Falklands war redux?

Several British companies are poised to begin offshore exploration in waters around the Falkand Islandsā€”sparking a diplomatic row with Argentina, which claims the archipelago that it calls the Malvinas. Britain’s Desire petroleum, which has just put a rig in place, has licensed six areas where it predicts 3.5 billion barrels of oil and nine trillion cubic feet of gas. Last week, Buenos Aires said it would require all ships from the islands to obtain permits to dock in Argentina in retribution for the move. The press in both the UK and Argentina are raising the specter of renewed conflict over the islands, the scene of a two-month war in 1982.

Argentina’s President Cristina FernĆ”ndez de Kirchner, arriving in Mexico for the Latin American summit, pledges to built international support for her campaign to halt the drilling and assert her country’s claim to the Malvinas, which were first taken by Britain in 1833.

“We have no doubt we are going to find Rio Group solidarity because we are only seeking compliance with international law,” said Argentine government spokesman Ruperto Godoy, speaking of one of the regional bodies gathering in Mexico for the summit.

The UK Foreign Office said Britain is ready to co-operate with Argentina on South Atlantic issues. But in a radio interview, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the oil contracts are “perfectly within our rights” and that Britain has made all preparations necessary to ensure proper protection of the Falkland Islanders.

Predictably, the strongest rhetoric in defense of Argentine sovereignty over the Falkands/Malvinas has come not from Buenos Aires but Caracas. “The British are desperate for oil since their own fields in the North Sea are now being depleted,” said Venezuela’s President Hugo ChĆ”vez. “When will England stop breaking international law? Return the Malvinas to Argentina!” Seeming to speak of South America as a whole, he added: “The English are desperate, the Yankees are desperate and here we have the biggest petroleum reserves in the world.” (Buenos Aires Herald, Prensa Latina, Feb. 21; Sky News, Feb. 20; Reuters, Feb. 19)

The UK’s former ambassador to Buenos Aires John Hughes tried to sound unyielding yet diplomatic in The Guardian Feb. 19, writing that “the British government and the Falklands are correct in asserting the islanders’ right to self-determination and the right to develop their own resources. It is unfortunate that oil exploration could not have been developed in a context where mutual collaboration already existed and was strengthened thereby, not further weakened. For collaboration and mutual confidence-building would surely be in both sides’ interests in the South Atlantic.”

He concluded: “This flurry will have reminded the Argentine government of British bipartisan commitment to the Falklands. There may be further difficulties over oil exploration; but there will not be a war.”

Tell that to the yahoos on both sides. Britain’s reactionary Daily Mail Feb. 22 led with the inflammatory metaphor “Argentinian hackers drew first blood in the latest Falklands stand-off” in its account of a cyber-attack on the website of the Falklands’ English-language weekly Penguin News. The Argentine hacktivists planted an image of their country’s flag on the paper’s home page, as well as an audio recording of the patriotic song “March of the Malvinas.”

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