The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/The Falklands Will Never Be Argentine

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The Falklands Will Never Be Argentine

Prof. Carlos Escudé, Ph.D.

Argentine National Council of Scientific Research (CONICET)

Uiversidad Torcuato Di Tella, Buenos Aires

It is sufficient to talk to any Buenos Aires cabdriver to understand that the Argentine people know that the Falkland Islands will not be “recovered” by Argentina. The only locals who appear not to understand this basic fact of life are a group of war veterans, a small bunch of nationalist fundamentalists, and practically the entire lot of Argentine politicians.

Needless to say, however, in so doing the politicians are cheating and lying. The great majority of these politicians know that the Falklands will not be Argentine again, but they choose not to acknowledge this for fear of losing votes.

Indeed, within Argentina’s “political class” there are two types of lies regarding the Falklands: the benign and the malign ones. The Falklands discourse of the late foreign minister Guido Di Tella was plagued with paradigmatic examples of “benign lies”. He wanted Argentines to believe that Argentina was going to recover the Falkland Islands through peaceful means, “seducing” the Islanders while accumulating a sufficient number of national successes so as to actually make it convenient for the average Islander to accept Argentine sovereignty. Di Tella did not accept the Islanders’ right to self-determination, but he was conscious of the fact that if Argentina did not succeed in making itself an attractive country, it would be impossible to get the British Government and Parliament to accept a transfer of sovereignty.

This type of lie is benign because the costs of failure, to Argentina, are low. Di Tella’s Christmas cards to the Falkland population will be remembered in Falkland history as the eccentric gesture of a well-meaning official who represented a neighboring country that once threatened the Islanders. The most important cost of this type of lie is the attempt to deceive the Argentines themselves. Because the Argentines already know intuitively that the Falklands will not be theirs again, this lie leads to an increase in the disillusionment of the Argentine people vis-à-vis a political class that is chronically dedicated to the ignoble art of lying.

Contrariwise, the “malign lie” consists of claiming that Argentina will recover the Islands if it adopts a “tough” policy. Most politicians from both major political parties, as well many professional diplomats, engage in this type of lie, even if they are somewhat subdued with the present economic and political crisis of Argentina. Crisis notwithstanding, however, when it comes to issuing opinions about the Falklands they will usually agree that to attempt to “seduce” is a waste of time, that the Islanders must be disregarded, and that the costs to Britain of not transferring sovereignty to Argentina must be increased.

This is a malign, arrogant, macho-type lie because it propounds a policy of confrontation that, if implemented, would be dreadfully costly to Argentina herself, and would never succeed in recovering what was lost as far back as 1833, and which the war of 1982 made irrecoverable.

This second type of lie is also perversely naïve. It proposes to increase the British costs of remaining in the Falklands, without taking account of the fact that in order to increase the British costs one must augment the Argentine costs, and without realizing that Britain has infinitely more economic, diplomatic and military resources than Argentina. There is no way of making Britain “spend more” without Argentina herself spending more as well. And the increased British costs will always represent a much smaller percentage of total British resources, than the increased Argentine costs vis-à-vis total Argentine resources. Thus, increasing the British costs of not transferring sovereignty is necessarily a worse deal for Argentina than for Britain. And last but not least, these increased costs to Argentina will be felt much more dramatically by Argentina’s increasingly poor masses than by the well-off elites who would profit emotionally and politically from such a reckless policy.

Why then is this malign lie consistently repeated when the issue of the Falklands is debated? The answer would appear to be that, in Argentina, a perverse political dynamics is at work whereby professional politicians fear that to say the “painful” truth about the Falklands (i.e., that they will never again be Argentine) will make them lose votes to politicians who continue to engage in the fantasy that the Islands will be recovered. If politician A admits publicly that the Falklands will not be recovered, he or she will lose votes to politician B, who by continuing with the lie will succeed in reaping political profits from primitive popular emotions.

The end result, of course, is to the detriment of the country itself. But when politicians consistently sell their souls to the popular vote, that is of little or no import.