Friday, April 5, 2013

Tug Of War in South America

After a brief respite, it seems that in recent weeks there has been heightened animosity in South America over the Falkland Islands, and whether they belong to Argentina (the archipelago is just over 300 miles off the Patagonian Coast) or the United Kingdom. The disagreement is by no means new - the Falklands War in 1982 was a stark reminder of the U.K.'s desperation in holding on to at least some of their dissolving empire - but that the tiny islands are making waves in the press again indicates a renewal of the seemingly eternal disagreement. Argentina's President de Kirchner is as fiery as any head of state, and while it may be wise for her and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to keep the tense words to a minimum and avoid any outright conflict, it is yet unclear how things will unfold.

Falkland residents after the vote

The islands have been under British rule since 1833, when England sent several war ships to the region to re-assert their sovereignty. The islands were more or less forgotten about as the rest of the British Empire reached its apex at the turn of the twentieth century - there were wars to be waged with floundering China, immeasurable wealth to be seized in India ("The Crown Jewel of the British Empire"), and unrest in Africa to be quelled. However, the sun began to set on the empire following the two World Wars that wreaked havoc on the British economy and population, and while the empire began to diminish in size and scope, lil' ol' Falkland Islands remained undisturbed halfway around the globe.

It wasn't until later in the twentieth century that major disagreements began to flare up between Argentina, the nearest country to the islands, and the U.K. The 1960s marked the beginning of this, when in 1966, a group of Argentine quasi-terrorists hijacked a plane and landed it successfully on the islands, taking everyone on board hostage. Things were dissolved without incident rather quickly, but the event indicated that Argentina was going to continue fighting for what they believed was their rightful possession of the islands.

Finally, in 1982, Argentinean Special Forces invaded the islands. The result was a 74-day war which Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher almost seemed to relish in - upon declaring victory over Argentina, her administration received a large boost in support back home. After the war was concluded, Argentina backed off, despite never acknowledging British sovereignty.

Why wasn't it ever left to the residents of the Falkland Islands to decide which country they wished to belong to? Well, this past March, the residents decided to take a vote once and for all on the matter. The results were no surprise, but sent a bold message to Argentina: only three of the 1,500 or so members of the electorate voted to belong to Argentina, with the rest wishing to remain under British rule. Predictably, the results infuriated President de Kirchner, who called the vote illegal and declared that Argentina would not recognize it as valid or legitimate. Also predictably, Prime Minister Cameron urged Argentina to respect the wishes of the Falkland residents. The disagreement perseveres.

President de Kirchner is ANGRY

The plot thickens, however: recent estimates have placed newly-discovered oil wealth in Falkland territory at being worth approximately $10.5 billion in tax revenues and royalties over the next 25 years. Does it make more sense now why Argentina so badly wants control of the islands? The Falkland Islands have vowed to reimburse the U.K. for the $60 million they spend annually defending the islands, while also using the money to improve infrastructure. As for Argentina, President de Kirchner has vowed to sue any oil company that begins to drill in the area, which is hardly likely to stop them. For now, things remain peaceful, but the scenario could be significantly different as little as one month from now. As always, we here at the Global Atlas will keep you updated.

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