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Professor Klaus Dodds Headshot

Return to Sender?

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Sometimes it might be wiser to keep the content of a letter private. But President Kirchner is not someone to be discreet about an issue she cares deeply about - the 'recovery' of the Falkland Islands.

In her open letter to David Cameron, she rails against British colonialism and this country's reluctance to engage with the Argentine Republic on the sovereignty of the Falklands, and for that matter, South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands and a large portion of the Antarctic. These disputes may be legally separate but, as far as the Argentine president is concerned, they all need to be 'addressed' to continue our letter theme.

2013 promises to be an eventual year. In March, for example, the Falkland Islanders will be hosting their own referendum and it is widely expected to confirm that the overwhelming majority of the 3000 strong population wishes to remain as a UK overseas territory. It is an election year in the Islands with eight positions on the Legislative Assembly up for grabs. President Kirchner will have to confront the prospect of being expelled from the IMF, and I suspect we may well witness further attempts to either embarrass the UK government or make life as difficult as possible for the Falkland Islands Government. UK ambassadors around Latin America will be kept busy ensuring that the UK/Falkland Islands position on respecting the 'wishes' of the community is well understood.

The open letter, released to coincide with the 180th anniversary of the continuous British settlement of the Falkland Islands, is really an admission of frustration. For the last 12 months, Argentina has huffed and puffed on the Falklands question. It has co-opted 'celebrities' such as Sean Penn, encouraged regional and global figures to speak up supportively and sought to make life tricky for anyone operating in Argentina who has a commercial connection of sort with the Islands including tourism. But the end-result has been rather mixed. There has been lots of publicity (even encouragement from the US government to talk about sovereignty) but precious little evidence that the coalition government has been forced to budge from its position.

Worse still, elected representatives of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly allied with Islanders and supporters around the world have become increasingly proactive in promoting their case to the wider world. The open letter makes no recognition, strikingly, that there is an increasingly cosmopolitan community living in Stanley and the Camp. Some 60 nationalities are now represented, most notably a Chilean contingent who have benefited, as have other Islanders, from an air-link between Punta Arenas and Stanley. For those who have never been to the Islands, the idea that this community is cut off from the wider world is wide of the mark. Social media usage is very high.

President Kirchner might, in 2013, have to confront some unwelcome home truths. Many Argentines care more about corruption, crime, inflation and a decline in living standards than they do about a group of Islands that the vast majority will never visit. Many Argentines understand only too well that Argentine presidents, when they suffer falls in popularity, beat the Malvinas drum. And many Argentines realize that the Falklands question is one that she and her late husband Nestor were particularly obsessed with.

Maybe one New Year's resolution might be no more open letters. They don't really help maters, and worse still if you don't know that the distance between the Falklands and the UK is closer to 12,000 km rather than 14,000 kilometres you can look a bit foolish.