Monday, April 02, 2012

Thirty Years Since Argentina Reclaimed Las Islas Malvinas (Falklands)

Today marks three decades since the Argentinean dictator Leopoldo Galtieri's troops landed on the Malvinas islands. As we all know, Margaret Thatcher reacted with fury, and launched what became known as the Falklands War, with the loss of many lives on both sides. Today, tensions are rising between the two nations once more. But who really has the best claim to the islands, and what gets politicians in both hemispheres so worked up about them?

Like all these things, the question of sovereignty depends on when you start telling the story. Different parties tell the tale in different ways, in an attempt to add shaky credence to their claims. In fact, the first claim to the apparently uninhabited islands was by France, which controlled them from February 1764 – April 1767. As the British Empire expanded into South America, it wrested control from them, before losing it to the Spanish for fifty years. After the Spanish were kicked out by the Argentines, they were controlled by the United Provinces (of Argentina) for two years from 1829, until the United States intervened, holding them for a matter of weeks, before the Argentineans re-took their hold. But this reign was also only to last a few weeks, before Britain recaptured them, and insisted on reverting to the name Falkland, after a seventeenth century British naval commander.

It should hardly need stating that each of these changes was the islands being taken by force - i.e. mass murder - between states. There was no 'morality' in any of this, and the present day inhabitants about whose "self-determination" the British ruling class pretends to care so much are only there - and only 'British' - because their ancestors and predecessors were planted there to cement the British claim.

Media jingoism rallied the public around Thatcher
When Galtieri sent his forces to the islands in 1982, it was to a large extent to provide a nationalist diversion from the ruthless class war he was pursuing on the mainland. He headed a military junta, and with US support the military tortured and killed somewhere between 9,000 and 30,000 people deemed left wing "subversives". Following a crisis, capitalist growth had improved slightly, providing employment, but then deteriorated once more. He needed an external focus for the ambitions of the masses, as so often down the ages, a military adventure was chosen to play that role.

Galtieri was apparently not expecting Thatcher's government to declare war on Argentina. After all, there had been talks on joint sovereignty, and he calculated that their mutual ally - the United States - would stand up to Thatcher. Though there was much talk behind the scenes, the US allowed Thatcher to proceed, perhaps mindful of the threat of example provided by a major imperialist nation being thrown out of their colony. And anyway, Thatcher's domestic situation mirrored that of Galtieri. Official unemployment stood at 3.6 million, and the ruling class was facing militant fightback across many industries, as well as in cities such as Liverpool. It was widely expected that Labour would win the next general election, under Michael Foot. But Foot supported Thatcher's crusade, and dug his own political grave. Nine hundred died in the ten week war, and Thatcher rode a wave of jingoism to her second general election victory.

Fast forward to 2012, and both Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and British Prime Minister David Cameron are both sabre-rattling over the islands once more. Again, their fate serves as a nationalist diversion for both ruling elites. But oil exploration is also on their minds. In 2010, the British government awarded drilling contracts for the waters around the islands. The estimated 60 billion barrels are equivalent to the North Sea oil off Scotland, which has helped sustain the British economy for twenty-five years.

There are no 'good guys' when ruling classes collide - only two sides of 'bad guys'. However, the people of Argentina deciding what to do with oil 450 km off their coast makes much more sense than British politicians half the world away profiting from it.
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