Il y a 180 ans, en 1833, l’Angleterre décida de prendre le contrôle des Iles Malouines et d’y entreprendre une politique coloniale. Depuis lors, les relations entre l’Argentine et le Royaume-Uni, qui tous deux réclament la souveraineté sur ces îles, sont houleuses. Ainsi, Cristina Kirchner, la présidente de l’Argentine profite de ce 180ème anniversaire pour jeter de l’huile sur le feu…
Before we try to explain this burning issue, let’s start with a summary of the Falkland Islands’ history.
The Falkland Islands were occupied for the first time in 1764 by a French colony led by the sailor Bougainville then, they became Spanish territories in 1767.
In May 1810, the Argentinians became independent from Spain. And so did the Falkland Islanders in 1816. From then on, Argentina has claimed those territories. But in 1833, the UK decided to control the Islands, to expel its inhabitants and the Argentinian authorities, and to settle colonizers on the archipelago. And thus began a never-ending arm wrestling (“un mano a mano”) between the two countries…
The struggle for the sovereignty on the Islas Malvinas (the island’s Spanish name) has taken several forms throughout the years.
First, the struggle was brought to international organizations in 1965 without much success on either side.
In 1981, Leopoldo Galtieri’s dictatorship was set up in Argentina. And to re-boost the junta’s popularity and legitimacy, he decided to invade the Falklands in 1982. However, after 75 days of war, the fiasco was huge for Argentina: Margaret Thatcher’s decision to respond with the Navy brought the Argentinian army to collapse (649 Argentinian deaths and “only” 255 for Britain).
Most of all, the Falkland war was a test for Margaret Thatcher. During a time of high unemployment, this war was an opportunity for Great Britain to foster national unity. If Britain had lost the war she couldn’t have won the following elections. Her own political career and the future of her party were on the line. This victory and the national unity that went with it helped the Tories win the general elections in 1983. It also contributed to forge the legend of the Iron Lady, who didn’t hesitate to send the army to take back what rightfully belonged to Britain. But it showed also that she was human, because in her speech she reacted as a mother -those were her words- to this war. She told the Ministry of Defence officials: “You can imagine that turned a knife in my heart, that lot.” Moreover, the last documents published by the BBC showed Britain’s diplomatic power. Indeed, France was selling weapons to Peru, and Thatcher was afraid that Argentina would use those weapons to fight Britain. In a telegram to Mitterrand, she said: “It would have a disastrous effect on the alliance as a whole. This is the last thing that either of us would wish. I hope therefore that for the time being you will be able to find some way of keeping those missiles in France.” Thanks to Thatcher’s will Britain was able to reaffirm its power.
After the defeat, a democratic transition began, with President Raoul Alfonsin. But this didn’t warm up the relationship between the two adversaries. And this adventure left the Argentinian people with a bad feeling … until today.
Even though the struggle continued, the use of the army became no more than dissuasive. Instead, the fight continued in the press, media and cultural fields.
In fact, many things happened in the last 31 years, that could rekindle the rivalry. Sports for example has long been very political. Here are 2 examples:
→ 1986, Mexico, FIFA World Cup, Quarter Finals: Argentina versus England :
Only 4 years after the war, the national teams of Argentina and England competed for a crucial football match. This was the perfect timing for Argentina to take its revenge. And thanks to two memorable goals by Maradona (the most beautiful goal of the century and the controversial “Hand of God”), Argentina beat England 2-1. Argentina could eventually hold its head high.
→ Before the 2012 London Olympic Games, Kirchner’s populist government decided to promote a controversial commercial. Indeed, the pitiful economic situation of Argentina since 2001 has encouraged her to re-boost her popularity as Galtieri did 30 years before.
During the athletes’ preparations to the competition in London, the following commercial showed the will of Argentinians to conquer what they think belongs to them: the Falklands. All the more, this commercial was shot illegally with a well-known Argentinian athlete on an Island of the archipelago …
“Para competir en suelo ingles, entrenemos en suelo argentino” : “To compete on English soil, we train on Argentinian soil”.
It was not as violent as the Falklands war but incumbent Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner threatened the United Kingdom, on the 2nd of January 2013 for the 180-year anniversary of the conquest of the Islands by the Royal Navy. In a letter to David Cameron (and to Ban Ki-Moon), published as an advert in The Guardian and The Independent, she wrote that the Falklands had been “forcibly stripped of the Malvinas… in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism”. She called for UN talks and demanded that the Falklands be returned to Argentina.
4 days later, David Cameron responded that the UK will “fight” for the Falklands and said on a BBC show that the British “resolve was extremely strong”. He rejected talks with Kirchner unless Islanders wanted them. A referendum is already planned this year in March to ask the 3.000 Islanders if they want to stay in the UK. Cameron hopes that Kirchner will listen to the results of this vote and recognize that it is up to the Falklands’ inhabitants to decide their future. As Thatcher did in 1982, David Cameron is adopting a hard strategy against Argentinian positions on the Falklands’ sovereignty.
Furthermore the tabloid The Sun responded to Kirchner’s letter by publishing an advert in the English-version of the Buenos Aires Herald: Argentinians have to keep their “hands off” the Islands. Thus the Falklands war started again… in the media.
Laure FOURNIS, Paul TARSIGUEL & Matthieu SACRE