The issue of the Falkland Islands is rearing its ugly head once more. These Islands, stolen from Argentina by the British in 1833, and since then colonised by British sheep farmers, have been the subject of dispute between Britain and Argentina ever since. Needless to say, the three thousand sheep farming population of British descent is in itself of little or no interest to either Argentina or Britain. However, the geostrategic position of the Falkland Islands, the oil and gas contained in the sea bed within the 200 mile exclusion zone that Britain has arrogated to itself around the Falkland Islands, their rich fisheries, as well as the claims that sovereignty over Argentina give to sharing the riches to emerge from Antarctica are all of huge significance, to the extent that 30 years ago they led to a bloody war between the UK and Argentina over territory which at the time to the untutored eye hardly seemed worth the effort.
At that time, and at the height of a general jingoist hysteria whipped up by the British media, Lalkar carried an article, reproduced below, explaining, among other things, the legitimacy of Argentine claims to the Falkland Islands. Shortly after the article was published a 74-day war took place in which the Argentines were ousted from the Islands and de facto British control was re-established at a cost of 649 Argentine lives, 255 British lives and countless others severely injured and/or traumatised for life.
Following the war, the United Nations General Assembly has passed resolution after resolution demanding that Britain discuss with Argentina all aspects of the Falklands Islands issue, including the question of their sovereignty. In other words, the United Nations officially takes the view that the issue of the sovereignty (a) is a disputed matter, (b) that the matter remains unresolved, and (c) that it ought to be resolved by negotiation. It is not hard to see that it would be expected that both parties should give some ground and reach agreement as to shared sovereignty, or possibly some territory being ceded to Argentina while other territory remains under a British flag. However, since the question of sovereignty is really only a means to an end, i.e., claiming the financial benefit of various energy exploitation and fisheries exploitation rights, plus in years to come extending such rights to the Antarctic region, then it should be expected that the Argentines and the British should be able to come to some reasonable decision as to how to share the spoils.
In 1995 it did appear that a breakthrough had been made on this front with the Joint Declaration designating a Special Area of Cooperation for exploration of offshore minerals (including oil), but alas, despite being a party to the Joint Declaration, Britain simply used it as an excuse to behave exactly as if the question of sovereignty had been decided and had been decided in its favour. Without any thought of consultation with Argentina, Britain unilaterally began to grant exploration licences outside the agreed boundaries. It also began to grant fishing licences within its 200 nautical mile self-declared ‘exclusion zone’ to multinational fish harvesters, thus raising some $40 million a year, much of which goes to providing a high level of public services to the islanders with a view to keeping them proud to be British! (Ironically, under the British Nationality Act of 1981 the Falklanders were deprived of their British citizenship except in the case of individuals who had at least one parent or grandparent born in the UK – but now that it has become clear that their Britishness is the only argument, whatever its inadequacy, in favour of British sovereignty over the Falklands, the decision has been reversed and their right to British nationality was restored in 1983). Britain has also pre-empted the sovereignty issue by maintaining a military base and naval presence in the region which Argentina claims is inhibiting it from exercising its own oil drilling rights that were theoretically agreed with the British in 1995. All this is clearly in breach of UN General Assembly Resolution 31/49 which urges both parties, the UK and Argentina, to the dispute to refrain from adopting unilateral modifications to the issue while the solution to the dispute over sovereignty is pending. However, in complete disregard of the wishes of the United Nations, Britain is continuing to refuse to discuss the issue of sovereignty and simply insists that there is no dispute because the Falklands are British and that’s all there is to it.
Britain gets away with such bare-faced defiance only because it is militarily and economically infinitely more powerful than Argentina and, moreover, has the backing of US imperialism. When it comes to looting the oil wealth of the South Atlantic, US imperialism is very much Britain’s partner in crime.
The reason why it is now that the ongoing tensions between Argentina and the UK are coming to a head once more is not that Prince William is being deployed to the Falklands in his wondrous Apache killing machine, or even that it is the 30th anniversary of the Falklands war, but the fact that a short while ago, in mid-2010, a company called Rockhopper discovered an actual exploitable oil deposit, meaning that oil from the Falklands undersea deposits can start to flow. According to Brian Stint (‘Oil Grab in Falklands seen tripling UK reserves’, Bloomberg, 19 January 2012), “Oil explorers are targeting 8.3 billion barrels in the waters around the islands, three times the UK’s reserves. Borders & Southern Petroleum plc will drill the Stebbing prospect next month, one of three Falkland wells that Morgan Stanley ranks among the world top 15 offshore prospects this year.”
