Sending Prince William to the Malvinas, or Falkland Islands, gives out a message of intimidation. By Sean Penn
On 12 February at Casa Rosada, Buenos Aires, I sat in a media centre within the palace walls and made a brief statement about my meeting with President Kirchner. I am ambassador at large for the Haitian government and CEO of the J/P Haitian Relief Organization, and our meeting focused entirely on the co-ordination efforts of countries like Argentina that made, and continue to make, significant contributions to a newly hopeful Haiti.
As my statement came to an end, I felt it appropriate to address my personal belief in the necessity for diplomacy to resolve a deeply held Argentine conviction of ancestry and sovereignty that was being denied an international forum. Given that I was a guest in this country, whose own voice on an intractable UK position had been so nominally heard internationally, it seems to me that the fair respect from a gracious visitor was to comment.
The issue at hand was the fact that despite the encouragement of the UN, and despite our world's recent and evolving lessons of cultural sensitivity and economic equitability, the UK has refused to return to diplomatic efforts regarding the status of UK and Argentine claims to the Malvinas Islands, commonly referred to as the Falkland Islands. The manifestation of the Islands' names themselves betrays a vague history written by victors and viscounts. Malvinas, a name inspired from the French; and Falklands, that associated with a colonial leader of the British Empire.
This is not a cause of leftist flamboyance or significantly a centuries-old literary dispute. But rather a modern one, that is perhaps unveiled most legitimately through the raconteurism of Patagonian fishermen. One perhaps more analogous to South Africa than a reparation discussion in South Carolina. As a result, we must look to the mutual recognition of this illusive paradigm by both countries, when in the 1970s the United Kingdom and Argentina were indeed involved in open-minded diplomatic negotiations for claims on the Malvinas/Falkland Islands.
It was not until the US and the UK supported the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile and an oppressive military leadership in Argentina had sought to distract populist attention from the plight of its own desaparecidos and their families domestically, that diplomatic efforts were shut down. The Junta staged a ludicrous invasion of the Islands in 1982, though residents were resolutely British subjects. Still, the very people who suffered and fought most enduringly against this military Junta in Argentina are the ones who today lead that country, and on behalf of their people seek simply a fair and re-established diplomacy in issues of the disputed Islands ranging from immigration to natural resources.
The UK's pause in diplomacy is an understandable one, but any lack of will to re-engage is a clear exploitation of losses already suffered. It is dismissive of a country and continent whose sacrifices and dignity have too long been neglected. As an American citizen whose position (or even any right to a position) has been called into question by a transparently corrupt and non-diligent propaganda machine that is much of the British press, my words of 12 February as well as my follow-up on 13 February in Montevideo, Uruguay, were, despite a complete video record, regurgitated through excerpt and flagrant manipulation.
Here is what needs to be known: the principal re-sculpting of my remarks by irresponsible journalism was to encourage the inflammatory notion that I had taken a specific position against those currently residing in the Malvinas/Falkland Islands, that they should either be deported or absorbed into Argentine rule. I neither said, nor insinuated that. The UK and General Augusto Pinochet (with ultimately timid support from the US) along with the diversionary invasion by the former Argentine regime, did a fine job of leaving little room for that argument on today's world stage.
However, the legalisation of Argentine immigration to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands is one that it seems might have been addressed, but for the speculative discovery of booming offshore oil in the surrounding seas this past year. So when I used the term archaic colonialism in my remarks, it was not, as so ubiquitously misreported, a call for the repatriation of British subjects, but rather to question the deployment of Prince William to that area of operations where many British and Argentine mothers and fathers had lost sons and daughters. With the deployment of the prince, whose task is helicopter search and rescue missions from an island colony with a population of about 3,000, there is the automatic deployment of warships. It is difficult to imagine that there is no correlation between the likely discovery of offshore oil reserves and the message of pre-emptive intimidation being sent by the UK to Argentina.
Let's recap: the UK was indeed engaged in diplomatic resolution discussions with Argentina until the Argentine people were themselves betrayed by their own leadership's diversion, and the UK's unfaltering support of a dictator who had live rats inserted into female genitalia and electric probes placed on the testicles of men in Chile simply because they had elected for a life, identity, and leadership of their own choosing.
The Falklanders' slogan is Desire the right. Indeed this is a human desire and not the exclusive domain of Falkland Islanders. And it is the same desire for which so many Chileans and Argentines suffered and ultimately triumphed. The recognition that the diplomatic process of the 1970s gives to some of the legitimacy of Argentine claims should not be dispelled or denied by the great United Kingdom through the exploitation of a more recent past, or for the greed of superpowers desperate to control the natural resources of the world. God save the Queen.