REFERENDUM DOESN’T GIVE GREAT BRITAIN RIGHTS OVER FALKLANDS/MALVINAS
New York Dr. Cesar Chelala
Sometimes even great writers can be wrong. Jorge Luis Borges, one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, argued that “The fight between Argentina and Great Britain for the Malvinas is like two bald men fighting for a comb.” Borges probably ignored the existence of substantial oil and gas deposits located close to the islands which largely account —Argentine sovereignty claims aside— for the current hostilities between both countries.
The recent referendum in the islands (March 10th and 11th) whereby 99.8% of those who voted chose to remain as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom goes against ten resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly and more than thirty resolutions of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization. The resolutions emphasize that only through negotiations between the conflicting parties can an appropriate settlement be reached.
Similar resolutions were put forth by the Organization of American States (OAS,) as well as by the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR,) which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela. These countries have banned Falklands-flagged ships from docking at their ports. In addition, member countries of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and MERCOSUR have signed a Special Declaration where they maintain that the referendum neither changes the essence of the Question of the Malvinas Islands nor does it put an end to the sovereignty dispute.
The issue can be traced to January 2, 1833, when Captain James Onslow of the brig-sloop HMS Clio reached the Spanish settlement at Port Louis. Onslow requested that the Argentine flag be replaced with the British one, and the Argentine administration was deported to Montevideo. Because he was under numerical disadvantage, Argentine Lt. Col. José María Pinedo chose to depart without fighting. Despite Argentina’s protests, the colony was established with nationals of the occupying power, and the islands continue under British administration.
The illegality of the seizure of islands was recognized even by British officials. In October of 1936, John Troutbeck, head of the American department at the British Foreign Office stated, “The difficulty of the position is that our seizure of the Falkland Islands in 1833 was so arbitrary a procedure as judged by the ideology of the present day. It is therefore not easy to explain our possession without showing ourselves up as international bandits.”
The United Kingdom thus shaped a made-to-measure community in the islands in a process that Argentina firmly and repeatedly rejected while at the same time stating its willingness to resume bilateral negotiations to resolve the dispute in accordance with the United Nations mandate.
The international community shares the Argentine position, declaring itself in favor of resuming negotiations through several regional and bi-regional forums such as the Ibero-American Summit, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC,) the Arab and South American Countries Summit (ASPA,) the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA,) the Rio Group (an international organization of Latin American and some Caribbean States,) the Group of 77, and the African and South American Countries Summit (ASA.)
The unilateral activities the United Kingdom conducts in violation of a UN resolution in the area under dispute exacerbate an already delicate state of affairs since they involve exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources. These activities are contrary to the letter and spirit of the United Nations' relevant resolutions on the Question of the Malvinas Islands, in particular resolution 31/49. This UN General Assembly resolution calls upon both parties to refrain from taking decisions that would imply introducing unilateral modifications to the status quo while the islands are going through the negotiating process recommended by the General Assembly.
The segment of the population born in the islands is a minority, and the electoral body consists essentially of British citizens. Paradoxically, while Great Britain insists on the right to self-determination of the inhabitants of the Falklands, there was no claim of self-determination when Great Britain returned Hong-Kong to China.
Asking British citizens if they want to remain British is a futile exercise that undermines the essence of the dispute about which the United Nations has issued resolutions time and again that have been systematically ignored by Great Britain. The referendum does not put an end to the sovereignty dispute of the islands. It merely assures the perpetuation of the conflict between Great Britain and Argentina.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is the foreign correspondent for The Middle East Times International (Australia).