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Falklands War: Cristina Kirchner Demands Britain Turn Over Falklands

Update: A New war of words has sprung up in the Falkland Islands dispute. Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has returned to the fray with a blistering attack on British "colonialism" and a demand to hand back "Las Malvinas." 

Argentina considers the island chain to be their own, though it is officially British territory.

In a biting letter to David Cameron, Fernández urges the UK to abide by a 1960 United Nations resolution urging member states to "end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations."

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Ever since the Falklands War, Argentina and Britain had tried to restore their diplomatic relations for decades. They resumed relations in 1990 and president Menem made a bold diplomatic effort to reconcile both countries in a visit to Britain in October, 1998. 

Trade relations between the two nations resumed to normality as well. However, one by one, all Argentinian presidents, including Menem, have placed the Falklands issue as the bedrock of their international diplomacy.

2012 marked the 30th anniversary of the Falkland's War and in the wake of Prince William's visit to the Islands; Cristina Kirchner raised the stakes trying to get world attention back to the issue. In doing so, her administration is reminding Britain that they want the islands back, albeit this time with a different twist to it for Mrs. Kirchner and her administration have found particularly novel and theatrical ways to try to corner Britain into talks.

Mrs. Kirchner appears to have given up on civil and active diplomacy. We see Argentina's new ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, ambushing Foreign Secretary William Hague at a ceremony in Lancaster House in London. We see Argentina's hockey midfielder Fernando Zylberberg in a controversial ad running in the Falklands capital Port Stanley and on the island's Great War Memorial and we see a tag line reading: "To compete on British soil, we train on Argentinian soil". We see Cristina herself attempting to force an A4 envelope into English PM David Cameron's hand at the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, which the PM later described as “media stunt”.

These actions may be welcomed with some sympathy by Kirchner's followers in Argentina and by leftist politicians and leaders in Latin America, for sure by Roger Waters and Sean Penn who publicly stated their support for Argentina on the Falklands issue. But these recent displays of anti-diplomacy strategies are very telling of the unfortunate state of foreign policy in Buenos Aires. 

Theatrical and belligerent propaganda is not going to help bring the Falklands issue back to the international agenda, and it won't help any diplomatic broker to bring the parties together; it is a bridge to nowhere, and it only shows that the United Kingdom has the upper hand on the diplomatic front.

Buenos Aires has taken the Falklands issue to the UN and to other world forums, but it still remains a topic of little interest in most international venues. Support from other countries to Argentina's cause tends to be symbolic, if anything at all. At the Organization of American States, Argentina's repeated efforts to include the Falklands issue in their summit statements have encounter opposition from the United States, Chile and other countries. Obama insists that the Falklands is a bilateral issue between Britain and Argentina.

It is clear for Argentina that before Britain can agree to hold talks, Buenos Aires needs to bring the Falkland issue to international debate. To be sure, Argentina's claims find strong backing in Latin America, with their reminiscences of European colonialism. The subject is matter of discussion in academia in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, etc. And Latin-American leaders make anti-colonialist statements in favor of Argentina for reasons of internal policy. Because when it comes to taking the Falkland's issue to the international arena, no country is willing to enter a diplomatic encounter with Britain and so Argentina finds itself diplomatically isolated.

At stake is Argentina's foreign policy: a country that was the economic and military power in Latin America long ago and whose diplomacy strongly influenced the region for decades (though the country it still sees itself that way).

Today, Argentina's economy is the third largest in the region after Brazil and Mexico, but countries like Chile and Colombia are approaching fast as they liberalize their economies and sign more trade agreements in the region or abroad attracting more investments and becoming more competitive (while Argentina's decades of populism and closed doors to trade have ruined their economic influence, and her erratic foreign policy has only alienated traditional allies and foes alike).

One day Buenos Aires demands that its neighbors support its claims at the Organization of American States to include the Falklands issue in the agenda, and they next day Buenos Aires raises import duties on the products of those very same neighbors, many of whom have filed  complaints against Argentina at the World Trade Organization.

Paraguay and Uruguay, Argentina's neighbors, have not found a reliable trade and political partner when Buenos Aires easily breaches trade agreements and takes every single opportunity to remind them that their country is bigger than theirs and that therefore they must accept Buenos Aires's terms. Just a few days ago, Cristina Kirchner blasted the newly formed Paraguayan government , and maneuvered  Brazil into suspending Paraguay's Mercosur membership, to force Venezuela's entry into Mercosur -- a deliberate violation of the Mercosur treaty itself and a clear disrespect for Paraguay as a member state (who is now debating whether to leave the South American trade bloc altogether).

Chile's relationship with Argentina isn't better with old territorial disputes and a history of mutual rivalry. In 1978, in a complete disregard for international law, Argentina tried to take Picton, Lennox and Nueva Islands and the maritime jurisdiction of those islands, all under Chilean sovereignty. The countries almost went to war in what came to be called the Beagle Conflict. Eventually Chile secretly sided with Britain during the Falklands War. Mexico has had diplomatic and trade issues and with Nestor and Cristina Kirchner´s administrations and the list of diplomatic headaches in the neighborhood goes on.

Of recent, Argentina has pursued greater diplomatic and economic relations with China, perhaps seeking their support as a powerful diplomatic broker on the Falkland's issue. But China has enough territorial disputes with their neighbors and will take no interest in some far away islands, not as long as they do not see any strategic interest in Argentina's economy other than soybeans. Buenos Aires has also strained its diplomatic relationship with the United States with years of anti-free trade rhetoric in the region; a recent diplomatic conflict deteriorated their relationship when a U.S. Air Force cargo plane was seized by the Argentinian authorities in February 2011.

To top it off, the Falklands themselves have suffered an openly hostile diplomacy from Buenos Aires, barring all UK ships bound to the Falklands from docking in any Mercosur ports and trying to isolate the islands. One has to conclude that Argentina's own foreign policy towards the islands, Latin America and the world has clearly not been aligned to their strategic goals to garner international support to position the Falklands issue back in the global agenda. By contrast, Britain has pursued a quiet but respectful diplomacy strategy in Latin America with multiple official visits and activities, with financial aid, foreign investment and increasing trade relations, with academic, cultural and social exchanges.

Buenos Aires needs to revise their foreign policy and define their national and international goals so they can align the country's diplomatic efforts in the right direction. Appointing experienced career diplomats in top foreign relations positions and professionalizing the Foreign Service will help a great deal. Neighbor relationships that have been eroded by reckless diplomacy must be repaired and make-friends diplomacy must replace arrogant and belligerent discourse.

But more than ever today, economic performance it's the best foreign policy a country can get. So instead of chasing around prime ministers and foreign secretaries in diplomatic cocktails and international events, Buenos Aires should stop clamping down on their population's thirst for dollars, promote fiscally responsible and business-friendly economic policies to create jobs and healthy economic growth. Argentina can be the vanguard country of the region they were once before. They have all the right ingredients: they have an educated and skillful population, plenty of natural resources and a strategic geographic location. With expanding economic growth and increasing trade relations, Argentina will see how her neighbors, trading partners and the world community take stake in her international agenda.

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