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Imperial sunset

24 February 2010

The first commentator thought I was suggesting military action against Britain… I rewrote the last sentence (and made a few changes to correct typos and editing errors) to clarify what I think is inevitable.

Argentina received the support of its Latin American and Caribbean neighbors Monday in its claim to sovereignty over the Falklands (Las Malvinas) Islands. According to the AP, the 32 countries currently gathered on the Mexican coast for the Rio Group summit backed a statement presented by Mexico’s Felipe Calderon saying “the heads of state represented here reaffirm their support for the legitimate rights of the republic of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute with Great Britain.”

(Hemispheric Brief)

The agenda for what should have been a Rio Group meeting decided on three official agenda items:  #1 is long-term reconstruction in Haiti; #2, affirming Argentina’s sovereignty over the Malvinas;  and #3,  developing an alternative organization to replace the cold-war era (and U.S. dominated) Rio Group and get around the limitations of the (again, U.S. dominated) Organization of American States.

No one objects to reconstructing Haiti (except those that want to control the reconstruction) and returning the Malvinas (Falklands) to Argentina is probably not all that important to anyone except the five thousand people living on the islands, and the British taxpayers who spend over $20,000 per Kelper on military protection from their shift of governance to the Province of Tierra del Fuego.

What is important to the leaders of the new Latin American and Caribbean Union is making a statement, and a very clear one, about the seriousness of the alternative organization.  With even the Mexican President (or, if you prefer, “resident of Los Pinos” for you die-hard Lopezobradistas out there) speaking  of Bolivarianism, the Malvinas/Falklands dispute is simply a test for what is really important… and maybe as a needless distraction from the real story (or stories) for the  English-speaking press.

Look who wasn’t there.  Canada,  Honduras and the United States weren’t invited.  Canadian firms — and the Canadian government — have garnered a bad reputation in Latin America, especially among the left and among environmentalists for the way Canadian extractive industries have run roughshod over local communities.  In addition, Canadian diplomacy in Latin America has been knee-jerk in support of U.S. initiatives, such as the attempted Venezuelan coup of April 2002.

Canada also has supported the coup in Honduras, which as the leaders meeting in Playa del Carmen made painfully obvious, shook the region more than perhaps its backers in the United States and elsewhere realized.

Calderón and Raul Castro (Photo: Milenio Televisíon)

The United States, besides backing the Honduran coup (and seen — even by reactionary supporters of the coup — as a puppet of the United States), the Venezuelan coup attempt, and most coups in Latin America going back to the 1829 coup against Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, and having more than enough of a history in Latin America and the Caribbean to annoy nearly any country you can name, was, of course, the dominant “partner” in previous pan-American organizations.  The Organization of American States, for example,

… is funded largely by – you guessed it – the U.S. and Canada. Specifically, in 2009, of the US$78.6 million in regular fund quotas collected, 73.6% came from those two countries (US$47 million from the U.S. and US$10.9 million from Canada).

And he who pays the piper calls the tune.  Both the Honduran coup, when what should have been an OAS crafted response was pushed aside in favor of a U.S. brokered “negotiation”, and the Haitian earthquake, in which the U.S. relief effort appears more and more like a unilateral invasion and less-and-less like a pan-American reconstruction program.

No wonder Evo's smiling (Photo: Milenio Televisíon)

Finally, it’s inescapable that the best economic growth in Latin America has been in those countries that have distanced themselves from the United States.  Bolivia — yes, Bolivia — has seen the best growth rates south of the Rio Grande, Mexico — which depends on the United States for 90% of its foreign trade — and Peru have done the worst during the recent economic crisis.   The Calderón Administration, here in Mexico, has had to slowly adopt the López Obrador program during its tenure whether they wanted to or not.  López Obrador was pushing to expand pan-Latin markets, and, Bolivarian economics has its attractions, even for FeCal.  As Sean Goforth writes in the Washington-based Foreign Policy Association Mexico Blog:

After a bruising 2009, Mexico’s economy should return to positive growth of around 3% this year, but the path to sustainable development remains uncertain. Reforming state-owned industries risks massive political backlash, but improving Mexico’s trade regime offers promise without the peril.

