By Pat Stack
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Falklands: self determination for some

This article is over 10 years, 1 months old
Issue 371

It would appear that Argentinian president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner will not be invited to one of David Cameron’s country suppers – these are reserved only for the great and good such as the rational Jeremy Clarkson and the delightful Rebekah Brooks.

The Argentinian president was not even granted the oily Cameron charm offensive, when she attempted to hand him copies of the UN resolutions calling for a peaceful resolution to the Falklands dispute. Apparently “the prime minister refused to accept the documents, turned his back and walked away without a farewell”.

Ah yes, still much fire and fury over the desolate penguin-inhabited rocks that one side claim to be the British Falkland Islands, and the other the Argentinian Malvinas.

The dispute has perhaps gained slightly more logical relevance today than it appeared to have back in 1982. It is estimated that eight million barrels of oil have been produced from the waters surrounding the islands, and as we know nothing quite spurs on the warring instincts of capitalists everywhere like the smell of oil.

In 1982, however, there seemed little logic to what became a bloody and farcical waste of life. Over 1,000 Argentinians and 250 Brits lost their lives in a conflict about islands that almost no one in Britain was aware existed up until the point of the Argentinian invasion.

Argentina at the time was ruled by an increasingly unpopular and unstable military junta. In order to gain popularity President Galtieri used “anti-colonialism” as a convenient pretext to divert Argentinian workers away from their struggle against the dictatorship. He launched a military adventure sure in the knowledge that Britain had neither the necessary force in the region to stop it nor the political will to do anything about it.

The latter proved to be a miscalculation, for Britain itself had a deeply unpopular prime minister and Labour, led by Michael Foot, seized the opportunity to put the boot in. Thatcher looked finished and realised that only by launching her own mad military adventure could she save her government.

Suddenly we were all being encouraged to support this outrageous jaunt. Galtieri was declared the new Hitler. Strangely the British government and media had neglected to inform us of this throughout his brutal reign up to that point.

We were also being asked to support the “self-determination” of the Falkland Islanders. That we were being asked to do so by a government which at the time was hell bent on denying “self-determination” in Ireland, a government that would later forget all notions of self-determination in Hong Kong, should be enough to tell us that this argument was a sham.

Today though it remains the most powerful argument in Cameron’s armoury. Many people look back at the war with disbelief and are aware of the horrible jingoism of the Sun’s “Gotcha” front page and Thatcher’s call to “Rejoice”.

They will look at a rock 8,000 miles from Britain and think “How can that be British?” and will feel deep down there should be a peaceful agreement, and yet still struggle with the notion of self-determination.

For the revolutionary socialist tradition the “right to self-determination” has long been a key demand, and one largely resisted by rulers everywhere unless it happened to coincide with their own interests.

Unlike us they have no history of supporting anti-imperialist or anti-colonial struggles. Every now and then, however, they suddenly find it suits them, particularly if that “self-determination” either poses no threat to their interests or helps them wave a flag of jingoism.

So it is with the 3,000 odd British people who inhabit the islands largely as a result of descending from military adventurers of the past. Their “right to self-determination”, far from being a rallying cry for freedom from imperialism, is merely a quaint sad echo of the glories of that imperial past.

At the time of the war had each Falkland Islander been offered the alternative that the £2.778 billion being spent by Britain on military madness be given to each of them to either keep on the Malvinas or to relocate back in Britain, they would all have become multi-millionaires overnight. However that piece of self-determination was never offered.

The truth is it is a lunacy to pretend these islands are British, and self-determination in this context is a meaningless smokescreen deployed in the past for war and in the present so David Cameron can look very tough. How impressive for his supper guests.

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