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Argentina's worry over Falklands

Residents of the Falkland Islands are voting in a referendum on whether they want to belong to Great Britain. Argentina, which claims the islands, would prefer to ignore the vote - but it fears the result.

Argentine historian Luis Alberto Romero is happy. This weekend, a dream will come true for him - one of direct democracy, as once proposed by the philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau.

The residents of the Falkland Islands have the chance to vote whether or not they wish to continue belonging to Britain. It is the first time for them that they have the opportunity to have an input in the conflict surrounding the rocky isles of the South Atlantic.

Romero belongs to a group of Argentine intellectuals, who for some time, have called for just such a referendum - something that has not made them many friends in Argentina.

Argentina's trauma

A man burns a British flag in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Buenos Aires, Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010. Latin American and Caribbean nations backed Argentina's claim of sovereignty to the Falkland Islands on Monday in a growing dispute with Britain over plans to drill for oil off the islands in the Atlantic. (AP Photo/ Natacha Pisarenko)

The Falklands are a matter of pride for many Argentinians

The issue of the Malvinas - as the islands are called in Spanish - is one of the few topics in Argentina that unites an otherwise politically deeply divided people. The windswept rocks, some 400 kilometers (240 miles) from the coast, are in Argentina's view a part of their country.

The Argentine government in Buenos Aires flatly rejects the referendum; not just because the result with next to total certainty will go in favor of Britain, but because it should not be allowed to take place at all. Lawyers in Argentina have come up with amazing legal contortions as to why this is so.

Kelpers, as the islanders call themselves, cannot vote on their political destiny, the lawyers argue, because they are not a bona fide people, but rather, were dispatched to the islands by the colonial power, Great Britain. "Under the aspect of international law, the referendum is totally irrelevant," explains Alicia Castro, Argentina's ambassador to London.

This standpoint, says Luis Alberto Romero, opens a deep look into the Argentine soul. "The idea that the Malvinas belong to us is rooted deeply in our collective psyche. And it was and continues to be nurtured and nursed. This is intolerant nationalism, nourished by our Malvinas trauma," he said.

Constant calls for sovereignty

Argentina and Britain fought a brief but bloody 74-day war over the Falklands in 1982. Argentina's defeat hastened the downfall of the country's military dictatorship, but the conflict continued to simmer, with the current government again pushing the issue to the fore.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner addresses the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, Thursday, June 14, 2012 at United Nations headquarters. Argentina's president is pressing her country's claim to the Falkland Islands with a high-profile appearance Thursday before a little-known U.N. committee on the 30th anniversary of Britain's ouster of an Argentine invasion force. (Foto:Mary Altaffer/AP/dapd)

President Kirchner keeps bringing up the issue at the United Nations

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner continuously puts the issue back on the agenda, time and again - and preferably at the United Nations, which in a 1965 resolution had already called on both sides to reach a bilateral agreement. She also likes to publish open letters in the British press reclaiming Argentine sovereignty over the islands.

Patriotic gestures, of course, are not the only feelings playing a role here. Large deposits of oil are believed to be beneath the ocean floor in the waters surrounding the Falklands - toward which both countries have cast a covetous eye. Furthermore, the Falklands could serve as a jumping off point for further prospecting in the Antarctic.

Precautionary measure

Officially, Argentina acts as if the referendum among the 1,672 Kelpers eligible to vote is of no interest to it. But behind the scenes, there is growing agitation. "There is considerable concern about the possible political repercussions of the referendum, but we will take the appropriate measures," said one Argentine diplomat who did not want to be named.

Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has sent confidential instructions to all Argentine embassies on how to respond to the referendum. In addition, a request is being prepared to ask the South American UNASUR alliance to formally reject the vote.

Behind this flurry of diplomatic activities is Argentina's worry that the expected vote result - a clear "yes" for Britain - will be reason enough for other countries to view the Falklands as a part of Great Britain. This, in turn, could affect the position of the UN Committee on De-Colonialization - the place where Argentina frequently lays claim to the Falklands.

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