On 2 April, 1982, Argentina invaded The Falkland Islands, believing it had a historical right to re-claim the British protectorate, against the will of its pro-British citizens. They overthrew the Governor, veteran diplomat Rex Hunt, exiling him to Uruguay, and overran Port Stanley. Would Britain let this slide? Not on Margaret Thatcher's watch.
By 14 June, the Royal Navy and Parachute Regiment had defeated Argentine forces, which surrendered after the British Army marched into Port Stanley. 649 Argentines and 255 Britons died in the brief but bloody conflict.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a hubbub about Argentina's renewed bellicosity toward the Falklands, exacerbated by Barack Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton repeatedly calling the islands "the Malvinas." To many observers, this appears to be an affront to British legitimacy, a gesture of support for Argentinian claims and a thumbing of the nose to the special relationship. Then came Obama's Biden-like gaffe on April 17, when he mistakenly called said "Maldives" instead of "Malvinas." Oops.
For a few days there was a lull in Falklands/Malvinas/Maldives news. But then, earlier this week, came the most troubling recent rhetoric , from none other than the new Argentine ambassador to London, Alicia Castro (no relation to Fidel, as far as I can tell, at least biologically). Interrupting British Foreign Secretary William Hague at a human rights event, Castro badgered him over whether Britain was ready to talk over the Falklands' future. The islanders have the right to self-determination, Hague asserted. Then came Castro's outrageous claim: "Self-determination is not a right that every country has or every population has. A province in my country cannot decide if they want to belong to China."
This is pretty rich coming from someone whose government has accused Britain of wrongly holding onto the Falklands like an outdated colonial possession. There's nothing like hypocrisy, eh? Never mind that the people of these islands are overwhelmingly pro-Britain. Apparently there aren't enough of them to have earned the privilege of self-determination, or, presumably, any other democratic right.
Castro's position is preposterous. It has long been the opinion of tyrants and despots that little countries shouldn't have a say in how they run their own affairs. And when these countries opted for independence, the stronger neighbour (be it Nazi Germany in World War II, or Soviet Russia in its aftermath) simply enforced their will militarily. This is not to say that Castro or the government she speaks for is the equivalent of a Stalin- or Hitler-led regime, but there are rhetorical parallels to the diatribes of these leaders. At the least, she is guilty of a diplomatic faux pas.
There are also echoes in Castro's bluster of the disturbing comment made by president of the European Commission, José Manuel Durrão Barroso, in October 2010: "Decisions taken by the most democratic institutions in the world are very often wrong." Indeed, the EU has acted like it is suspicious of democracy on many occasions, not least when it disregarded Ireland's initial "No" vote on the Lisbon Treaty, and then poured millions into backing the "Yes" campaign until the desired result was achieved. Supra-national organisations trump sovereignty in Brussels and its dominions, it seems.
To be fair to Argentina and Ms. Castro, colonialist era Britain is far from blameless when it comes to letting people decide whom they are governed by. But the matter of the Falklands was settled 30 years ago and it's clear that that residents of these islands wish to retain their ties with Britain for more than another 30. One can only hope that David Cameron will stand up for the freedom, liberty and the self-determination that Castro would deny them, if Argentine bluster turns into offensive action.
This is no time for hawkishness, but it is worth noting that all too often, the irresponsible words of those opposed to democracy do just that.
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