Falklands Redux: Is President Kirchner South America's Biggest Troll?

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The country's top leadership is again going head-to-head with Britain over the South Atlantic island chain, 30 years later 

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A British flag is set on fire during a protest by left-wing activists in Buenos Aires on January 4, 2012. (Enrique Marcarian/Reuters)

The Argentine economy is struggling. The government is locked in a dispute with the IMF over the accuracy of its inflation and growth figures, the latter of which is reported to be as high as 25 percent. Protectionism and populism in the form of tariffs, import restrictions, nationalization of industry, and price controls are discouraging foreign investment and capital. Argentinian bonds are currently rated by Fitch as being just slightly above junk status, while the peso has plummeted in value against the dollar.

With growth slowing, inflation soaring, and crime on the rise, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is bearing the brunt of the people's ire. Re-elected in a landslide in October 2011 without the need for a runoff, Kirchner saw her approval rating bottom out at a meager 30 percent last November. In October, 200,000 people marched through Buenos Aires protesting economic failings and systemic corruption, while in November the trades union -- traditional allies of her faction, the Peronist Front for Victory -- organized a 24-hour general strike and instituted road blocks across the city.

Kirchner brings up the Falkland Islands against a backdrop of economic and social tumult and strife.

It is hardly surprising, then, that against this backdrop of economic and social tumult and strife that Kirchner would seek to bring up the Falkland Islands. Having once fought with Britain over that rocky archipelago of fishermen and sheep farmers in 1982, Argentina's issues of sovereignty and self-determination have come to the fore again in a series of public confrontations with London.

Kirchner's latest dig came via an open letter published in two British newspapers, which called on London to "abide by the resolutions of the United Nations" and "negotiate a solution to the sovereignty dispute" between them -- in other words, negotiate a way to hand the islands over to Argentina. In so doing, Kirchner set out a case that was startling for its misuse and abuse of the historical record:

One hundred and eighty years ago on the same date, January 3rd, in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism, Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands, which are situated 14,000km (8,700 miles) away from London. The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule.

It does not seem to matter that the Falklands changed hands among various powers (Argentina included) during the 18th and 19th centuries. Neither is it important to Kirchner, evidently, that British presence on those islands dates back to the 1760s, and that when they came under the control of London again in 1833, there was barely an Argentine garrison there to speak of. The president also neglects to mention that since 1833, British control of the Falklands has been peaceful and uninterrupted, save for the war of aggression launched by the Argentine military junta in April 1982.

The response of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also took note of the fact that far from being a colony, as Kirchner asserts, the Falkland Islands are a self-governing territory with its own constitution, executive, legislature, and judicial system. "The people of the Falklands are British and have chosen to be so," the FCO said, adding that the Islanders are due to vote in a referendum on sovereignty this year. "We hope that the outcome will demonstrate beyond all doubt the definitive views of the people of the Falkland Islands on how they wish to be governed."

While the government's statement was diplomatic if brisk, the response of Rupert Murdoch's tabloid The Sun was rather more trenchant. Reminiscent of the paper's tactful coverage of the Falklands War in 1982 -- during which it ran with the modest headline "GOTCHA" upon the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano --The Sun published its own letter in the pages of The Buenos Aires Herald that ended this way:

In the name of our millions of readers, and to put it another way: "HANDS OFF!"

PROSPECTING FOR PEACE

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Liam Hoare, a freelance writer specializing in foreign affairs, has written for The Forward and The Jewish Chronicle.

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