lunes, 16 de enero de 2012
Britain is asleep over Argentina and the Falklands
South America is growing in strength and increasingly united. Britain must wake up to this new reality
In British diplomatic circles, no one dares to even discuss the future of the Falkland Islands. As far as they are concerned, the issue is settled. There is nothing to talk about, still less to negotiate. And this policy is unlikely to change following the news that the South American trading bloc, Mercosur – which includes not only Argentina but Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – has agreed to close its ports to all ships flying the Falklands flag.
To reinforce British diplomats' wilful blindness, the Foreign Office has closed half a dozen embassies in Latin America in recent years, to minimise the danger of receiving subversive opinions from foreign capitals. All part of Britain's national decline.
Given that Argentina and Britain both have a good claim to the islands, common sense would suggest that the two countries should meet to negotiate a solution, and that is exactly what Argentina's president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has often suggested. She has not been "ratcheting up the pressure", still less has she been preparing the Argentinian military for an attack. She is merely reiterating a longstanding policy, one that is ensconced permanently in the country's constitution.
Argentina has had a democratic government for nearly 30 years, and the military are wholly discredited as a result of their participation in the "dirty war" of the 1970s as well as for their fruitless assault on the islands in 1982. They are confined to barracks and have neither the funds nor the weapons nor the inclination to seize the islands.
What has changed in recent years is the political climate in Latin America. New governments have appeared across the continent with a progressive and nationalist agenda. They do not always see eye to eye with each other, their views on economic policy may differ, but they are united in believing their continent should organise itself for the benefit of its own peoples without outside interference.
This is an age-old aspiration, dating back to the 19th century, but in recent years new organisations have been created to give this idea coherence. Some deal with the mundane operations of banking and energy, others have more ambitious political plans, notably the recently established Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. All give voice to the desire to go their own way, without the controlling hand of the US – or indeed of Britain, America's close ally.
Sources of oil under the South Atlantic seas are now, of course, part of the equation, and if oil is found in commercial quantities it will be difficult for any company to exploit it without the assistance and co-operation of the Argentinian mainland. In such an event the Foreign Office will be obliged to awake from its long, self-imposed slumber.
The UK complained about Mercosur's action this week, but President José Mujica of Uruguay replied swiftly "we hold nothing against the UK, but we have a lot in favour of Argentina".
Traditionally the Foreign Office tells reporters, sotto voce, that the governments of Latin America (and, importantly, these alliances now include Caribbean countries with historical ties to Britain) speak with forked tongues and do not really support the Argentinian claim to the Falklands.
Yet the truth is that the background music has changed. The countries of Latin America no longer look to Europe and the US for support and advice. They have grown to like doing their own thing. This week Argentina's claim to the Falklands has been powerfully reinforced.