Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Oil, Falklands, Malvinas

European Pressphoto Agency - Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, right, is trying to get Latin American leaders to sign a statement backing Argentina's claim to the islands

A British oil rig started drilling in disputed waters off the Falkland Islands on Monday, as Argentina tried to rally support from Latin American nations for a diplomatic statement backing Argentina's claim to the islands and criticizing the U.K. for violating Argentine sovereignty.

The move by British oil companies to initiate exploration off the Falklands has stirred passions over the remote South Atlantic islands to perhaps their highest point since 1982, when Argentina lost a brief war to Britain over control of the islands. No one predicts armed hostilities this time, but nationalist rhetoric has been flying on both sides of the Atlantic. If Britain finds large amounts of oil, relations could get stickier.

Can't see Gordon Brown doing a Thatcher.

Argentina's leftist President Cristina Kirchner was in Cancún, Mexico, on Monday working on a diplomatic response during a previously scheduled summit of Latin American leaders. Mrs. Kirchner was trying to get regional leaders to sign a statement condemning the U.K. and backing Argentina's claim to the islands, known in Spanish as the Malvinas.

Argentina was getting support from some quarters, such as Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chávez. "In case of aggression against Argentina, rest assured that the Argentine nation will not be alone" as it was in the 1982 war, Mr. Chávez said Sunday.

On Univision's broadcast last night a clip was shown of Hugo telling the Queen of England that the era of empires has ended. Wonder if Elizabeth was watching.

Bill Rammell, the U.K.'s minister of state for the armed forces, said the Falklands had a "legitimate right" to develop an oil industry within its waters and that Britain had made Argentina aware of its determination to protect that right.

"We do, we have, and we will take whatever steps are necessary to protect the Falkland Islands—and our counterparts in Argentina are aware of that," he told the House of Commons.

The government has to stand strong; Brown can not afford to look weak. Surely the Tories are holding his feet to the fire.

Mrs. Kirchner had ratcheted up pressure over the islands last week, issuing a decree that ships traveling to the Falklands must first seek permission from Buenos Aires before entering Argentine waters.

This is manna from heaven for Presidenta Kirchner, an external crisis.

Argentina emphasized that it was intent on pursuing its objectives by peaceful means. No one in Argentina seemed eager for a repeat of the shooting war that started in April 1982, when Argentina's dictatorship, facing deepening discontent at home, seized the islands in a surprise attack. The U.K. government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a naval task force across the Atlantic and retook the Falklands, at the cost of 649 Argentine and 255 British servicemen killed.

In the nearly three decades since the war, Argentina has gone from a military dictatorship to a democracy. Argentine political scientist Rosendo Fraga wrote on Monday that Argentina has cut military spending by a greater amount than any other South American country since Mrs. Kirchner's husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, took office in 2003. Nevertheless, analysts say that putting forth a vigorous diplomatic defense of Argentina's historic claims to the Falklands could help Mrs. Kirchner politically at a time when she has sunk far in the polls because of the flagging economy.


For some Argentines, the oil dispute has reopened an old wound. On Sunday, computer hackers launched a cyber attack on the Web site of the Falklands newspaper Penguin News, posting an Argentine flag, a patriotic march and a manifesto affirming Argentina's claim to the islands. In the U.K., Argentina has been on the receiving end of potshots in the press. The Sunday Telegraph has dubbed Mrs. Kirchner the "Botox Evita."

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