Three other lucrative wells are the Sea Lion belonging to Rockhopper, Darwin belonging to M&S, and Loligo belonging to Falklands Oil & Gas Limited (FOGL) Although Rockhopper is a British company, its capitalisation is only £889 million and it will need substantial backing to continue to develop its wells. However, a major US energy company Anadarko is said to be interested in purchasing Rockhopper’s interest at a most satisfying profit for Rockhopper’s entrepreneurs.
From Argentina’s point of view, Britain will be engaged in profiting from the emptying of the wells, leaving nothing for Argentina if at any future time she is able to regain her rightful sovereignty.
It is because it has these plundered treasures to ‘protect’ that Britain is stepping up its militarisation of the islands, and the massive destroyer, HMS Dauntless, has been sent over there to dissuade anybody who imagines that British capitalists can easily be parted from their hard-earned loot. Prince William is just so much royal icing on the cake, the main purpose of his visit being no doubt to cause Falkland islanders´ little hearts to burst with jingoistic pride – just it case they start to feel that the estimated £111.7 billion tax windfall that their public finances are expected to receive from the South Atlantic finds is insufficient to secure their undying loyalty to the British Crown – or to keep them in the Falklands while the threat of war hangs over them, when they remain entitled to remove themselves out of the line of fire to the UK!
Hands off the Falklands
Las Malvinas Argentinas
(Lalkar, April 1982)
On Friday 2 April, 1982, the Argentine armed forces invaded, and established complete control over, the Falkland Islands, which the Argentines have always laid claim to and which they call Las Islas Malvinas, thus restoring these islands to Argentinean sovereignty. Following this successful Argentinean action, the British government has found itself in the throes of a most severe crisis – of the kind not seen since the days of the Suez crisis more than 25 years ago – and the chief hallmarks of its policy have aptly been described by that great friend of the Tories, the Daily Telegraph, as being “confusion, ambiguity and irresolution”. The government simply does not know what to do and in which direction to move. It is simply being propelled by the unfolding events into actions and in directions not of its own choosing. This governmental crisis has already produced 3 ministerial resignations – that of the Foreign Secretary, Lord Carrington, and those of his junior colleagues at the Foreign Office, Messrs Atkins and Loos – and all the signs are that more ministerial heads will roll. The resignation of the Defence Secretary, Mr Nott, is almost a foregone conclusion. And the future of the prime minister, and indeed of her government, is far from assured.
The question of sovereignty
Before going into the question of right and wrong, the legitimacy or otherwise, of the Argentine action, it is important to look at the question of sovereignty over the Falklands in the proper historical perspective. Mrs Thatcher claimed the other day in Parliament that Argentina “has not a shred of justification nor a scrap of legality”. The British bourgeois press and media have put forward the same viewpoint, painting Britain as the victim of an unprovoked aggression. Here are a few salient facts appertaining to the history of the Falkland Islands.
Both Spain and Britain claimed title to these Islands by discovery, the former through Vespucius and the latter through Drake and Hawkins. The French seem to have landed a party on these islands in 1764 and were only turfed out by the Spaniards. The French called the Islands Les Iles Malouines (after their sailors, who came from St Malo) and the Spanish called them Las Islas Malvinas. In 1767 the French transferred their rights to the Spanish. In 1770, the Spanish ejected a British landing party. A year later, in 1771, for some unknown reason, the Spaniards relented and allowed the British back. However, the climate proved stronger than the collapsing Spanish Empire, and the British settlement packed it in 3 years later. The British withdrew, leaving behind a British flag and a lead plaque saying that the Islands were “the sole right and property” of George III.
Thereafter the Islands went through many vicissitudes of claims to their sovereignty and periods of internal disorder. Spanish occupation ensued until 1810, followed by occupation by the government of Buenos Aires. In 1820 the newly-independent Republic of Buenos Aires announced that it had inherited the rights once exercised by Spain and started to develop a colony on the Islands. The poor Argentinean colonists made the mistake of 1831 of seizing 3 American sailing vessels in retribution for their occupants having taken stock belonging to Islanders. The Americans, wielding their big sticks – as has been their wont ever since then – organised a sharp naval assault which laid waste the Islands. The US then declared the Islands to be “free of all governance”. The British government saw in this Argentinean misfortune a splendid opportunity and reoccupied the Islands with a military force in January 1833, expelling the local Argentineans from the Islands.
