Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Argentina needs a miracle

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Pope Francis is not just the leader of the world's Catholics, he is the heir of 2,000 years of history and papal judgments. As such, it was not unexpected when Argentine President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner paid a special visit to the Vatican -- the first foreign head of state to do so -- this week to ask her fellow countryman to use his influence in the dispute over ownership of the Falkland Islands, or the Malvinas, as Argentina would have it.

The pope wields great influence over matters of both religion and state, but not even the man some Catholics believe stands closer to God than any living soul may be able to solve this enduring historical and legal puzzle.

It was another church leader, Pope Alexander VI, who in 1493 divided the New World into Portuguese and Spanish possessions, with the still-undiscovered Falkland Islands falling on the Spanish side of the divide.

Within 100 years, the Spanish, French and British were competing for the windswept islands in the South Atlantic, but the British established permanent control in 1833 when they began setting up a colony.

Argentina declared its independence in 1816 and later tried to reassert its ownership of the islands as part of its Spanish inheritance and because the land had been occupied by Argentines before the British allegedly pushed them off.

In 1967, Britain opened negotiations with Argentina and was prepared to transfer ownership, but the island residents and nationalist interests at home were opposed.

Britain also offered to refer the matter to the International Court, but Argentina refused, saying it wouldn't accept any judgment on the matter.

War followed in 1982, with Argentina defeated and humiliated, but its passion for the return of the islands was undiminished.

The British may have hoped the dispute was over when the islanders held a referendum on their future earlier this month. More than 92 per cent turned out to vote and all but two people declared their support for the status quo.

The principle of self-determination is not open-ended, but it is a powerful legal argument for British sovereignty.

For Argentines, however, the return of the Malvinas is a matter of territorial integrity and national pride, and they will not abandon their claim.

The British no longer seem interested in negotiating with Argentina, which leaves only one reasonable course of action -- a trip to the International Court. Neither country, however, seems interested in that route either, nor is either side interested in a compromise that would see each country exercise some control in the region.

It may take a miracle to change anyone's mind, but then the matter is in the hands of Pope Francis.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 23, 2013 A14

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