As widely anticipated, 99.8 percent of the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands’ population voted “Yes” in a referendum on March 10 and 11, expressing their willingness to maintain the current political status as a British Overseas Territory. Of the 1,517 votes cast in the two-day electoral process, only three “No” votes were cast. The results were announced late Monday evening by the Falklands electoral authorities, and were celebrated by local residents in the town hall of the capital city of Stanley.
Argentina considers the archipelago—which it calls Las Malvinas—as part of its territory, which was occupied by Britain more than 180 years ago. Following the vote, the chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly, Gavin Short, asked Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to respect the islands’ decision. British Prime Minister David Cameron also called on Argentina to respect the almost unanimous vote which represents “the clearest possible result” and expression of the islanders’ sovereignty.
Despite the results and a 92 percent voter turnout, Argentine officials dismissed the referendum as a British publicity scheme with no legal validity. The Argentine government has tried for years to incorporate the islands to its territory, due to their strategic relevance for international trade and the presence of natural resources such as oil. The results of the referendum confirm that the islands’ 2,841 inhabitants—most of which are British by birth—prefer to retain their British nationality. The Argentine Senate will vote this week on a motion to reject the referendum.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the pope’s visit to Mexico and Cuba; Chávez at home and in campaign mode; Argentina’s threat of legal action on the Malvinas/Falklands; drug decriminalization talks in Central America; and Venezuela taking a stand against narcotrafficking.
Papal Visit to Mexico and Cuba: Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Mexico on Friday for a five-day, two-country tour that will wrap up in Cuba. Benedict XVI will land in León—in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato—and celebrate a holy mass at the Parque del Bicentenario on Sunday.
But expect greater a focus around Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini predicts: “Will he repeat Pope John Paul II’s call for Cuba to open up to the world and the world to open up to Cuba? And if he does, how will he frame it? While Cuba hasn’t done much, the U.S. hasn’t changed the embargo at all. How much weight will the Pope give to the Castros’ release of prisoners and the economic reforms—likely more than he will give to President Obama’s tinkering on the margins of the embargo.”
Chávez Back Home: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez tweeted late Friday afternoon that he was departing Cuba after a three-week sojourn for a second surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. Shortly after arriving home, his first public appearance in Caracas turned into an impromptu campaign rally. As Chávez transitions into radiotherapy, expect continued speculation about his long-term health to grow while the president remains publicly visible and boisterous.
Argentina Ready to Sue: Last week, Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman announced that he promised to sue any companies that exploit natural resources in or around the Malvinas/Falklands Islands. This is the latest salvo in intensifying rhetoric between Argentina and the United Kingdom ahead of the April 2 anniversary of the 1982 war over the archipelago. Will Argentina carry through with litigation?
Decriminalization Talks in Central America: Less than three weeks after the Central American presidents met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Honduras, the region's leaders will come together again later this week in Antigua, Guatemala, to discuss the idea of drug decriminalization. "The March 24 meeting gains increased importance now that decriminalization will be part of the agenda at the Summit of the Americas in mid-April. This is especially true for Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who is leading the charge, and is looking to convince skeptical countries like El Salvador and Honduras to get behind him. It will not be an easy task," says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak. Will the region come up with a unified stance?
Venezuela Combating Narcotrafficking: Venezuela’s military announced Operation Sentry last week: a plan to move 15,000 troops across its borders with Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. This appears to be a sign of seriousness from President Chávez’ administration, particularly from Defense Minister Henry Rangel, to confront the narcotics threat. With only 2,000 troops dispatched thus far, look for any progress this week regarding the deployment of the remaining 13,000.
At a summit of the Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alternative to the Americas, or ALBA) this past weekend in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, ALBA’s founder, backed Argentina’s claims for sovereignty of the Malvinas (or Falklands) Islands. ALBA’s eight member countries—Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and Venezuela—agreed to ban vessels flying the Falklands flag from docking at their ports, echoing a similar Mercosur decision last December.
The islands have been a British overseas territory since 1833, when Argentina claims the United Kingdom stole the land from them. Argentina attacked the islands in April 1982, sparking a two-month war that retained British control over the archipelago. The UK will commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the war later this year.
Over the weekend, Chávez pledged the support of the Venezuelan army if Argentina ever reignited the conflict militarily. Chávez added, “I’m speaking only for Venezuela, but if it occurs to the British Empire to attack Argentina, Argentina won’t be alone this time.” Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa opened up the possibility of stronger economic measures, noting, “We have to talk about sanctions.”
Also at the ALBA summit, Chávez proposed to offset the global economic crisis by accelerating the usage of the SUCRE currency that was established in 2009. Chávez wishes to use the SUCRE as a substitute for the dollar; Venezuela has already paid for food imports from fellow ALBA countries with the virtual currency.
British company Desire Petroleum announced yesterday that the oil found in the British-controlled Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) 300 miles off the coast of Argentina, may be unviable. Shares in the company fell by nearly half when it released a statement saying that oil found in the Liz 14/19-1 well “…may be present in thin intervals but that reservoir quality is poor.”
The company started drilling last month, after estimating that there was potential for as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil to be extracted. Exploration has fueled tensions between Argentina and Great Britain, which went to war over the islands in 1982. In February the Argentine government announced that it would require permits of all ships sailing between its shores and the Falkands.
Desire petroleum has said that it will release a full statement this week when exploration operations are complete.