The British Royal Navy waved goodbye to their air defense destroyer HMS Dauntless on its maiden voyage to the Falkland Islands yesterday amid escalating tensions that started 30 years ago with a small chain of islands 460 miles away from Argentina’s coastline.
On April 2, 1982, Argentine troops invaded the British-controlled Falkland Islands and sparked the Falkland Islands War. The invasion only lasted 74 days and proved to be a disastrous and desperate mistake for Argentina’s then-military junta, costing them the lives of 650 Argentine soldiers, as well as the military’s dwindling seat in power. The despot waved the white flag.
On the 30th anniversary of the war Monday, British war widows lit candles that would burn for 74 days while outside the British Embassy in Buenos Aires, Prince William effigies were burned, rocks and gas bombs flung, and barricades torn down.
Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stood before a group of the war’s veterans in the Patagonian city of Ushuaia and evoked strong, sentimental words for, what Kirchner has called, one of the last “colonial enclaves” of the British Empire.
The chain of disputed islands, called Las Malvinas by Argentines, is the center of a tug-of-war between two nations separated by close to 8,000 miles of ocean. Kirchner has maintained that the Islands were an inheritance from the Spanish crown that was usurped by British troops who took the Islands in 1833. The British categorically denied such conjectures, claimed its rightful authority over the Islands, and declared it will protect the rights of the Islanders, most British citizens, “to determine their own future.”
Such jingoist ploys are not uncommon or uncharacteristic of the emerging Latin American giant who has experienced a rollercoaster of financial setbacks and emergence in recent years.
Kirchner’s insistent demands and actions to isolate the Falkland Islands started last year when British prospectors found significant hydrocarbon and oil fields in its coastal waters.
Argentina is hungry for oil although it has an abundant wealth of it at home.
Argentina's undervalued currency and strict price controls on the nation’s abundant natural gas contributed to an economic boom at first, which drew in investments far and wide. But the policies are making investments less profitable because Buenos Aires refuses to allow companies to sell for full value and causing domestic gas shortages within the country. As Foreign Policy reported, in an ironic twist, Argentina now relies on oil imports, which it subsidizes, and may be costing the nation around $8 billion or 2% of its GDP.
Meanwhile, Kirchner has ordered Argentine banks to avoid lending money to British drilling projects and threatened legal action over British oil exploration. In the beginning of the year, Argentina waged a squid war by ordering fishermen to capture squid before it reached the Falkland Islands, putting a dent in the Islands’ $72 million per year fishing industry.
Argentina dealt more blows to British oil ambitions in December as it persuaded the South American Mercosur trade bloc including Brazil and Uruguay to turn away ships donning the Falkland’s flag from its ports. Chile has also agreed to slow down flights to and from the Islands, the only air link to the South American continent.
The British have responded by sending Prince William in a six-week “routine” rescue helicopter operation in February and advancing warships around the Island. Kirchner accused the British of “militarizing” and her appeals for proposed United Nations-sponsored talks to discuss the issue of sovereignty have failed due to British Prime Minister David Cameron’s dismissals.
For all of Argentina’s posturing and teeth-baring at Britain, it can do little to deter London from seeking an alternative to its oil supplies and raking in profits in its own neighborhood – an outcome that all Latin American nations fear.