Argentina’s Diplomatic Circus
by Jimmy Burns (*) Cristina Fernandez Kirchner told her countrymen back in February that they should not feel collectively responsible for the national debacle that surrounded the military invasion of the Falklands in 1982. She blamed the military and the Argentine media. Those of us who lived through that war in Argentina know this to be a falsehood.
Cristina Fernandez told her countrymen back in February that they should not feel collectively responsible for the national debacle that surrounded the military invasion of the Falklands in 1982. She blamed the military and the Argentine media.
Those of us who lived through that war in Argentina- and I was there as I relate in my book, “The Land that lost its Heroes,” know this to be a falsehood. With the exception of the then leader of the Radical party Raul Alfonsin, some human rights activists, and individual journalists, no public figure in Argentine society-let alone Cristina Fernandez and her late husband Nestor- spoke out against the military’s ‘glorious recovery’ of Falklands/Las Malvinas at the time, even when it was clear that it was considered an illegal act by the UN and had the condemnation of the international community- notwithstanding the support offered to the Argentine junta by Cuba, Peru, and Gaddafy’s Libya.
On the issue of Las Malvinas, Argentine foreign policy conducts itself today, as it did then, in a planet of its own making, and worthy of a story in Borges’s Ficciones collection. For Cristina Fernandez to choose a G20 meeting that was prioritizing finding a solution to the worst financial crisis facing the civilized world since World War 2 to try and pull off a cheap publicity stunt over a disputed sovereignty claim belittles still further her nation’s claim to be treated as a serious partner of the group. Buenos Aires should count itself lucky that Spain has other pressing matters on its mind not to have raised the issue of Argentina’s unilateral seizure of Repsol interests in YPF with a publicity stunt of its own that would have probably found more sympathy among other G20 members.
It is hard to see whose performance in front of the world cameras was more lamentable – that of the puffed-up Argentine president or that of her foreign minister Hector Timerman who is reported to have called the BBC a liar before walking off making a V sign.
During my years as a foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires I developed a warm personal and professional respect for the late Jacobo Timerman -a giant of a newspaperman who suffered cruelly for being a Jew and standing up for a free press under the anti-Semitic military junta. Jacobo had enormous respect for the BBC and for British and US journalism generally. It pains me to see his legacy reduced to such diplomatic buffoonery and gratuitous insult.
I believe Jacobo would have recognized that the best and only way forward for his country is to demythologize the Malvinas, restore constructive bilateral relations with the UK and accept that the world in the 21st century takes seriously issues like self-determination and the ability of nation states to respect this as an essential human right.
With or without its military, Argentina should wise up to the fact that after being militarily defeated by the UK thirty years ago it cannot just bully its way back into the Falkland Islands on the basis of a 19th century claim, just as Paraguay cannot claim back its territory from Argentina, or Venezuela move to throw out the French from certain islands. The world has moved on from old territorial disputes, and the Falkland islanders are absolutely in their right to vote on their own future next year- and should be allowed to do so without harassment from the South American mainland.
No doubt Thursday’s antics at the G 20 by the Argentine delegation will have done little to influence that vote in any other way than to ensure the Islanders back their wish to remain British. It would also have won Cristina Fernandez praise from her supporters who couldn’t care less what the rest of the world might think of them, even as their country risks sinking back into a failed and mistrusted state.
* Jimmy Burns joined the Financial Times in 1977. He also became a regular contributor to the London Observer, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Economist, as well as the BBC, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Radio Nederland. From 1980-2 he worked for the Financial Times' international desk based in London before being posted to Buenos Aires, as the newspaper's southern cone correspondent. He arrived in Buenos Aires in the middle of a military palace coup and three months before the invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Argentine armed forces sparked off a three-month war with Britain.