Who wants a fight?


AN OPEN letter to the President of Argentina

Estimada Sra. Presidente Cristina Fernández de Kirchner,

I wrote an open letter to you a year ago imploring you not to stir up the Argentine people for another war over the Falkland Islands. Perhaps my letter did not reach your desk.

Or, if it did, my powers of reason were no match for your need to divert your people from Argentina’s economic woes.

According to British newspapers you used the occasion this week, the 30th anniversary of your country’s 1982 invasion of the islands you call Las Malvinas, to whip up more hatred.

Knowing what jingoism can do, I don’t like to believe without question what I read here so I spent last night painstakingly translating your own Argentine newspapers online – and discovering that the stories were indeed true.

In a speech in Tierra del Fuego on Monday you said (if my translation is correct) that “at this point there are still 16 colonial enclaves in the world, of which 10 are held by the United Kingdom”.

No European State has clean hands when it comes to colonialism, but the example of the Falkland Islands is a poor one since they were uninhabited when Portugal, Britain and Spain started squabbling over them in the 16th century.

Perhaps a better example of colonialism might be Argentina itself, where your Spanish ancestors ruthlessly eradicated most of the indigenous people. The native Yamana population of Ushuaia, where you made your speech on Monday, was wiped out by European diseases by 1911.

As usual, you rehash the old arguments about who got to the Falklands first, but these are irrelevant. That was hundreds of years ago. Your own name for the islands, Las Malvinas, isn’t even Spanish – it derives from the French Îles Malouines, named in 1764 after the first known settlers, who were from Saint-Malo in France.

The islands are almost 300 miles – that’s 460km – away from the nearest point on your mainland. By way of comparison, this is a bit like Britain laying claim to France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, so perhaps we could agree to leave history on the shelf and concentrate on today’s practicalities.

The people who live there now prefer to claim British descent (and protection) and that is all that counts in the modern world.

There is only one colonialist in this story and that is the Argentine Government, which wants to subjugate the people of the islands to a will not of their choosing – for the sake of fish and oil.

You pointed out in your speech that 649 Argentine servicemen died in 1982, along with 255 British personnel and three civilians. But the toll goes on. Did you know that here in Britain more veterans of the Falklands conflict have taken their own lives than the number of servicemen killed in action? I suppose that similar numbers of Argentine veterans have taken that way out too. The numbers of casualties must now be approaching the entire population of the islands.

Britain shares a lot of blame for the events of 1982. Some members of our Government foolishly gave your Junta the impression that they were prepared to give up the islands without a whimper.

That is no longer the case. This year I had the opportunity to question David Cameron, our Prime Minister, face-to-face. He was adamant that under no circumstances would he give up the islands.

Finally, and I shall shut up after this: you also, if I understand correctly, made the valid point that the 1982 war was “an attempt to remain in power by the [Argentine] military dictatorship” rather than a decision by the people of Argentina. We in Britain understand that all too well and don’t need any “curtains pulling back” as you put it. Now the ball is in your court: you have clearly identified the errors of history and it is time to prove your intelligence by avoiding repeating them.

The pictures of Argentines burning our flag are a disgrace on your country. Your sabre-rattling might win you votes but it will not bring the British Government to the negotiating table.

Cariñosos saludos

Keith Rossiter




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