What trade strategies can boost Mexico’s growth? Several prospects have been bandied about. Talk of “deepening” Mexico’s commitment to the North American market was common before the recession, but diversification, not concentration, has proven more popular of late. To this end, President Calderon recently called for Mexico to “diversify its trade and investment (and) reduce its dependence on the United States.” His comments were made with an eye toward Europe, but he made similar statements regarding Brazil last August.

Since the inception of the Banco del Sur — the self-financed inter-Latin American (Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and a few others) development bank has proven relatively successful, Mexico has given more serious consideration to inter-Latin finances.  This is part of the same economic trend we’re also seeing even among countries with traditionally bad relations.  In Venezuela, where a particularly severe dry spell this year has meant a shortage of hydro-electric power, and the Venezuelans are turning even to the despised Colombians for electrical generating capacity.

So, everyone with the exception of Alan Garcia of Peru — from Alvaro Uribe of Colombia on the far right  to Cuba’s Raul Castro — sees the new organization as potentially to their mutual advantage.

Uribe is largely seen — like the uninvited Honduran leader, Pepe Lobo and the AWOL Peruvian, Alan Garcia — as a U.S. puppet.  Given the Colombian administration’s dependence on “Plan Colombia” funding, coupled with the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia,  and Uribe’s boorish behavior at the conference, unreasonable assumption.

Bolivia’s Evo Morales called his Colombian counter-part “an agent of the United States, who came to the conference with the purpose of derailing it by creating an altercation with the Venezuelan President” (my translation).

Chavez (left, of course) and Uribe (on the right, as you'd expect)

Uribe arrived late, barged into a meeting and began interrupting the speaker with complaints about Venezuelan restrictions on the import of Colombian beef.  Unfortunately for Uribe, the speaker was Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, not a man easily interrupted.  Chavez allegedly told Uribe to “go to Hell”, and finished his speech.  Later, host Felipe Calderón said Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez was acting as head of a group that would work out an amicable solution to Colombian-Venezuelan trade differences… something impossible to do if the United States (which has a stake in continued animosity between Venezuela and Colombia) were involved.

Finally, even with Chile’s return to a conservative government, pan-American relations are better and there is consensus that the various states need to coordinate their economic and political activities.  Chile was traditionally close to Great Britain, and Augustin Pinochet was personally close to Margaret Thatcher the last time there was a serious attempt by Argentina to regain control of the Malvinas.  At the time of the Falklands War, Chile and Argentina were close to war with each other over the boundary and navigational rights to the Magellan Straits.  That dispute ended with the Vatican Treaty of 1984, and — with Pinochet and Thatcher both gone, and a new spirit of cooperation not only between Chile and Argentina, but between all the Latin and Caribbean nations, the sense is that IF there is oil in the Malvinas, not only Argentina, but the entire region will benefit.  If not, it doesn’t matter.   I’m very much afraid the economic and political interests of 5000 aging English colonials and 500,000 sheep don’t stand much of a chance weighed against a those of a union of 500,000,000 people.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. don quixote permalink
    24 February 2010 9:21 am

    ” 5000 English colonials and 500,000 sheep don’t stand much of a chance against a union of 500,000,000 people.”

