Negotiating the Malvinas is like climbing Everest
By Jorge Argüello*
For the Herald
One spring day in 1953, a Times correspondent sent a striking dispatch to London from Nepal, taking care to use radio to scoop the competition — a mountaineer from the British Commonwealth, the New Zealander Edmund Hillary, had become the first man to climb Mount Everest.
The Times published the scoop in its morning edition of June 2 — Coronation Day. The newly crowned Elizabeth II wasted little time in knighting Sir Edmund Hillary while the Post Office dedicated a series of stamps to him. The journalist James Morris, rewriting some time afterwards his experience on the fringes of the old Empire on that historic date, recalled: "People of a certain age remember vividly to this day the moment when, as they waited on a drizzly June morning for the Coronation procession to pass by in London, they heard the magical news that the summit of the world was, so to speak, theirs".
It was the twilight of the Empire and the dawn of new powers. Lost in the mists of time was the Great Britain of the 19th century when in the full surge of colonialism it tried to overrun the entire River Plate region in 1806 and 1807 and ended up usurping the Malvinas, dislodging in 1833 the Argentine settlers who had inherited the islands from Spain after the independence war.
In the first days of the reign of Elizabeth II her kingdom was still licking its wounds from the Second World War when the gallant Britons had fought shoulder to shoulder with the peoples of Europe, America and the world against the Nazis — not only for freedom but for their own independence threatened by the bombs raining down from over the Channel. Unforgettable experiences, a brutally effective learning curve.
But it seems that colonialism cannot help its own nature any more than the scorpion. Thus the British went out to the island of Diego Garcia, an atoll of some 50 square kilometres in the middle of the Indian Ocean, inherited from Portuguese and French slaving interests, where they applied the old strategy of London — transplanting Britons as subject to Elizabeth II as Sir Edmund himself.
So far, so good until colonialism knocked on the door.
The United States needed a military base in the Indian Ocean so London rented them Diego Garcia island in 1966 and the desires of those noble islanders, as determinedly loyal as are now those of the English population transplanted onto the Malvinas over the last two centuries, took second place and they were progressively displaced, even the natives.
Subsequent legal claims by those islanders were resolved by the House of Lords in favour of Whitehall. The inhabitants of Diego Garcia had no territory of their own nor rights over it. The reader may wish to relate this case to the Malvinas. And while at it, check out the return of Hong Kong to China, one example of what "self-determination" can mean to London. Above all, when facing so much negotiating power.
At this stage it is evident that Argentina will respect the interests of the islanders as it should, even writing this into the Constitution of 1994. The disproportionate British military deployment in the South Atlantic, in contrast, only exposes the need to protect crude economic interests, expropriating the natural resources of the region without the consent of that region and against the calls for negotiation which were born in Buenos Aires, passed through the Americas and are already reaching the entire political and diplomatic worlds.
It is absurd to argue that such a heavy defence investment is needed when Argentina has tried and convicted the military dictatorships which launched the armed conflict of 1982 and has just declassified a report by the Armed Forces themselves disowning the war leadership. It only aggravates the dire diplomatic position into which London has fallen in the eyes of the United Nations and every diplomatic forum in which it participates in the world.
Mountaineering history remains in doubt until today over whether Sir Edmund Hillary was really the first man to climb Everest. Two other British mountaineers, George Mallory and Andrew Irving, set out on June 8, 1924, from the camp just below the summit to conquer the peak. Their team-mates never saw them again. In mountaineering knowing how to come down is as respected as knowing how to climb up. In politics too.
Mallory’s remains were found halfway between the camp and the summit in 1999, but nobody can determine if he, like so many others, died on the way down. Elizabeth II is still Queen but times have changed and Everest is no longer worth a scoop (over 3,500 mountaineers of all nationalities have climbed it since).
In these circumstances of the 21st century, London should sit down and negotiate the sovereignty of the Malvinas with respect for the interests and lifestyle of the current islanders. This would be like a safe landing from Everest with dignity and respect. In these times well-meaning Britons throughout the world deserve the pride of performing new feats in their own right without the need to forcefully interfere with the rights of others.
(* Jorge Argüello is Argentina’s Ambassador to the United States)