The recent papal election has brought the native Argentina of Pope Francis under the spotlight. The media has focused largely on the tenuous relationship between the now Pope and President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and the now Pope’s actions during the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s-80s, there is another issue where the new Pope’s election is arousing passions: the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas in Argentina).
For those unfamiliar with the dispute between Argentina and Britain, here is a brief explanation. In 1982, Argentina (ruled by the same military dictatorship mentioned above), invaded the islands drumming up nationalist sentiment. An early test of the political stamina of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (aka “The Iron Lady”), Britain counterattacked, prompting a bloody war which it won in short order. Though diplomatic relations between the two countries have since been reestablished, the islands are still in dispute. De facto, however, the islands are currently administered as a British Overseas Territory. On the official Falkland Islands website (a .fk address!), it is interesting to see the emphasis on territorial independence in day-to-day affairs.
Given this situation, three recent developments are worth noting:
- On March 9th, Falkland Islanders voted overwhelmingly (only 3 out of 1500+ votes against) to maintain British sovereignty over the territory. Pictures from the event show residents carrying Union Jacks, the flag pattern of the United Kingdom, in a proud display of patriotism and allegiance to Great Britain.
- Argentina’s resistance to British control over the islands, and its diplomatic efforts to sway international opinion towards Argentine sovereignty, carry weight internationally. South American allies in Mercosur and the Caribbean, for example, have stopped accepting ships carrying the Falklands Union Jack flag, at the behest of Buenos Aires. Potential oil reserves in Falkland territorial waters further add to the tension here.
- The election of an Argentine as Pope has ignited the sovereignty debate once again. Cardinal Bergoglio (now Pope Francis) has said in the past, as the influential archbishop of Buenos Aires (Argentina is a strongly Catholic country, thus making the Church a politically relevant presence), that the islands were “usurped” by Britain. In response, British Prime Minister David Cameron, channeling his predecessor as leader of the Conservative Party (Margaret Thatcher), that “the white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear” that Bergoglio was wrong about Falklands sovereignty. What is significant here is not only what he said, but how he said it. With a tone of respect, Cameron has indicated that the British are nervous about the presence of an Argentine as head of another state, the Holy See. Given the Catholic Church’s presence as an independent state, the world’s largest multinational corporation, and one of the world’s oldest and most established nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Pope Francis could bring a pro-Argentina spotlight to the Falklands dispute in a way that could be difficult for the British to respond (it’s difficult, spiritually/emotionally speaking, to counter infallibility!). That being said, the Vatican’s political influence among powers in the international sphere is more minimal, as seen in the fact that it has no UN membership.
Taken together, these recent developments in the Falklands/Malvinas dispute make it worth watching throughout the tenure of Pope Francis, an Argentine who has managed to anger both the government in London and that of his native Buenos Aires. He may even visit the Falklands on an official papal visit!
Do you have any examples of current political events that seem strange, surprising, or otherwise obscure? Please share!