Possession of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands in the South Atlantic is again being disputed. The United Kingdom’s 180-year control over the islands and the will of its English-speaking inhabitants as well as the sacrifice of British blood and treasure that reversed the 1982 Argentine aggression give the UK clear possession of the islands.
Nonetheless, Argentina rejects what it calls “a colonial enclave.” Last year, it laid claim to vast amount of the South American continental shelf.
The current bone of contention involves oil. Exploration begun by British firms this month will assess just how large are deposits locked in waters around the Falklands. Optimists claim figures runs in the tens of billions of barrels, triggering a clash of competing interests in London and Buenos Aires.
Pummeled politically and economically, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner’s government is milking the dispute for political advantage. While Argentina says it intends to stick to peaceful means, it has begun a provocative escalation. The Argentine requirement that “ships that want to travel from ports on the Argentine mainland to the Islas Malvinas, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands must first ask for permission from the Argentine government” constitutes a serious threat to freedom of the seas and risks U.K.-Argentine confrontations.
The Argentines want to enlist the United Nations and Latin American neighbors to back their claims. Hot heads like Venezuela’s populist authoritarian president Hugo Chavez are busy whipping up nationalism and old-fashion anti-colonialism against the British,
While promising to show forceful leadership in the Western Hemisphere, the Obama Administration has thus far has ducked the opportunity to speak out on sovereignty and freedom of the seas issues involving a close ally. As it did during the Honduras crisis last year, the Administration seems willing to follow the Latin American consensus and keep silent in an emerging crisis.