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ARGENTINA | 12-09-2023 20:51

‘Islander rights will be respected’ – Diana Mondino criticised for Malvinas stance

Criticism rains down on Javier Milei’s choice for foreign minister after she sparks Malvinas controversy; Mondino says in interview with British press that “decisions can no longer be imposed” on residents of disputed islands.

Diana Mondino, the likely foreign minister should La Libertad Avanza hopeful Javier Milei win the presidential election, is under fire after remarks she made in the British press about the rights of the residents of the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.

Mondino, 65, declared in an interview with UK newspaper The Telegraph that “the rights of the islanders will be respected,” arousing various criticisms from opposition and government politicians alike in Argentina.

Mondino said in the interview that the islanders, commonly referred to as kelpers, must be allowed to decide their own destiny: “Many years might go by but no decision can be imposed on other people, not on Argentines or anybody. This has to stop.”

She added: “If people finally want to do certain things, they will be done. We are now in the worst of all worlds because neither Britain nor Argentina can make reasonable use of the resources down there.”

Sovereignty over the islands is disputed by Buenos Aires, which claims them as its own. In 1982, a military junta sent soldiers to take the territory. Britain sent nearly 30,000 troops halfway round the world to repel them. The war lasted 74 days and left more than 900 dead – 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers as well as three island inhabitants.

Relations over the issue have become strained with London since the arrival of President Alberto Fernández’s administration. The Peronist leader insists the sovereignty issue must not be ‘parked’ but rather at the front and centre of bilateral ties.

In the piece, the Telegraph recalled that Mondino “had suggested in the past that Argentina adopt a Hong Kong style diplomatic focus on the Malvinas Islands with a gradual transfer of sovereignty from Great Britain.”

She herself questioned the attraction of her homeland for the kelpers, especially given hostility between the two nations and enduring economic crises.

“How can anybody not born and raised in Argentina understand our inflation? Why would anybody want to be part of that society? We need to become a normal country and we are an empty country,” Mondino asserted.

Milei backed the stance himself on Tuesday, saying in a radio interview that the islanders cannot be ignored during sovereignty talks.

"We say that the Malvinas Islands are Argentine and we want to reach an agreement with England so that they return to the country," Milei told Radio Continenal. 

He proposed "reaching an agreement with England like China did with Hong Kong" to recover them, although he clarified: "We cannot ignore the position of those who live there."


‘In violation’

Criticism didn’t take long to rain down. Guillermo Carmona, the Foreign Ministry’s Malvinas secretary, said Mondino’s stance would be “in violation of the Constitution and international law.”

“Milei wants to impose the wishes of 3,000 Malvinas islanders over the will of over 46 million Argentines. Despite their disastrous Malvinas policies, neither [Carlos] Menem nor [Mauricio] Macri dared to go so far,” the official told Télam state news agency

On his social network accounts, Carmona further accused the libertarian economist of “ignorance.”

“Mondino is unaware that the Argentine Constitution recognises and respects the interests and lifestyle of the Malvinas islanders as inhabitants of Argentine national territory.”

Opponents said her stance is at odds with the National Constitution. “The Argentine Nation ratifies its legitimate and inalienable sovereignty over the Malvinas islands, South Georgias, the South Sandwich islands and all corresponding territorial waters and surrounding islands as an integral part of the national territory. The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty, respecting the lifestyle of its inhabitants and in conformity with the principles of international law, constitute a permanent and inalienable objective of the Argentine people,” it reads.

Former PRO senator Federico Pinedo, who coordinates international affairs for opposition presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich, also jumped in.

“It would be important to understand what those ‘rights of the islanders’ might be,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We always said that their interests should be respected and the Constitution clarifies that this extends to their lifestyle.”


‘Slap in the face’

Malvinas veteran groups said they were disgusted by the La Libertad Avanza politician’s remarks.

Ernesto Alonso, Human Rights Secretary of the La Plata branch of the Centro de Ex-Combatientes (CECIM) veterans association accused Mondino and her party of seeking to “hand over Argentina.”

“They should read the National Constitution and [know their] history. They do not seem to understand that there is a neo-colonial military enclave on the Malvinas and that the current population was inserted by the usurpation of 1833,” maintained Alonso. “They repeat the Foreign Office script, they want to hand over Argentina.” 

CECIM lawyer Jerónimo Guerrero Iraola described the comments as “Milei’s advisers go telling British media that they would renounce something constitutionally inalienable: the vindication of sovereignty over the Malvinas, the Antarctic and the South Atlantic islands.” In that sense he declared: “To fascism is added the surrender of our territory.”

Cabinet Chief and ruling Unión por la Patria coalition vice-presidential candidate Agustín Rossi, condemned the interview. “Mondino’s statements are a slap in the face of the former combatants … by speaking of handing over the Malvinas islands” to Britain.

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