Since then, though Britain has hung on to these Islands which gave it domination of the strategic South Atlantic and Cape Horn sea routes, Argentina never forgot and never gave up its claim. In 1965 the General Assembly of the United Nations voted by 94 votes to nil, with Britain abstaining, that the two sides should hold talks to resolve the issue peacefully. Since then talks have been held between the two sides, interrupted by several naval confrontations and the breaking off of diplomatic relations between 1975 and 1979. The British government employed the tactics of delay and procrastination and, in the end, Argentine patience ran out and they took what was theirs by force since they could not get it at the negotiating table.
From the above facts it is clear that the Argentines were forced to leave by the superior force of arms at a time when the British navy really ruled the waves; it is clear that the Argentinean population of these Islands, las Malvinas, was expelled by the same superior power of the day. If history has turned round and played a joke on the British ruling class, why should the latter complain, even if what has happened is not much to their liking? What was conquered by sword and fire has been taken back by those who had legitimate claim to it, and who have never dropped this claim even if they were hitherto powerless to press it militarily. Much is being made of the undisturbed occupancy for the last 150 years by the British of these Islands, but then much has always been made of such occupancy by all the colonial powers. Did not France make such a lot of its occupancy of Algeria and other countries? Did she not regard her colonies as mere provinces of France? Did Britain herself not make similar claims with regard to the territories that once constituted her vast empire? It is also said that the people of Falklands do not wish to be part of Argentina, that they are passionately British – more British than the British themselves. That is undoubtedly true, but that is no fault of the Argentinean people who were as much the victims of British colonial expansion as were the people of British descent on these isles who were brought there on the understanding – false as it turns out – that they were forever British. These islands were British as long as the might of British arms was in a position to sustain this Britishness. This has in fact been implicitly recognised over the decades by successive British governments who have conducted negotiations with the Argentine government over the question of sovereignty over these islands. If these islands had been British and their sovereignty were unquestionable, what then was there to negotiate about with the Argentineans?
The fact of the matter is that the 1,700 Islanders are not worth a farthing to our government. What has made these islands now such a bone of contention is the rich fishing stocks and oil deposits around these islands. People have never mattered very much to our ruling classes, but considerations of strategy and profits have always done so.
One has only to contrast the present demands of some Tory and Labour MPs for governmental blood over letting the people of the Falklands down with their deafening silence over the expulsion in 1968 of 1300 inhabitants of the island of Diego Garcia to realise the utter hypocrisy of these jingoistic lickspittles and flunkeys of monopoly capitalism.
For the first time in more than 25 years, the House of Commons sat on a Saturday – i.e., on 3 April 1982. During the debate on the islands, it has to be admitted that Tory right-wingers and Labour left-wingers vied with each other in jingoist hysteria. During the debate was born the Leader of the Opposition. So jingoist was Michael Foot’s performance that the Daily Telegraph gave him the kiss of death by describing his performance as the best ever, adding that this was “the language of gut patriotism”. And further, “The furrowed, white-haired old pacifist was leading nothing less than an opposition drum-roll for war” and “It was Labour at its patriotic, flag-waving finest”. Such is always the fate of social chauvinism.
And The Times in its editorial of 5 April 1982, full of sabre-rattling and patriotic fervour, i.e., imperialist jingoism (we shall return shortly to this editorial) commented on Labour’s performance in the following terms: “The time may come when the unilaterialist Left will look back on its Churchillian posture on Saturday with amazement and regret. For the present it is enough to welcome the prodigal’s return”.
Large Task Force
On Saturday 3 April the House of Commons gave a near unanimous mandate to the government to dispatch a formidable naval task force comprised of 36 ships, including the aircraft carriers Invincible and Hermes, as well as guided-missile destroyers, frigates and nuclear-powered submarines, for the purpose of “liberating the Islands from Argentinean rule”. This force is already on its way and there is every prospect at the moment of a bloody battle of these islands. It is of the utmost importance that we make our attitude to this impending battle clear. The bourgeois attitude has been outlined by the government, by the opposition and by the press. Not a single one of these has, not surprisingly, said or done anything that is in the interests of the working class of this country. In the circumstances the working class and its leadership must, in the interests of its own class, make its attitude clear. Our attitude is that the Falklands belong to Argentina and not to Britain. We have no wish forcibly to take other people’s territory or loot other people’s wealth. Our demand should be that our government desist from all military action against Argentina and conduct negotiations with the Argentine government on the single issue of securing the lives and well-being of the 1,700 islanders. We should refuse to be fooled by the hysterical leader writers of the imperialist press, and we should treat their outbursts with the contempt they deserve.
