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The case for an independent Falklands

2013 January 6
by Paul Vallely

At the time of the Falklands War a brilliant cartoon by the Peter Brookes transformed the outline of the islands into the tattered remnants of a war-torn Union Jack. The image sprang vividly to mind 30 years on when I saw the president of Argentina, , brandishing a metal plaque depicting the disputed Malvinas archipelago and demanding their “return” to South American rule.

The power of Brookes’ masterful drawing lay in its ambiguity. His bullet-riddled flag could be an image of plucky defiance but also of imperial collapse. Three decades later those islands are still a blank canvass on which any image of bellicose nationalism or high-minded sovereignty may be superimposed.

History repeats itself, Marx famously said, but the first time as tragedy and the second as farce. This time the fighting, which took 900 lives in 1982, has been confined to the advertising columns of British and Argentinean newspapers.  Kirchner, the current occupant of the Casa Rosada once home to a military junta responsible for the torture and murder of more than 9,000 political dissidents as well as the Invasion of the Falklands, took an ad in The Independent and Guardian on the anniversary of what she described as 180 years of illegal rule. Britain’s response to Kirchner’s indignation – out-sourced to that bastion of diplomacy, The Sun newspaper – was an ad in the English-language Buenos Aires Herald demanding the Argies get their “HANDS OFF” our islands.

While it is good to see the Argentinean government supporting the UK newspaper industry, and far preferable for The Sun to want to fight them on the advertising pitches rather than on the South Atlantic beaches, there was something self-serving about the selection of facts by both sides.

Kirchner was wrong to say Argentina was “forcibly stripped of the Malvinas… in a blatant exercise of 19th century colonialism”. Colonisation involves the repression or exploitation of indigenous peoples, as the Argentine military did in clearing their plains and pampas. But the Falklands which Britain annexed were, as Dr Johnson noted in 1771, “thrown aside from human use” a place “not even southern savages have dignified with habitation”. Kirchner’s ad was a catalogue of half-facts which even got wrong the distance between the Falklands and the UK.

The Sun was right to point out that British sovereignty of the islands stretches back before the Republic of Argentina even existed. But, overstating and over-simplifying as is its forte, it relied on arguments about self-determination which successive British prime ministers have studiously ignored elsewhere – as with the people of the Chagos Islands whom Britain evicted just four decades ago to allow the US to build a military base on Diego Garcia. Still, it gives the lie to the old gag that The Sun doesn’t care who runs the country so long as she’s got big tits. Mrs Kirchner’s “Hands off my Malvinas” appears not to have featured on Page Three.

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