FOR the Falklands to be short of bananas as a result of Argentina’s bully-boy blockade and trade restrictions is understandable. For Argentina to run out of bananas you’d think would be impossible in a sub-continent which grows millions of them. But a few weeks ago, they had no bananas in Buenos Aires shops. Only the incompetent Argentines could achieve the impossible. It’s not just bananas they are slipping up on.
Lots of other commodities are in short supply because of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s imposition of import restrictions to prop up the economy. In Buenos Aires I heard people complaining of shortages of every day goods such as electrical equipment. One woman told me she was taking the ferry to Uruguay to buy a replacement iron, and others to get urgently needed medicinal drugs no longer available in Argentina.
It reminds me of chronic shortages over thirty years ago when Argentines would take the LADE flight to the Falklands to buy Cadburys chocolate, toilet paper, and even carpets.
Argentina’s import restrictions have caused great annoyance among Argentina’s neighbours including Uruguay, Chile and Brazil, the very countries Argentina has persuaded to support its Falklands policy. And the ban on cruise ships calling at Ushuaia has angered people there involved in the tourist industry which is so important to them as I found when I called in last month.
There is much discontent in Argentina. Despite democratic elections and impressive economic growth, the country is beset with unrest and demonstrations, widespread crime, corruption and cronyism, high inflation, poverty and child starvation in a land of plentiful food. While I was there a French photographer was murdered in broad daylight at the Malvinas war memorial in a busy part of Buenos Aires. It was one of many robberies plaguing the place. Not long previously two other French tourists had been murdered in Salta.
Among the many demonstrations was one by Malvinas veterans campaigning for pensions for those who served only on the mainland, to bring them in line with those sent to take part in the invasion. The demonstrations were ruthlessly dispersed by riot police with batons, tear gas and water cannon.
Not much change there then!
President Fernandez de Kirchner is at odds with substantial parts of the media and with the YPF oil company now part of a Spanish corporation. She has criticised it for lack of effort in exploring for more oil as Argentina’s supplies become depleted.
Last year the country spent nine billion dollars on oil imports, expected to rise to 13 billion this year. No wonder it casts covetous eyes on what may lie in Falklands’ waters; serves it right for reneging on agreements which could have encouraged co-operation on oil and preservation of fish stocks.
Islanders are right to be sceptical about her offer to revisit the 1999 agreement and try to switch LAN flights from Chile to Buenos Aires flights by Aerolineas Argentinas which, apart from the political pitfalls, is not a reliable airline commercially. Decades of monitoring Argentina have convinced me of one enduring characteristic - it just cannot be trusted, whether under military or civilian rule, and whether pursuing aggressive or deceptively moderate policies.
I heard a lot of criticism of the president’s ranting about the Malvinas. The recent declaration by 17 leading Argentine intellectuals challenging the President’s demands for sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is a view shared by other people in Argentina at all levels of society.
A young well-educated Argentine business woman I met on a Buenos Aires bus was forthright in her view: “You (the British) won the war. You keep the Islands!”
Her attitude was echoed by a middle-aged entrepreneur in the tourist industry in Ushuaia, where I saw lots of notices absurdly claiming it to be the capital of the Falkland Islands. The businessman told me that many young Argentines are just not interested in the sovereignty dispute. He went on to predict that the Malvinas dispute will no longer be an issue for newer generations within thirty or forty years.
I am not convinced of that refreshing scenario but my experience canvassing the views of Argentines over the past 30 years is that younger people are far more concerned with getting a good education and a job, how to enjoy their next free evening and what mobile telephone to buy next. I think there is a growing glimmer of realism and scepticism especially about the historical falsehoods and misinformation deployed in support of Argentina’s claim. Its exaggerated rhetoric, not least its accusation of UK “militarization” of the South Atlantic, is proving counter-productive. Its submissions to the United Nations have been met by the UK’s robust rebuttal and a detailed, factual account of events going back centuries validating British sovereignty.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office seem to be embarked on an active campaign to correct misconceptions, in welcome contrast to its shameful pre-1982 policy of surrender of British sovereignty.
I am sure the robust commonsense declarations by members of the Legislative Assembly and other Islanders are making impact in the media and more widely.
In contrast to Argentina, my brief visit to Stanley was a heartening experience as ever, finding you all in good heart in a much healthier economic and democratic environment than the mainland and British to the core, demonstrating by your conduct and your hospitality and support for Task Force veterans, and your abiding gratitude.
By Harold Briley, Battle, East Sussex
The letter was published in the last edition of Penguin News
Harold Briley is a retired BBC correspondent who during four decades covered some of the main events of recent history including the Falklands’ conflict.