In its editorial, referred to above, The Times tries to compare the Falkland invasion with the Nazi invasion of Poland and with a racist tinge adds: “The Poles were Poles; the Falklanders are our people. The Falklands are British territory. When British territory is invaded, it is not just an invasion of our land, but of our whole spirit. We are all Falklanders now”.
As a matter of fact, there are two spirits living side by side in Britain – one imperialist and the other proletarian. To the former all other people’s territory is ‘our’ territory; to the latter it is not so. To the former it is an invasion of ‘our’ spirit when we cannot plunder other people. To the latter, it is not so. We are not all Falklanders, and if the British bourgeoisie wishes to go and fight it out, let it do its own dirty work. We in the working class have no wish to shed a single drop of blood for protecting the interests of British imperialism.
The Argentine fascist junta
It is now being claimed that we should knock the hell out of Argentina and oppose the latter’s claims to the Falklands because it is ruled by a fascistic military dictatorship. Says The Times: “It is the misfortune of the Argentine people to live under a fascist dictatorship as they have done many times over in their turbulent, truculent, unstable 150-year history. The people of Argentina are again today on their knees under the rifle butts of a military tyranny which has introduced a sinister new idiom to their language – ‘the disappeared ones’. The disappearance of individuals is the junta’s recognised method of dealing with opposition. We are faced now with a situation where it intends to make a whole island people – the Falklanders – disappear.”
There is not the slightest doubt that the Argentinean government is fascistic and its rule the most bloody, most nasty and most sordid. It is true that more than 12,000 Argentines have disappeared since this fascist junta came to power. And we congratulate The Times, and the rest of the British media, as well as Her Majesty’s government and opposition, for having made this belated discovery. Some of us have correctly characterised the Argentinean junta as fascist right from its inception. Over the years, The Times, and most of the other newspapers who today wax eloquent over the disappearances, kept silent. The British government and British big business were doing good out of the misfortune of the Argentine people, as they have done out of the misfortune of the South African, the Chilean, the Salvadorean and countless other peoples. The fact of the matter is that these nasty, bloody, fascist regimes would not last a day if it were not for the financial, political and military support afforded them by the various imperialist countries, Britain included. It is indeed ironical that the Royal Navy will be facing in a couple of weeks’ time some of the sophisticated hardware provided to the Argentine fascist junta by the benevolence of the British government. These facts ought to be remembered by those who are now calling upon the working class to make sacrifices in a futile and unjust cause, as well as by the working class.
The fact that Argentine people are under the heel of fascism should in no way blind us to the national rights of the Argentinean people over the Falklands. Nor should this fact lead us into the camp of British imperialism and into the defence of its interests. We should not be fooled by the crocodile tears of the age-old apologists of British colonialism and imperialism such as The Times. These tears are not shed over either the misfortune of the Argentine people nor that of the Falklanders: these are tears shed over the humiliation and misfortune presently afflicting British imperialism. No doubt the Falklands question is a popular issue in Argentina and the fascist generals need it to distract the latter’s resistance to their fascist rule. No doubt that temporarily the generals will gain some popularity. But in 6 months’ time this will no longer be the case – there will be no more Malvinas to inflame national feelings. Then the people of Argentina will still be under the heel of the fascist junta and they will doubtless get rid of it by waging revolutionary war against it.
“Falklands is a national issue and no regrets about the past or anxieties about the future should be allowed to conceal from Argentina Britain’s total resolution … What matters in the next few weeks is that the government should have the fullest possible backing for a combined military and diplomatic operation which calls for nerve and skill on an unusual scale” (ibid.).
So says The Times, expressing the desires, wishes and interests of British imperialism. For our part we, expressing the desires, wishes and above all the interests of the working class, say that Falklands is not a national issue. The issues that matter to us are those concerned with getting rid of unemployment (3 million at present), housing shortages, inadequate social services, of racialism, of war – indeed getting rid of not only the present nasty government but the whole nasty system of production that ever reproduces these problems. We are concerned with conquering these real problems rather than conquering other people’s territories. This is the line of thought and policy which must permeate every working-class organisation.