says there is nothing to negotiate. It insists it won`t discuss sovereignty over the islands without the support of the Falklanders, a population of about 3,100 who clearly want to remain British.

Argentina would fare badly in a war with Britain in any case. The UK has one of the world`s strongest militaries, with nearly 230,000 active personnel and a yearly budget of USD 53 billion. The British Daily Telegraph reported that the Dauntless alone can destroy Argentina`s entire Air Force before it takes off.

Argentina`s yearly defence and intelligence spending has dwindled to USD 2.6 billion, sustaining a tiny fleet and no nuclear submarines. It barely enforces its land borders, let alone the sea.

Instead, Fernandez has persuaded her South American allies to close their ports to Falklands-flagged vessels — itself a largely symbolic move because it doesn`t include banning the fishing fleet that operates under Falklands government licenses. Fernandez also has suggested she might close air space to the weekly flight by Chile`s LAN Air Lines to the islands.

"The Argentine strategy is to isolate the islands by blocking its supplies and at the same time isolating them diplomatically from the continent, to force London to negotiate over their sovereignty," said Rosendo Fraga, another political analyst in Buenos Aires.

Much more than historical pride is at stake, since the southern seas contain rich fisheries and potentially vast stores of oil and gas.

Rockhopper Exploration PLC, a British firm, is seeking a USD 2 billion investment from a major oil company after confirming 1.3 billion barrels of potentially recoverable oil just north of the Falklands, with production to start as early as 2016. The royalties could have a huge impact on Falklanders who now depend largely on sheep and tourists for income.

But any company that signs on with Rockhopper would lose any chance of doing business in Argentina, which has barred companies from supporting oil exploration near the islands.

"It certainly raises the stakes," said Juliette Kerr, a Latin America energy analyst with IHS Global Insight in London. "For companies active in Argentina ... I don`t think any of them would go anywhere near there."
"The problem of the Malvinas is called `oil`," agreed Rattenbach. "If there hadn`t been discoveries of huge quantities of undersea oil, we could rapidly reach a deal."

Bureau Report



First Published: Sunday, February 5, 2012 - 09:45

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