Would they say that if they got the result they wanted?
Argentina has adopted a very odd position on the question of self-determination for the Falkland Islands. The referendum that will be held on the territory’s political status on Monday is simply “illegal” and “irrelevant”, says Alicia Castro, the Argentine ambassador in London. When she set out this position on Monday, I asked whether Argentina would take the same view if the Islanders were to vote to be governed from Buenos Aires. “Yes”, was the unequivocal answer.
The ambassador was joined by Prof Marcelo Kohen, an Argentine international lawyer, who confirmed that the “outcome” of any referendum is “irrelevant” to the question of its legality. All perfectly true and logical.
But think this through for a moment. If some future generation of Falkland Islanders were to vote to unite with Argentina, Buenos Aires would have to denounce that as an illegal verdict. Ms Castro says that Argentina prides itself on its adherence to international law, so the country could not possibly take possession of a territory as a result of an illegal referendum.
If the Islanders ever decided to be part of Argentina, the British Government would have to hand them over, in line with its own commitment to self-determination. But Argentina would be compelled to turn this down, given that it believes the Islanders’ views are “irrelevant” and any expression of them via a referendum is “illegal”. On Argentina’s current position, a transfer of sovereignty by the consent of the Islanders – as registered in a referendum – would be illegal and therefore unacceptable. The only way that Buenos Aires could gain possession of the Islands would be if the inhabitants were not consulted. If they were asked to join Argentina and the answer was “yes”, Buenos Aires would have to reject this verdict just as surely as if the outcome was “no”. As I say, this is a very odd position.
During her press briefing on Monday, Ms Castro also voiced her indignation about the treatment of the Chagos Islanders back in the 1970s. If you remember, they were shifted off their home on a British territory in the Indian Ocean to make way for an American base. Two big countries – Britain and the US – decided the fate of this island people without any reference to their wishes. How strange that Ms Castro should sound so irritated by this. That is exactly the same approach – if not, in fairness, the same outcome – that Argentina favours in respect of the Falklands.
I know logic can be annoying. But I’d respectfully suggest that Argentina’s government is a bit confused on all this.