So, the New Year, full of hope for peace, progress and more. Strange that the mere resetting of the calendar is thus laden with expectation and resolutions of betterment, and less strange that by mid-January most will have succumbed to their sworn-off desires, only more indulged in to compensate for the guilt of a weak will. We are all only human.
The Christmas period is for reasons unknown to me a fairly dead time for news. This is despite the axles of whichever ongoing conflict, diplomatic spat or economic malaise continuing their grind, often unabated, and perhaps the good folk of the journalistic world simply grant us reprieve. Sure enough I spent the last fortnight lulled into a false sense of security, but I think it has more to do with our individual needs not to be endlessly bombarded with strife and hardship. Most days I habitually, almost addictively, move from sleep directly to the rifling through of events I dared to miss through necessary unconsciousness and yet I found myself choosing not to be drawn into any matter. Whether it were the increasing desperation of the Assad regime, the rise of fascist elements in Europe or any of the trivial minutia that dilute the serious issues, I was having none of it.
Wine and whisky, opulently rich meals, late nights by warm fires and the reluctant admission of fine company in a loving family should be the order of things for at least part of our year.
And how it all came screeching back into the harsh light of reality yesterday when reading President de Kirchner’s open letter to David Cameron. At least I thank the gods of news for making 2013’s clarion call back to the newspapers so riddled with a sort of twisted and cynical comedy. There is plenty to say about plenty yet here is just the warm-up I need.
Let’s start from a position of deference however. All praise to Cristina Elisabet Fernandez de Kirchner. Here is a very serious individual with a very serious, distinguished career and record of achievement. First elected female leader of her nation and deservedly so.
Moving swiftly on. If you happen not to have read this particular letter, published by the Guardian and Independent, please do. There are roughly three ways to travel from this point, the first and possibly most rational being to ignore it, as why on earth are two developed nations in the modern world engaging in this bizarre feud over a bleak and frigid set of islands in the South Atlantic whose only natural population was ever a certain number of penguins and seals.
The other two options are more than likely determined by your nationality, where being an Argentine you might think President de Kirchner is spot on, or being British, those little hairs of indignity on the back of your neck are starting to rise with patriotic fervour. Strangely enough I’m feeling quite British today, but not because I’m abandoning rationality by not caring but as I do take thorough issue with what the Argentine leader is trying to do, and how she has decided to do it.
First, at simple face value, there is something distinctly puerile and inappropriate about this letter. International diplomacy should not be conducted indirectly like a shameful parent employing a beleaguered child to communicate spiteful tones to the estranged partner. Let alone at a high decibel level at the dinner party. It screams the most unfortunately cynical of posturing and that is without even glancing at the substance of what’s at hand.
What of the substance? President de Kirchner makes a variety of bold claims aligning to accusations of colonialism and disregard for Argentine sovereignty. She employs a variety of spurious historical claims and tenuous logic to give her case a semblance of depth. The colonialist point is beyond absurd, as Britain has offered each and every former member of the Empire precisely the relationship they choose to have with Britain. It holds no yolk of oppression over any foreign land, as much sooner than other colonial powers Britain accepted the age was dying. That we were emblematic of the age and more successful than most is beside the point.
That sort of an accusation is abound with immaturity and reminds me quite distinctly of the occasional feature in parts of the Islamic world where “Death to America” has become this meaningless and generic slogan, representative of all forms of dissatisfaction. The notion of disregard for Argentine sovereignty is also entirely predicated on the wholly ill-conceived idea that the once uninhabited Falkland Islands were ever really part of Argentina.
A brief glance at the history of these islands will reveal the common features of the time where concerned with territorial claims. An early hint of strategic value in the late 17th Century led the big players in France, Spain and Britain to jostle intermittently for them until around the early 19th century. Half-hearted naval exploits or the marginally more asserted efforts of mongrel bands of mercantile folk operating under whichever flag of convenience engaged in limited settlement attempts. The Napoleonic Era and primarily the dissolution of Iberian imperial gains, brought about by French invasions of Spain and Portugal, allowed for the creation of independent South American entities and notably the United Provinces of the River Plate, Argentina’s precursor, in 1810.
Now, President de Kirchner cites 1833 as the date of what she describes as the forcible stripping of the islands from Argentine control. This is ignoring the fact that the modern state of Argentina did not technically exist in this year, the United Provinces of the River Plate having only transitioned into the Argentine Confederation in 1831, only many years later becoming something close to the unified Argentina of today after protracted civil war. What she claims to have been stripped of was the trading settlement of one Luis Vernet, a French-German operating under the loose authority of the United Provinces, that had in 1831 been rendered defunct by the raid of the USS Lexington seeking to exact reparations for Vernet’s pirate-like behaviour in pursuing commercial monopoly.
January 3rd, 1833 saw Britain engage in the first genuine and realistic attempt to colonise the islands, which, after cleaning up Vernet’s mess and removing an infantile penal colony licensed by Buenos Aires, merely involved substantive investment and population. Argentina’s claim to the islands, even if it could be legitimately called that, lasted no more than roughly ten years.
Simply put, there are no, to few at best, legitimate grounds for President de Kirchner’s renewed efforts in this most pointless of disputes, although her reasons for this course of action are quite transparent. Argentina has suffered many years of effective stagnation under either the populist regimes that espouse the fairly vague constructs of Peronism or the military dictatorships that intersected them. Her own political situation is weakening as a populist leader in a nation experiencing issues of poverty, crime and corruption, and almost exactly like Leopoldo Galtieri is seeking a kind of neo-conservative distraction.
Finally, President de Kirchner’s limited geography lesson in that letter carries little weight. However many thousands of miles closer to Argentina this island is, it is irrelevant to the fact that the long-standing population almost universally wants to remain with Britain. This year’s referendum is almost certainly going to affirm this and the only colonialist ambition remaining will be President de Kirchner’s.
I never thought I would find myself so implicitly agreeing with anything the Sun newspaper did or said, but their sign off to the slightly glib counter-letter released today sums it all up nicely. Hands off!