Monday, April 02, 2012

30 years since the foolish Falklands War

30 years ago a nasty little fascist military dictatorship launched a vain war to conquer a collection of islands 460km away from its territory.  The purpose was to rally a shallow machismo-like nationalism to divert attention from the economic disaster and oppression that it had brought to the people it pushed around.

Today its successor regime, democratically elected, and far closer to Western values of freedom and individual rights, is playing the same game.  Engaging in shallow machismo to demand that islands that are inhabited by people who don't want to be ruled by them, are handed over to them, and effectively commemorating a war that, by implication, it considered to be just.

For a woman called Cristina Kirchner, ruling a country in South America, to talk about colonialism is comical.  For the claim Argentina makes is because of its past Spanish coloniser (and her late husband's ancestry is no more linked to that land than it is to Spain).

Let's make it clear.  Britain discovered the Falklands, but France later established a separate colony on the Falklands that Spain acquired in the late 18th century.  Spain attacked the British colony, but a peace treaty divided the island.  However, subsequently both Spain and Britain abandoned the islands although leaving plagues indicating their claims.  Subsequently Britain returned, and Argentina attempted to do so, claiming Spain's authority.  It failed.

However, today countries don't fight territorial wars of conquest.  The Falklands have a permanent settlement of virtually entirely people of British descent.  Under the principle of international law known as self-determination, the future of the islands should be decided by those who live there.  As they have repeatedly made it clear, they want to remain under British sovereignty.   It's hardly surprising, given almost all of Argentina's post independence history has been pockmarked with dictatorship of both fascists and socialists, hyperinflation, corruption and economic illiteracy.  Kirchner has continued this tradition.

She has managed to reintroduce import licensing, constrained exports of food with export quotas and taxes.  Importers have to follow bizarre rules, that economic nationalists would be proud of, in that they need to export the value of the goods they want to import.  Absurd arrangements are set up as exporters make money by setting up multiple businesses to help importers get the foreign exchange they want.

Kirchner's regime in 2008 nationalised private pensions to help balance the budget, so she is a long proven thief, but a thief that commands enough patronage through subsidies, welfare and other transfers that she has managed to get re-elected.  

In fact, it has even started lying about its inflation statistics to the point that the Economist has stopped reporting it.  Argentinian politicians have long been adept at stealing from their own people through inflation to the point that the US$ is the preferred currency in the country.  Inflation is really around 25% despite official reports of less than 10%.   Of course the result of the preference to the US$ is strict monitoring of currency conversions with tax inspectors especially focused on such transactions.  The result is that larger companies arrange their affairs to minimise liability, small ones and individual Argentinians get their savings thieved either by inflation or Kirchner's patronage based administration.

Argentina's economy isn't stagnant, the rise in commodity prices has meant that revenue from mining and agriculture has kept the country afloat, yet Kirchner's profligacy has wasted away a period when the country could have boomed.  It could have built an economy like Chile, by doing away with patronage laden monopolies, trade licences and subsidies, and liberalising, but it refused.  It has even told RIM and other mobile phone manufacturers they must assemble phones in Argentina.  A few are proceeding to do so, at high cost, obviously creating less jobs than they are costing by raising the price of mobile phones.   The economics that brought Argentina from 2nd highest per capita GDP in the 1940s to third world are being replicated.

It's hardly surprising, she is allied to that poseur and economic lunatic Hugo Chavez, who helped fund her electoral campaign. 

So now she is using the Falklands to distract attention from the accumulated economic cost of her kleptocratic policies.  It is a tiresome expression of Latin machismo and bluster.  Argentina hasn't remotely got the means to militarily take the Falklands, and her interest is in vacuous nationalism, and to claim the oil and gas reserves that she claims are "polluting" "her" country and ocean.  They wont be if she was running them of course.

The fundamental issue with the Falklands is that self-determination is about what the people of a territory want.  The people of the Falklands want to remain British, not least because Argentina's unstable history of dictatorships of the left and right, kleptocratic lying corrupt regimes whether elected or not, is hardly conducive to closer relations.  Why would farmers on the Falklands want to pay extra taxes to export, or deal in the worthless Argentinian peso, or face the patronage laden courts, police or the socialist eccentricities of a country which elects Presidents who care more about their own pride and posturing than about their people.

That is why the Falklands will remain British for now.  For until Argentina and Argentinians create a country, a political culture, an economy, a legal and constitutional framework that people want to join, they will seek to remain part of the UK.  For however flawed it is and however distant it is, however slow its economy, however much of its glory is in history, Britain is still less corrupt, more stable, more dependable, and respects individual rights and freedom more consistently than a young post-colonial Latin American republic, barely a generation away from military dictatorship.

It is for that that good men and women served to defend the Falklands from the frightened young men of a military dictatorship 30 years ago.  The sacrifice and effort of those who defended the Falklands are to be commended and remembered, the loss and tragedy of those who were forced to fight the petty little war of Galtieri is sad.   

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