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Don't cry for Argentina

Falkland Islanders declaring themselves British

The national and regional interests of Commonwealth Caribbean countries would hardly be served by backing Argentina in its long-running dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
An Associated Press (AP) report of a meeting of some Latin American and Caribbean leaders, under the umbrella of ALBA, cites Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as confirming the support of all the ALBA countries for Argentina.

ALBA is a grouping initiated by the Venezuelan President and comprising eight nations – the larger Spanish-speaking states Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Cuba, and the three small Caribbean islands St Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, and Dominica.

According to AP and other international news agencies, on February 4, the eight ALBA member governments are reported to have approved an agreement barring any boats flying Falkland Islands flags from docking in their ports.

Up to the time of writing this commentary, only one government has denied being party to such an agreement. In a statement on February 8, the Antigua and Barbuda government said that it “has never supported any call for the banning of flagships from any country in the region and therefore disassociates itself from any statement regarding the banning of ships carrying the flag of the Falklands (Malvinas) from entering our ports.”

It has to be assumed that the two other Caribbean governments of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica will adopt a similar position to the now public Antigua and Barbuda government stance. All three states are members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which are obliged by treaty to co-ordinate their foreign policy positions. It would be both a contravention of their treaty obligations and a rebuff of other CARICOM states should leaders of the three countries make such a commitment without at least discussing the implications with their CARICOM partners.
(Since this commentary was originally written I-witness News an Internet website reported Dr Ralph Gonsalves, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines as saying: The real addition was the paragraph that says ‘Support the decision by the countries of the region to ban ships with the colonial flag imposed on the Malvinas from entering their ports... It is largely a symbolic gesture. And when this declaration says support the declaration made by those countries … we don’t have ships from the Falklands coming to St. Vincent” The argument could be advanced that supporting a ban on Falkland islands ship is hardly a “ symbolic” gesture. However, in diplomatic terms, such support is one sided and therefore tangible in the numbers-counting games in which the Argentinian government and its strong supporters such as Hugo Chavez are engaged).
A further worrying aspect of ALBA is a proposal that its members should join a defence pact by which the military of all of them would be called into action should any of them find itself in a conflict. In this regard, President Chavez’s reported remark that “if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won't be alone this time", is troubling, particularly as neither Britain nor Argentina has given any indication of such a prospect. Fortunately, none of the three Commonwealth Caribbean governments has confirmed any interest in joining an ALBA military pact. If they did so without the agreement of their partners in CARICOM and the smaller Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, these two organisations would be fractured, probably irreparably.

There are many good reasons why Commonwealth Caribbean countries should not support Argentina in this dispute with Britain. First, the inhabitants of the Falklands have determined that they are British and wish to remain so. They have rejected the notion of being Argentinian. The right of self-determination, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, is one that Commonwealth Caribbean countries have long upheld, and, indeed, is the basis on which each of them achieved their own political independence. Further, the Argentinian government now engulfs South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in its claim to the Falkands/Malvinas. But, Britain took formal possession of the islands of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in 1775 and, with the exception of six weeks of occupation in 1982 when Argentina invaded the area, Britain has had uninterrupted possession since.
When foreign ministers of the 15-member countries of CARICOM and the Dominican Republic met ministers of the British Government in January this year at the biennial UK-Caribbean Forum in Grenada, they collectively and rightly agreed: “To support the principle and the right to self-determination for all peoples, including the Falkland Islanders, recognising the historical importance of self-determination in the political development of the Caribbean, and its core status as an internationally agreed principle under the United Nations Charter”.

A second good reason not to support Argentina is that the facts of British settlement and sovereignty over the Falklands are well established. It is important to appreciate that an existing UN resolution on the Falklands does no more than call for negotiations to find a peaceful settlement to the dispute over sovereignty. Where the problem arises is: if both countries claim sovereignty why would either of them want to negotiate over what they consider to be their legitimate right? In any event, Britain has exercised sovereignty over the Falklands since 1765 and, properly, if Argentina disputes such sovereignty, it should take the matter to the International Court of Justice for arbitration. Argentina has declined to do so, while Britain has indicated its willingness on several occasions.

Those are reasons of principle and law why Caribbean countries ought not to support Argentina in its claim for the Falklands. By themselves they are solid and overriding reasons.

But, if economic self-interest were also to play a part in national decision-making on this issue the following points are worth bearing in mind: Commonwealth Caribbean countries earn far more from exports to Britain than they do to Argentina; Britain is a far bigger aid donor to the Caribbean than is Argentina, and British assistance is not only direct, it is also provided through the European Union, the Commonwealth and the Caribbean Development Bank; Caribbean tourism is far more reliant on British travellers than it is on Argentinians; a large number of Caribbean nationals live and work in Britain, few of them do so in Argentina; Caribbean students study, particularly for post-graduate work, in Britain, few if any study in Argentina; and the Commonwealth Caribbean countries share a history, culture, legal system and language with Britain that is of immense importance and benefit to them.

What is fuelling this latest Argentinian interest in the Falklands are plans announced by four British companies to search for oil around the Falklands. The explorers say they are targeting 8.3 billion barrels in the waters this year. But, Caribbean countries should not be used to advance Argentina’s ambitions.

Argentina is a neighbouring country, and, as good neighbours, the Caribbean should urge it to take its case to the International Court of Justice if it believes it has a genuine argument for sovereignty over the Falklands, and, therefore the right to any oil that is found in the territorial waters of the islands. It’s what the Caribbean would have to do in similar circumstances.

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