A group of 17 leading Argentinian intellectuals has come in for heavy criticism from the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and its members branded as traitors for supporting the right to self-determination of Falkland Islands inhabitants.
“I don’t see how our country can impose on a group of 3,000 people, whose ancestors arrived there 180 years ago, a government, a sovereignty and a citizenship they do not want,” said Fernando Iglesias, a former opposition legislator and one of the men behind Malvinas: An Alternative Viewpoint, a paper penned by the group. The paper argues against Argentina‘s long-standing position that Falklanders are a transplanted population from Britain with no rights over the islands.
Peronist senator Anibal Fernández dismissed the paper’s 17 co-signatories, a veritable who’s who of important thinkers, journalists and writers in Argentina, as “cheap intellectuals”.
In a column in the pro-government daily, Tiempo Argentino, Fernández reaffirmed the official position that Argentina inherited the islands from Spain when it became independent in 1816, branding as usurpers the British who have ruled the islands since 1833.
“They are presenting a perverse document, plagued with inaccuracies and kinks, in absolute opposition to the wishes and sentiment of the majority of the Argentinian people,” the right-hand man to President Fernández said about the document, which is causing furore despite not having yet been made public.
Following news of the train crash that killed at least 50 people in Buenos Aires on Wednesday morning and concerned about calls from pro-government media for a rally outside the venue where it was planning to present its document, the group is rethinking how to release its statement.
The mass-circulation populist daily Crónica featured pictures of members of the group against a red background under the headline In Favour of the Pirates accusing them of accepting the British position.
Argentina’s claim to the islands it calls the Malvinas has been revived and placed at the centre of national policy by Fernández, on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War between Great Britain and Argentina on 2 April. Adopting a hardline policy, Kirchner has blocked Argentina’s ports to ships flying the Falklands flag and obtained the support of other South American nations who have also blocked their ports.
Supporters of President Fernández quickly flooded Twitter with abuse against Iglesias under the “Fernando Iglesias has died” hashtag. “Someone who fought tirelessly for imperialism has passed away,” wrote one “K”, as Fernández supporters call themselves. “Condolences have arrived from Margaret Thatcher,” wrote another.
Iglesias says Argentina has much more urgent issues than the dispute with Great Britain to deal with. “The train crash today with some 50 dead is just another example,” he said. “The nation’s rail system is in disarray and this was an accident just waiting to happen.”
Iglesias is especially indignant about foreign minister Hector Timerman’s reiterated claim that Falklanders are a transplanted population with no rights over the islands. “My own grandparents only arrived in Argentina from Spain in the 1930s while some families on the islands have been there since the 1840s,” says Iglesias.
One of the signatories, well-known author and journalist Pepe Eliashev, is concerned about the anger directed against the group. “These exasperated reactions from ultranationalists on the right or the left, and the government’s use of the Malvinas as a smokescreen, do not bode well for the future,” he said.
Iglesias says that despite believing Argentina has rights over the islands, “what we underline is the right to self-determination, we cannot impose citizenship or sovereignty on a population that does not want it”.
Another member of the group, the historian Vicente Palermo, has gone the furthest, questioning even the basis of Argentina’s claim. “There will be no Argentinian solution to the Malvinas question until the inhabitants want to become Argentinian,” he wrote in a recent column in the conservative daily La Nación.
Another signatory, Jorge Lanata, perhaps Argentina’s most popular journalist, opened his daily radio programme on Wednesday ironically calling himself “Morgan the Pirate” in response to the avalanche of criticism he is under. “I’ve been to the Malvinas. Over there they hate us. For them the war was an invasion. We speak of the Malvinas as if nobody lived there.”
“We are aware we run the risk of being labelled traitors, but it is a risk we are willing to take if we believe in the right under democracy to express our viewpoint,” says Iglesias.
Uki Goni, The Guardian