By Peter Pepper - Private conferences have long been used by pressure groups to get something they want onto the public agenda. The so-called Argentine-British Conferences were like this. They were an Argentine idea, and the so-called 'British' delegations were largely controlled by, and packed with, Falklands’ opponents in Britain. They achieved the nickname the Argentine Biased Conferences or the Anti-British Conferences. But they failed in their objective and faded away.
But that was nothing compared with the recent conference of delegations calling for 'dialogue' over the Falklands from 18 European countries. Dialogue is the Argentine euphemism for negotiating a handover of the Falklands. And the 18 delegations were confused by some, not for what they were, totally unrepresentative delegations chosen by Argentina to call for dialogue that came from 18 European countries, but as delegations from 18 countries that wanted dialogue – something completely different.
'We the Undersigned'
The conference was obviously made up of Argentine supporters and addressed by Argentine supporters. Without journalists present, no one outside knows what was said. But it was clearly preaching to the converted. At the press conference afterwards their final 'declaration' was duly distributed, but not the names of the 'undersigned' that had ascribed to it. Even a personal request by me to one of the organisers failed to get a list. Without these names it wasn't worth the paper it was written on.
But an Argentine news agency has published a clue. There were apparently 42 'delegates', which works out at just under three people per country. But only five were named: Richard Gott, the well-known left-winger, Guardian writer, and opponent of the Falklands, who helped organise the conference; Jeremy Corbyn MP, who has suggested that Britain should talk to the Argentines about the sovereignty dispute; Dutch Senator Theo Van Boven, who was decorated by Argentina in 2009 for his work over human rights abuses during the Dirty War in Argentina (presumably the human rights of Falkland Islanders are not included in this); Sophie Thonon, a French lawyer with a well-known interest in Latin-America and in human rights abuse trials; and the Irish Senator Terry Leyden, who was a member of the Fianna Fail government in 1982 that so irritated Margaret Thatcher. Another delegate attending is believed to have been Lucrecia Escudero Chauvel, an Argentine with an Italian passport who wrote a book about the Falklands War. The other delegates can safely be assumed to be people with very close associations with Argentina. It was probably an all-expenses-paid trip for them to London.
Pretext for a Visit
But there was more to it than that. This obviously biased conference was also the pretext for a high profile trip to London by Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, accompanied by Senator Daniel Filmus, Head of the Congressional Foreign Affairs Committee and Deputy Guillermo Carmona, Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee for the Chamber of Deputies. He is also Head of the Malvinas Observatory. With the Falklands referendum only a month away it was all a way of attacking the Islanders and British policy. Timerman wanted to see British Foreign Secretary William Hague to discuss Falklands’ sovereignty. But he would not do so when Hague made it clear that Timerman could only see him if the Falklands could be represented too. Timerman's aggressive responses to this were typical of him and the present Argentine administration.
But Timerman did get to see the British-Argentine All Party Parliamentary Group, where he is reported to have ranted away on the subject. He invited them to visit Argentina, and this invitation was accepted.
The high point was Timerman's press conference as the visit ended on February 6. On the platform with him were Argentine ambassador Alicia Castro, Daniel Filmus, Guillermo Carmona and Richard Gott, who received Timerman's special thanks.
The Argentine media were there but did not ask questions; they could probably see what it was all about. The British TV media were well represented. Their questions were particularly critical of Timerman refusal to meet with Falklands Islanders. Timerman explained that Falkland Islanders don't exist – only Britons living in the Malvinas. Timerman claimed that Argentina doesn't try to harm them, but wants to improve their lives with such things as flights to Buenos Aires. He claimed (obviously incorrectly) that young Islanders come to Buenos Aires for their holidays. Timmerman said that as Britons the Islanders should communicate through the British Government, just as Argentines did through the Argentine government. And there was the usual rigmarole of how the United Nations had decided that there were only two parties to the dispute. Another argument was that Britain had done business with Germany not long after WW2, so why shouldn't it discuss the dispute with a democratic Argentina 30 years after the war. The answer was obvious, Germany had been defeated and was no longer making claims over its former enemies; everyone could see this. Unfortunately no one pointed this out. There was a variation on this too; Timerman pointed out that Britain did discuss sovereignty with a murderous dictatorship before 1982, but won't now with a democratic Argentine government. It was as if the war had never happened. And Timerman droned on about all the UN resolutions calling for a peaceful settlement, but didn't mention that no country has to obey UN resolutions.
The conference lasted 45 minutes. At the end Timerman added a piece of his own that no one had brought up. He spoke about the Chagos Archipelago Islanders, who Britain removed from their Islands in the late 1960s to make way for an American airbase. Timerman said this was what Britain really thought about self-determination. Timerman clearly thought this was very wrong, as do many other people. In fact it was. One can only presume that he wants Britain to do something similar in the Falklands now.
Timerman clearly did not get everything his way at all. Journalists' questions were hostile, although his answers did allow him to put across Argentina's case. He didn't get much publicity in Britain either; although the Guardian (and Independent) did give him an interview that allowed him to publicise his boast that Argentina would get control over the Falklands within 20 years. But he did get publicity in Argentina, and that is important. With the present Argentine administration in domestic difficulties, the Falklands is, as always, a useful diversion. (PN)