UK rebuffs Argentina on negotiations over Falkland Islands

Call it Madison Avenue diplomacy, or at least the London equivalent of Madison Avenue.  Argentina’s president bought ad space in left-leaning British newspapers to publish an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, urging him to open negotiations on the transfer of sovereignty of the Falkland Islands.  Instead, Cameron sent a stark warning in reply that the UK “would do everything to protect the interests of the Falkland Islanders”:

In an open letter to Mr Cameron, published as an advert in the Guardian newspaper and the Independent, President Fernandez repeats calls for the islands – which are known as the Malvinas in Argentina – to come under the sovereignty of her nation.

The Argentine president says the islands were forcibly stripped from Argentina in “a blatant exercise of 19th Century colonialism”.

Downing Street said the prime minister would “do everything to protect the interests of the Falklands islanders.”

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said the people of the Falklands had shown “a clear desire to remain British” and the Argentine government should respect their right to self determination.

It’s difficult to know whether Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wants to be taken seriously, or just posture for domestic purposes.  A serious effort would use actual diplomats rather than the sales offices of the Guardian and Independent, in the UN if not in the UK.  This looks like political grandstanding, but it got perhaps a stronger response than Fernandez anticipated.  The reply makes it clear that the UK is prepared to defend the islands militarily yet again, if it comes down to that.

Fernandez’ position is complicated by a referendum scheduled for March among the 3,000 Islanders to determine the political will of the residents.  The current Falkland government made their position clear, stating that they were “not a colony,” and that their association with the UK was entirely voluntary.  “Unlike the government of Argentina,” the statement continued, “the United Kingdom respects the right of our people to determine our own affairs, a right that is enshrined in the UN Charter and which is ignored by Argentina.” That doesn’t sound as though the referendum will go well for Fernandez.

That’s why she now claims that the self-determination of the current residents of the Falkland Islands is irrelevant.  Argentina now argues that the British planted people on the island over the last 180 years of sovereignty, and that the people currently living on the islands — which are more than 250 miles away from Argentina, by the way — should be ineligible for self-determination.  It’s a cute argument, as it does away with the question of self-determination at all — but by the same measure, most Argentinians would be ineligible for self-determination, as their population came mainly from colonial expansion from a couple of centuries before.  What’s the cutoff?  181 years? 241 years? 369 years?

No one can be expected to take this seriously, but Cameron is clearly taking no chances.  Fernandez seems eager to exploit this to escape from the consequences of her economic policies by distracting Argentinians with fantasies of Las Malvinas again.