22nd April 2014
Peru and the Falkland Islands: history of a Latin American common cause
Earlier this month the Peru-Argentina Friendship League organised a meeting in Congress under the title “Peru and the Falkland Islands: history of a Latin American common cause”*. I wasn’t invited to attend but I have read a report of the event with interest.
The topics of the Falkland Islands, of the invasion of the islands ordered in 1982 by Argentine military dictator Leopoldo Galtieri in clear violation of international law, and of Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde’s decision to provide support for the Argentine armed forces have come up in conversations many times during my almost four years in Lima. I have often wondered why it really was that President Belaunde opted to provide arms in support of an illegal military adventure led by a military dictatorship already well known for human rights abuses on a large scale, the more so given that Peru had so recently come through its own bitter experience of twelve years of military dictatorship. Was there more to it than the pride of a decent man wounded by the failure of his attempt to be the leader who would take credit for sorting the mess out? Did he mistakenly believe that he would be helping to lift a colonial yoke from a grateful people?
Asked to define what the foundation stones are of a “Latin American common cause” most people would, I think, come up with similar sets of principles. Lots of us would have freedom and democracy on our lists. We would have human rights there too. It goes almost without saying that these are among the principles enshrined in the charters of UNASUR, CELAC and MERCOSUR. It is obvious in a number of countries around the region that, sadly, commitments to principle aren’t always as firm as they might be – take the challenges to a free press that we are seeing all too often – but the principles are there and they are wisely chosen. And they are principles that I firmly believe Peru is right to hold dear and to be proud of.
In the United Kingdom regional solidarity is a principle we support. Without any doubt the European Union today represents the most advanced and sophisticated model of regional coordination between sovereign nations anywhere in the world. Here in Latin America the Pacific Alliance is emerging as a really exciting political and economic project – my country is delighted to be an observer of it. But, I would argue, there need to be limits to what regional solidarity is best taken to mean and how far allegiances to others’ agendas are stretched.
The Falkland Islands have been British since 1765. In March last year the people of the Islands, many of whose families have lived on the islands for as many as seven or eight generations, but who also include many more recent settlers from Latin America, voted resoundingly to remain an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. The voting was free and fair, with observers from countries in Latin America and around the world. The islanders have their own legislative assembly; they make their own laws and decide how to spend their revenue; they prize their distinct identity and their autonomy. They have made very, very clear that they do not want their islands to become a part of Argentina.
Countries around the region that prize the principles of democracy should support them in this. Problems at home aren’t a good excuse for making things difficult for a well-intentioned neighbour – this is as true today as it was for Galtieri and his government in 1982. Even if the islands were very close to Argentina (they are almost 500 kms away from the closest Argentine coast) geographical proximity would give no justification for trying to get title to another people’s territory.
Perhaps now, more than thirty years after Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands, the time has come for an honest reassessment by the members of the Peru-Argentina Friendship League of Congress of whether their continuing support for Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the islands and hostile attitude to the Islanders really has a place in the “history of a Latin American common cause”. The common cause that San Martin and Bolívar fought for was for the freedom of a people to choose how they are governed, for the freedom to be free. President Fernandez’s aggressive ambition to make life difficult for the people of the Islands deserves no place in this history. Rather the people of the Falkland Islands deserve the support of all of Latin America for their wish to be themselves.
* “El Peru y las Islas Malvinas: historia de una causa latinoamericana”
Note: This article has been published in Newspaper “Hildebrandt en sus Trece”, No. 198 on 18.04.14