Once again, the tensions between Argentina and England are worsening in the region of the Falkland Islands (or “Malvinas”, as the Argentines call them). Since the beginning of 2020, the British are starting a series of provocative acts against Argentina. In January, the powerful English patrol ship HMS Forth arrived in the Falkland Islands and has since started a series of maneuvers in the region, having arrived in the South Georgia Islands in April. These islands are about 1,500 km from the Falklands and are also disputed by Argentina. The ship’s crew had 60 sailors and was accompanied by an A400 plane.
According to a Royal Navy official report, the South Georgia Islands are part of a territory that must be “reaffirmed and protected” by the United Kingdom. The institution also stated that the HMS Forth will stay most of the year in the Falklands; however, it may travel several times to the archipelago of the South Georgia Islands, both for military training purposes and for scientific research ones. One of the commanders of this operation, Bob Laverty said that the mission’s central objective is “to update the military understanding of the islands”, which is already sufficient to contemplate the strategic value of the mission for the British.
The Argentine response was not long in coming. Andrés Dachary, Argentine secretary for the Malvinas, Antarctica and the South Islands, strongly condemned the British operation and militarization of the region, saying this is a “clear violation of the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone” (resolution established in 1985 by the UN and which calls on States to gradually eliminate the military presence in the region in order to create a zone of peace and cooperation). The secretary stressed, in addition to the military and diplomatic nature of British maneuvers, the environmental factor, stating that the introduction of new technologies in the archipelago could cause major ecological impacts, harming not only civil society, but the scientific interests of the area.
The most curious fact is to note that this British policy in the South contradicts not only the global trend of focusing on combating the pandemic, but the actual data regarding their territories, taking into account that the Falkland Islands may be on the verge of a health collapse.
The pandemic of the new coronavirus already affects all regions of the planet, so it would be an innocent or careless attitude to believe that the Falklands could be isolated from the infection just because of their geographical conditions. However, this was precisely the attitude of the local British authorities, who did not act efficiently to prevent the first cases and now are dealing with a small but growing focus of infection, with dozens of people already affected. It is possible that underreporting is high in the Islands, as the authorities have already reported that they do not have the amount of COVID-19 tests necessary to control the cases.
So what at first was considered an advantage for the Islands quickly became an obstacle: the sea. Being such an isolated region, many believed that the virus would not arrive there, however, having already arrived, how to control it? How to prevent the infection from becoming even more widespread with the Islands being so closed and already with several unreported cases? How to import tests and medicines to the extreme south of the planet amid a paralysis of the entire world trade and transport system? The answer is precisely in Argentina.
Separated from all continents, the Falkland Islands could have a fast and effective support from Argentina, where the circulation of medical equipment would take place in a more safe and stable way. The politician and scholar Daniel Filmus, Argentine chancellor for the southern islands, said that Argentina could make COVID-19 tests reach the Falklands in just 45 minutes, thanks to the opening of Argentine scientific laboratories in the regions of Río Gallegos (province of Santa Cruz) and Ushuaia (province of Tierra del Fuego). In addition, Filmus said in an official note offering help that any inhabitant of the Falkland Islands could be treated in an Argentine hospital.
In response to Argentine courtesy, the local authorities in the Falklands acted with arrogance and contempt, demonstrating a great lack of diplomacy and strategic sense. Falkland Islands Communication Department chief Kevin McCarthy said the Islands government already has a strategic plan to contain the pandemic and that, if additional support is needed, it will ask the UK for help. The popular reaction in the Islands, however, was different from the authorities’ response, with several expressions of support for the Argentine aid.
The nations of the geopolitical south once again offer help to the “first world”, which is increasingly showing its fragility. Despite all the rivalry for the control of the islands, Argentina could collaborate perfectly with the United Kingdom in offering humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the region, but the British do not seem willing to accept any form of support: besides rejecting the test transport route, the United Kingdom uses warships to surround regions contested by Argentina in provocative acts amid the pandemic.
A humanitarian tragedy is taking shape in the Falkland Islands: with few tests, it is not possible to know who is infected and, thus, sick people walk in the streets infecting other people. In a few weeks, the epidemic will be uncontrollable and no warships of the powerful Royal Navy will be able to help the population.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.