    Are you kidding Richard? I had similiar discussions and arguements with friends from Latin America during the last Falklands go around with England. Numbers don’t mean much when war and tradition and British national pride, in the form of “Brittania Rules The Waves” and “White Mans Burden”
    are at stake.
    The English would like nothing better than to go to war (and backed up militarily by the USA and Canada), with a bunch of essentially tin soldiers and potential victims that is the Argentinian military. It would be a great way for the English to forget about what a former colonial power, and now second tier player they are. The English love and wallow in thier lore of military superiority and the glory of the English military and historic battles and all that Rudyard Kipling, fuzzy wuzzy crap.
    The Argentinians would be again playing right into the hands of the British by starting any kind of armed conflict, just like during the last futile Falkland Island go around. That last debacle was an embarrasment to Argentina, I clearly remember those pictures of battalions of Argentinian soldiers throwing down thier weapons and surrenduring to a couple of squads of English commando’s after two or three shots were fired.
    I don’t blame them in the slightest though, who the hell wants to get thier ass shot off over some God forsaken rocks in the middle of the Ocean?
    Well, come to think of it, the British don’t mind, it would give them the opportunity to relive the past glory of Britttania, where the sun never set on the English flag and every mothers son would love to go to war , for God and Queen, even Tennysons “Light Brigade” would probably show up for this one.

    If Argentina and Latin America wants to get Britain out of the Falklands there are much more effective means to that end than pounding your chest and threatening military action.

  2. 24 February 2010 10:18 am

    I don’t think it’s military action that’s being proposed… but making it too costly to maintain the colony… cruise and supply ships can’t come directly from England, and supplying the colony from Canada just isn’t practical. And, how are they going to ship out their squid and mutton if ships from the Falklands can’t land in Latin American ports?

    This isn’t like the U.S. boycott of Cuba, which has a lot of its own resources, and is easily supplied by friendly neighbors. There just aren’t any neighbors, and — losing support of Chile — the British have no practical way to supply the place.

  3. don quixote permalink
    24 February 2010 3:01 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Richard, I misunderstood what I thought you were proposing.
    I sincerely hope that one of these days the English will indeed leave Las Malvina’s and that Argentina will regain the islands .

  4. 24 February 2010 6:59 pm

    I’ll bite. Again. Rich, I don’t dispute the sentiments, merits or possibilities of the summit, or your post. But some of the conclusions you draw are highly questionable.

    Firstly, the cost militarily to the UK of maintaining a presense in the Falklands is simply false. The hundreds of millions of dollars of Typhoon jets stationed there have to be kept somewhere. If they were built and bought specifically for the Falklands Islands you’d have a point. But British military spending has far more to do with status, pretensions and bolstering an arms industry than it has to do with the Falklands.

    Secondly, your assumption that Britain will have no practical way to supply the islands if LatAm essentially blockades shipping to and from. You state that supply ships can’t come directly from the UK. Actually, they do and have done so for decades, on a monthly basis (IIRC) with all the food, motors etc the islands need. Sometimes stopping off at Ascension. Neither the UK nor the F.I. needs Latam ports for survival. The company doing this is the Darwin Company, or Darwin something or other.

    Also, the notion of a co-operative and united LatAm is a desirable outcome that this summit can only help toward. But my goodness, what a long way they have yet to go. I’m going to reserve my excitement for now.

    Lastly, you refer to the population as English colonials. How many generations of them need to have been born on the islands before they can be referred to as Falkland Islanders?

    This, for me, is the key point. The islands are otherwise barren rocks that are easily forgettable. If we can put aside the oil issue for a moment, anyway – that being a more recent development. From one of your links in your previous post, I read of an Argentine commentator referring to the 82 conflict as a fight between two bald men over a comb. Brilliant! And so true.

    The islanders are key to the whole situation. Argentina’s stance, as I said in the previous post, is not only unhelpful, but detrimental to the realisation of their claim. I have no problem personally with Argentina regaining the Falklands one day, but to do so they need to become the Islanders best friends, not a target for resentment.

  5. 24 February 2010 11:07 pm

    Crossposted from Quotha:

    Hypotheses 1-5

    We’re speculating about why Calderon has been supporting the new organization. I’ve come up with three or four hypotheses: Calderon is looking to his legacy, Calderon is trying to shore up his nationalist credentials in the face of growing unrest over Plan Mexico, Calderon and the US have agreed to try to coopt Latin American anger (this will be easier as Latin America moves right and as Venezuela is isolated as by the recent IACHR report), or Calderon is actually interested in seeing Mexico develop apart from the US.

    Any preference for a hypothesis, Richard?

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