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Britain and Argentina Are Both Wrong to Lay Claim to the Moral High Ground

What really astonishes isn't the continuing political theatre between these two nations, but the hypocrisy of both of them.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's open letter to the British government with regards to the Falkland Islands is clearly intended more for her electorate than anyone in Britain or elsewhere. She knows that no government, Conservative or otherwise, is going to hand back the Falkland Islands anytime soon, so this is pure symbolism on the anniversary of Britain's acquisition of them. There will be a few days of diplomatic mudslinging, and then things will go on much as before until the next significant anniversary, or large amounts of oil are discovered.

What really astonishes though isn't so much the continuing political theatre between these two nations, but the hypocrisy of both of them. When David Cameron pontificates about the right to national self-determination it isn't terribly convincing considering our foreign policy over the years. A prime example would be the Chagos Islands where Britain evicted the population in the late Sixties and early Seventies so our ally the USA could build a military base. The islanders were removed from their land despite their protests and the UK has largely ignored repeated calls for their right to return. In actual fact the British government decided to turn most of the area into a marine reservation so that it would be even more difficult for the former inhabitants to continue their struggle. This sort of behaviour makes it crystal clear that when it comes to the right of self-determination, the British government believes in it when it suits them.

That said, Argentina doesn't occupy the moral high ground when talking about territorial rights either. Argentina was colonised by mostly Spanish settlers who stole the land from the indigenous population, wiping out huge numbers of them in the process. It's hypocritical for a country founded on colonialism, and mostly now occupied by the descendants of colonists, to argue that all colonised lands should be returned. I'm sure their argument would be that if you've lived somewhere long enough then this logic no longer applies. If so then Britain's ownership of the Falkland Islands seems equally valid considering how long we've been there.

Argentina's colonialism continued throughout most of the last century, and it's only recently that any meaningful efforts have been made to do something about it. If Argentina really does believe that colonialism is wrong, I expect we'll hear the announcement any day now that they're going to give all the land back that they 'acquired' from the Toba, Kolla and Wichí people (amongst others). The sad truth is that Argentina has been morally flexible when it comes to the land rights of its indigenous people for decades, and despite repeated promises, these groups are still having to campaign to try and get back even a small amount of what they've lost. In the meantime large numbers of them continue to live in poverty while other sections of Argentinean society prosper from their land and natural resources.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Certainly that two wrongs seldom make a right. The fact that both the Argentinean and British governments have acted horribly in the past (and in the present, and doubtless in the future), doesn't mean either side is right or wrong when it comes to this dispute. Instead neither country should be quite so quick to talk about their deep-felt beliefs in territorial rights or self-determination. For what it's worth I believe that as long as the Falkland Islanders want to remain British (and most of them seem to), Britain should maintain ownership. However instead of focussing our attention on Argentina playing to the crowd, we should take another look some of our other colonial possessions. There remain deep injustices that need correcting there.

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