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"What is behind the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands?"
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"What is behind the latest dispute over the Falkland Islands?"

The stakes in the long battle between Britain and Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands just got a lot higher, reports Ryan Bachoo, 22, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Trinidad & Tobago.

Every so often, the Falkland Islands become the subject of dispute between the Argentinean and British governments.

It is at these times Buenos Aires voices its disquiet over UK control of Las Malvinas, while Downing Street reiterates that it is determined to “defend the sovereignty” of the islands.

Earlier this month Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said she would appeal to the United Nations over the issue. But why? The issue is complicated, but relate to the high stakes involved.

I’m not talking about Britain sending search and rescue pilot, Prince William, as part of a team to conduct “routine exercises” on the islands. Rather, on Saturday (11/02/2012), a study concluded the Falkland Islands authorities stand to benefit from an enormous $176bn (£111.7bn) tax windfall from oil and gas exploration. This is from drilling in waters within the 200-mile exclusion zone set up during the 1980s Falklands War to mark the boundaries of British territory.

That changes everything. Now for Argentina the stakes are that much higher in the long battle for Las Malvinas. The numbers are mind-blowing. The report was produced by oil and gas analysts at Edison Investment Research, and co-authored by Ian McLelland.

According to the Daily Telegraph, a group of UK-listed companies is involved in exploring four major prospects this year, with the largest, Loligo, potentially involving more than 4.7bn barrels of oil. By comparison Catcher, the biggest discovery in the North Sea of the past 11 years, is believed to hold only 300m barrels.

According to the report, if all four prospects are drilled, the potential tax riches are likely to reach just below $180bn. Compare that to the current economic state of the Falkland Islands. At present, its main industry is fishing, which generates $23m a year. Beyond that, the islands receive only $16m in tax receipts a year from other business sectors. The potential for the islands and Great Britain is mind-boggling.

It’s enough evidence for David Cameron to call an impromptu party at Number 10 Downing Street. Only Kirchner is ready to spoil it.

Co-author of the report, Ian McLelland, spoke of the obvious transformation the oil and gas sector will provide for the islands, but he more importantly warned about the danger the political turmoil between Buenos Aires and London poses to the project. He stated, “The proverbial spanner in the works that remains is the ongoing political dispute between Britain and Argentina regarding sovereignty of the Falklands.”

So why now is the Argentine President kicking up a fuss?

She won a landslide election last October to regain a four year term and currently sits on 70% support in the latest polls. I highly doubt it is her way of marking the 30th anniversary of the conflict. Perhaps now, with only four years to go, she feels it is her time to mark her name in history, and what an achievement it would be if she can gain control of Las Malvinas.

But is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner really thinking that far? It means military action, loss of life, Argentina at war, a recovering Argentine economy to pump money into military equipment and putting up with polls that may not favour Argentina going to war.

Instead, the Falkland Islands present de Kirchner with the ideal deflection tool as trouble looms for her government. As it stands, her government is attempting to untangle expensive state subsidies which will hurt the blue-collar base. Analysts in Argentina say the inflation rate is more than double the official figure. The government is so desperate to hide the numbers it has prohibited economic consultancy firms publishing private inflation estimates.

If that wasn’t enough, a constitutional ban on a third term means Fernández could soon be engaged in a political power effort to change the constitution so she can run again. Her landslide 2011 election victory and 70% support polls didn’t come at the price of being a female leader nor the sympathy of turning a widow during her Presidency.

In her first term she lodged wage improvements and social subsidies, notably universal child allowance, pension increases and unemployment benefits. But these gifts seem to have come back to haunt her.

The evidence above that suggests de Kirchner has more on her plate than she can handle may all count for nothing. Her persistence with the Falkland Islands may not at all be deceptive, but rather the result of a score she wants to settle with Britain.

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was a young crusading lawyer when she watched anxious military conscripts tramp through the cold and wind of her adopted home town, Rio Gallegos, on their way to invade the Falkland Islands. She was from La Plata, a city near Buenos Aires, and had moved to this Patagonian outpost because it was the home of her husband, Nestor, a fellow lawyer.

Perhaps remembering the scenes on that day still makes her tremble. Maybe she feels it is one way she can repay her late husband for stepping aside and letting his wife run for President in 2007, or maybe the Falklands 30th year conflict came at a time when she needed international recognition the most.

Either way, whatever the reason, and whatever the outcome of this conflict, you can’t fault either Argentina or Britain for wanting control of the Falkland Islands.

Follow Ryan Bachoo on Twitter here.

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About me:

“Hi, I am Ryan Bachoo, a journalist and public relations officer from Princes Town in Trinidad and Tobago. I currently work with the West Indies Cricket Board.

“I am currently working as a broadcast journalist for Cable News Channel 3. I also write on various talking points and current problems facing the world including international politics and the issues of a depleting economy.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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