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Falklands commentators wage virtual war

In an era of round-the-clock news, the tensions between Argentina and the United Kingdom over plans to start drilling for oil in waters off the Falkland Islands are fueling a virtual media war. But the sabre-rattling will probably end there.


In his account of the Falklands War and its build-up, The Land that Lost its Heroes, Jimmy Burns wrote: “In a sense it was the last war of modern times not subject to immediate scrutiny. The concept of twenty-four-hour news and Internet-based ‘real time’ was yet to come.”

Twenty-eight years after the conflict, as tensions between Buenos Aires and London rise once again following the British decision to start drilling for oil in waters around the small Atlantic islands, news, real-time and otherwise, rages, with the media voicing the opinions not just of its columnists and editorial boards, but also readers and citizen journalists. What’s more, with the click of a mouse, a journalist in Glasgow can read the work of a counterpart in Mendoza.

In Argentina, most people see Britain’s claim to the Malvinas as a colonial injustice, dating back to their seizure in 1833. The islands stir patriotic fervour, with schools and sports stadiums named after them. And yet, while the Argentinean press reflects this sentiment, it also tends to examine the issue from a number of different angles other than that of pure sovereignty.

In a February 25 editorial, Buenos Aires daily Clarín criticised London’s “unilateral” approach and “intransigence”. However, its columnist Daniel Juri looked at the oil-drilling furore, which has seen President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner impose restrictions on vessels passing near the islands, from a domestic political point of view. He didn’t like what he saw.

“For the first time in her tenure, the Malvinas conflict has allowed Cristina to distract attention from her ‘warm agenda’,” noted Juri. That agenda is in fact white hot, as Fernández and her husband, former President Néstor Kirchner, fight off claims that they have been amassing a fortune while Argentina’s economy continues to stumble. There is also the still unresolved case of a mysterious suitcase containing $800,000 discovered at Buenos Aires airport in 2007, allegedly sent by Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez to fund Fernández’s election campaign.

Another Buenos Aires daily, La Nación, takes a similar tack, reprimanding its own government for being naïve in matters of diplomacy by failing to fill the ambassador’s post in London – “a strategic location for Argentina’s foreign policy” – for the last 18 months.

The general consensus in Argentina’s media seems to be that military grandstanding by its government would be foolhardy. Despite the support voiced for the country’s cause by other Latin American nations at a recent summit in Mexico, memories of the 1982 conflict, which was so traumatic for Argentina and saw it suffer 649 casualties, have kept the sabre-rattling to a minimum.

The left-wing Página12 takes up this line with particular vigour, pointing out that aggressive posturing would resurrect the ghost of the dictatorship, which was effectively ended by the last conflict. Interestingly, it also suggests that a bellicose approach to the affair would play into the hands of the “Devil made in England” and the “conservatives made in Argentina”. Britain’s hawks, the paper warns, “tend to feed the powerful UK tabloid press.”

Hands off

British tabloid The Sun, which greeted news of the torpedoing of the Argentinean cruiser General Belgrano in 1982 with the headline “GOTCHA!” is probably the kind of paper Página12 is talking about. An article in it credited to Falklands War veteran Simon Weston calls for “some strong and decisive action taken in defence and support of the Falkland islanders” to send “a clear, firm message to the Argentines: ‘Hands off.’” Weston ends with a curious appeal for the islands to be protected “in memory of those who fought and died in the Second World War and in the Falklands War.”

Meanwhile, Christopher Meyer, a former British ambassador to the United States, uses some distinctly un-ambassadorial language as he recalls the Falklands War in fellow right-wing tabloid the Daily Mail.

“Margaret Thatcher duly obliged and drove those bastards into the sea. It was a famous but risky victory, achieved 8,000 miles from London,” writes this career diplomat. More helpfully, Meyer also highlights (albeit unintentionally) how the loss of 255 servicemen’s lives and the ensuing victory ensure, nearly 30 years on, that a British government’s ceding of ground on this issue remains virtually taboo.

Elsewhere, in an editorial headlined “Imperial Pride” (run almost in full by Clarín, incidentally), The Guardian gives London and Buenos Aires a good dressing down: “Patriotism and posturing on both sides has obstructed what would otherwise be the natural way forward, a pooling of sovereignty that would allow the islands to develop normal relations with their nearest neighbour (…) Britain can keep the islands in limbo; Argentinean politicians find the Malvinas issue an easy distraction. It is time for both to grow up.”

In Spain, the Falklands present a particularly interesting subject of debate. Madrid – and most Spaniards, it seems – oppose on principle Britain’s claim to Gibraltar, another rocky outpost with a colonial history and strategic value. Yet they also wholeheartedly justify Spain’s possession of the North African territories of Ceuta and Melilla, a claim disputed by Morocco. That said, the Spanish press has for the most part only reported the basic facts of the latest stand-off, with few editorials or opinion columns.

An exception is the left-of-centre El País, which has explored Fernández de Kirchner’s recent political woes in detail, and nonetheless applauds what it sees as her insistence on resorting to international law, rather than demagoguery. Argentina has a “well-founded claim” to the Malvinas, the paper says, and must deal with “the typical self-assurance of the country of Mrs. Thatcher.”

But while commentary on the oil-drilling brouhaha has in the main been admirably moderate, with war roundly ruled out, there have been some exceptions, politicians among them.

February 21 gave us the peculiar sight of Hugo Chávez accusing Queen Elizabeth II of warmongering. In his Aló Presidente weekly televised address, the Venezuelan leader directly addressed the British monarch in forthright terms, with an apparent hint that we could soon witness a war between Britain and South America: “The English keep threatening Argentina. Things have changed, Señora Queen, this isn’t 1982. In case of an attack on Argentina, you can be sure that it will not be alone as the Argentine fatherland was alone before.”

And if such a war does break out, we can be sure to read all about it.

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Published: Mar 1 2010
Category: Politics
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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3 Comments for “Falklands commentators wage virtual war”

  1. Good post on Falklands commentators wage virtual war | Iberosphere – and nifty domain by the way!

  2. The discovery of oil deposits of 500 million barrels will surely set of some form of conflict. Argentina will not allow Britain to start drilling and ship the profits back to England.

  3. Despite the morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims, the fact remains that Countries exist because of wars fought against their neighbours or rivals. Independence is largely secured through the employment of armed forces and the willingness to fight if threatened, this alone prepares us all for such an eventuality.

    I commend you on your site it contains a lot of quality information and is well done.

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