The President, The Pope, The Prime Minister (and the Islands)

by Andrew Stuttaford

Here we go: Argentine President Cristina Kirchner has (the Daily Telegraph reports)  reacted all too predictably to the selection of one of her countrymen as the new pope:

In a televised address, Mrs Kirchner wished Pope Francis “luck” and expressed the wish that “in his pastoral mission, he carries the message to the great world powers that they participate in dialogue”. While never explicitly referring to the Falklands,,, Mrs Kirchner raised her voice and her hands when referring to the “major world powers”, and was applauded and cheered by a large crowd of supporters…She added: “We trust plainly in this vision and we ask God that he help make it possible that just causes also sometimes triumph in this blessed land we call Earth, because I am sure that God and the Virgin also wish it so.”

The latter remark, of course, contains an echo of the religious rhetoric that accompanied the 1982 invasion of the islands. As the (British) Roman Catholic paper, the Tablet, noted back in 2002:

From the outset of the Falklands War, the partnership between Church and State gave the Argentine soldiers and their generals a sense of a moral crusade, and the junta the certainty of political cohesion. History was revisited and revised to provide justification for the equation between Argentine sovereignty and holy conversion. Memories were revived of the first Spanish missionaries to the Falkland Islands, the priests portrayed as picture-book saints laying the sacramental rock on the heathen land. The subsequent British colonialism was reduced to a caricature of spiritual emptiness when, in fact, both the Anglican and Catholic faiths had retained an enduring presence on the islands. The mixing of nationalistic and religious mythology was prevalent in the first crucial hours of the Falklands conflict. On the eve of the invasion, Argentine commanders agreed that the military operation to take Las Malvinas, initially planned under the codename Azul, should be renamed Rosario, in honour of the Virgin of Rosario….

The pope has, of course, in the past referred to the islands as Argentine territory, and attacked attempts to “de-Malvinise history” .

In response to a question on this topic at a recent press conference, David Cameron has said this:

“There was a pretty extraordinarily clear referendum [99.98% in favor of remaining a British Overseas Territory] in the Falkland Islands and I think that is a message to everyone in the world that the people of these islands have chosen very clearly the future they want and that choice should be respected by everyone. … the white smoke over the Falklands was pretty clear.”

Mr. Cameron will not have felt it necessary to say so, but any suggestion that the pontiff should “mediate” in this dispute should be rejected firmly, politely and absolutely. Hopefully, the pope (no fan of Cristina Kirchner, incidentally) is wise enough not even to try.

With the Argentine economy lurching deeper into crisis, Kirchner, however, will continue to demagogue the issue, and the story will go on.

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