Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Britain and Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA): Another Falklands War?

Britain and ALBA: Another Falklands War?

By Rebecca Theodore

Lights! Camera! Action! Yes! A new light is shining on the oil-bearing geological formations in the Falkland Islands’ waters. Light is immediately understood as ‘the true source of all things and the base on which the physicality of the material world is built.’

However, the new light that is shining on British energy companies Rockhopper Exploration, Falkland Oil & Gas, Borders & Southern, Argos Resources and Arcadia et al, flickers rising tension between Britain and Argentina. It is not the light that saturates the living radiance of nature. It is the light of war.

Rebecca Theodore was born on the north coast of the Caribbean island of Dominica and is now based in Atlanta, GA . She writes on national security and political issues and can be reached here.It is a different light that illumines borders and margins when three decades ago, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dispatched the first warships to the Falklands after Argentina’s ruling military government invasion. Argentina surrendered to Britain, but the importance of the Falklands to both Britain and Argentina now echo heated discussions because of the discovery of ‘black gold’ in the surrounding waters.

The Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory in the south-west Atlantic Ocean, where fishing and sheep farming are the main economic activities. Isolated and meagerly populated, it is the subject of a sovereignty dispute between Britain and Argentina. Despite being soundly beaten in 1982 by the British, Argentina maintains that the Falklands and the surrounding waters are theirs, even including them in the Argentine constitution.

The episode seems strange for the Falkland islanders themselves, who have freely chosen, through self-determination, to be an overseas territory of the UK and not a colony of Argentina. With British exploration set to begin in full swing, environmentalists also worry of the challenge it poses to the Falkland Islands government to protect the eco-system since the islands are a breeding ground for millions of penguins.

Now that the Falkland Islands are said to have one of the world's largest reserves of oil, mainly in the north, south and east basin and with British geological surveys estimating the oil at about 60 billion barrels; oil, money and drama not only excite the appetites of the British but that of a leading multitude as well.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s aggressive speech style has invoked the power of the Peróns on the issue, created a rift in Argentinian politics, and continues to fuel the patriotic ambitions of her people to reclaim the island archipelago. The EU, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Brazil, Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega and the rest of Latin America have all been seemingly supportive in the duel as well.

With Chavez loudly proclaiming that ‘the time for empire is over,’ he demands the UK hand back the Falklands to Buenos Aires, and condemns Britain for flouting international law by permitting drilling in the surrounding waters.

While Argentina simmers with anger at the possibility of the Falklands becoming an energy source for Britain, on the other side of the dubious coin, an attack by Argentina on the Falklands, would also be considered an attack on the EU, because Britain is part of the EU. This means that France and Germany would have to support a British effort to defend the Falklands in the event of war because Europeans would not accept to lose the Falklands and the oil to the Argentinians.

In fact, as proponents lament, the islands may eventually fall, either directly or indirectly, under the influence of Europe, especially if they emerge as a source for energy. This move would completely erode the monopoly of OPEC (The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) in determining the price and the growing demand for oil and instill optimism in traders buying shares in Rockhopper Exploration.

Despite Britain’s close coalition with the US, the Obama Administration is determined not to be drawn into the conflict. It has also declined to back Britain’s claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying that the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue choosing instead to back Argentina’s calls for negotiation at the United Nations.

The cause of the commotion is not the islands themselves, but the oil reserves within the Falklands’ territorial waters. This makes the islands a very big deal because whoever owns them would own one of the world’s largest oil reserves. With the rise in oil prices and the worldwide search for new oil and gas services, it has now become more than commercially viable for drilling to begin.

Britain’s large-scale drilling of oil in the Falklands, and its establishment of a military fortress in the south Atlantic provokes a dramatic response from Argentina. Argentina on the other hand, is flying the Argentine flag over Government House in the Falkland Islands' capital, Port Stanley, claiming territorial stake to the islands, which it calls the Malvinas, because it inherited them from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s.

Whether the light shines as a unifying cause in South America, or fans the flames of war into a major political conflict between Britain and Argentina, the outcome is well worth watching. In the meantime, the action for the British is: “Drill, baby, drill.”

February 7, 2012