Diminishing differences between Kirchner and military dictator that invaded Falklands in 1982
Cristina Kirchner may be more Machiavelli than Clausewitz, but, like Galtieri, she's using the Falklands to distract from the increasing domestic problems that are festering under her tenure
At the G20 summit on Tuesday, Argentine president Cristina Kirchner attempted what UK officials have called a “media stunt,” by handing British Prime Minister David Cameron an envelope labeled “UN Malvinas.” Argentina calls the Falkland Islands “Las Malvinas,” as a nearly 180 year affront to the UK, which has had legally-recognized possession of the islands since 1833.
Cameron, who had sought out Kirchner at the summit to quietly discuss issues prior to the next day’s session, told the Argentine president: "I am not proposing a full discussion now on the Falklands, but I hope you noted they are holding a referendum and you should respect their views. We believe in self-determination and act as democrats here in the G20." Quite ironically, just last Thursday, a group of young Falkland Islanders had asked Kirchner to meet with them at a UN conference on “decolonization,” which she refused.
In 1982, the two countries went to war over the islands, when an alcoholic Argentine military dictator facing widespread protests at home used the Falklands issue as a nationalist rallying cry to thwart growing opposition to his rule. General Leopoldo Galtieri, an army officer that ousted another general in a coup to become president, said with stereotypical machismo that he didn’t think Britain’s Lady Thatcher would defend the islands, even though President Reagan spent an hour on the phone telling him not only that the UK would defeat them, but also that the U.S. would back Thatcher.
Alexander Haig, Reagan’s secretary of state, who also served as a mediator between the Argentines and the Brits, told La Nacion: “[Galtieri] thought the Western World was corrupt. That the British people had no God, that the US was corrupt... I could never convince him that the British would not only fight back but also win [the war].” Despite Haig’s efforts at mediation, Galtieri went ahead with the invasion, which worked as planned politically.
Just a week before Galtieri sent troops to invade the islands, thousands of Argentines had been arrested when union and human rights activists led a protest against wage freezes, triple-digit inflation and military rule. The protest was the biggest that had taken place since the 1976 coup that brought the junta to power, but according to the New York Times, after troops landed on the Falklands, “thousands waved flags and honked auto horns in cadence as they chanted ‘Argentina! Argentina!’ General Galtieri went on television to promise, ‘We will not retreat.’”
Soon after, leftist radicals that had been fomenting revolution against the military junta began to offer support for the dictatorship’s plans to invade the Falklands. Luis Leon, the leader of a radical faction of one of Argentina's left-wing political parties, which had all been outlawed at the time by the military junta, called for Argentine troops to invade. “This is necessary for the preservation of our sovereignty and [national] dignity,” Leon told reporters at a press conference called by his Radical Party.
The communist government in Nicaragua also announced support for the invasion, despite charges by fellow leftists at the time that Argentina had been sending “right-wing commandos” to help topple the Sandinista Government. Nicaragua’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that an Argentine invasion was consistent with Nicaragua's “anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist stance.”
Not to be outdone, Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who had been funding many of the left-wing Argentine terrorists that were being hunted by the military junta, came out in favour of the invasion as well. The “People's Bureau for Foreign Liaison,” Libya’s Foreign Ministry under Colonel Qaddafi, called the British claim to sovereignty over the Falklands a “prolongation of the colonialist drive that prevailed during the last century.”
Today, President Kirchner is facing a situation similar to Galtieri’s in 1982 as her increasingly autocratic attempts to control both the country’s economy and its media have backfired, driving her approval rating from a high of 63 percent when she won re-election in October to just 39 percent today. Her recent takeover of the Spanish-owned YPF oil company has led to international condemnation and a flurry of lawsuits.
Argentine voters are starting to realize that there are only cosmetic differences between Kirchner’s creeping autocracy and that of the military juntas she once condemned. Where one sought diplomatic alignment with Washington to draw Cold War largess, the other seeks alignment with Caracas to procure the skimmings from peak oil.
Since succeeding her late husband to the presidency, Cristina Kirchner has made a cause of prosecuting retired military veterans on often questionable charges of human rights violations. With outright takeovers of privately-owned businesses and attempts to silence critics, she has now reached the point of mimicking the actions of the military dictatorships whose victims she claims to avenge.
Though military coups in the region appear to be a relic of the past, today’s tactics are different only in degree and method. Cristina Kirchner may be more Machiavelli than Clausewitz, but, like Galtieri, she shares the same goal of distracting the populace with Falklands saber-rattling as a distraction from the increasing domestic problems that are festering under her tenure.
Jon Perdue is the director of Latin America programs at the Fund for American Studies in Washington, and is the author of the forthcoming book The War of All the People (Potomac Books)
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