24/2/12 As I was finishing and publishing the post below, Sean Penn having taken a breath and thought about his comments, has written for the Guardian and responded to his critics and the "transparently corrupt and non-diligent propaganda machine that is much of the British press". It often takes a week, as it did for this post...
Mr Penn raises the effect of the oil deposits on the situation, as mentioned in the post below, but again does not seem to consider that the desire for control exists on both sides of the dispute. He also mentioned immigration which I alluded to at the end of the post, but I don't know the specific details of the immigration policy and this is obviously the tricky ground, especially when you take into account a possible oil rush.
He seems to focus more on 'UK support' for Pinochet in Chile, when he needs to focus more on the "legitimacy of Argentinian claims" and the motivation for the claims.
I can understand his calls for dialogue but not the way he's doing it. From his Guardian article (and overlooking possible sarcasm 'God Save the Queen', etc) it does seem he's a principled and intelligent man, I'm just not sure he's being very objective here, as discussed below:
There is a simple answer to (the title) question, but these are complicated matters, as it is with so many things. The world economic situation and Britain’s position in the world are extremely complex. In some ways the sheer enormity of the situation has led to a lack of posts on this blog, along with the problem of limited free time…
However, old Sean has popped up and raised an issue that appears simple on the surface - Sean Penn accuses Britain of 'colonialism' over Falklands, but it's actually a lot more complicated than he’s assumed.
It does also relate to the wider issues of Britain’s place in the world, as well as the Left’s view of the world. So while there has been a torrent of abuse and criticism directed at Sean Penn from a variety of mostly British commentators, I’ll still add my thoughts on the matter, he really has shown himself up and consequently highlighted a lot of problems.
Sean Penn has chosen to wade in just as tensions rise higher than they’ve been since the war. The 30th Anniversary is approaching, Prince William has now been stationed on the island and there is the apparently significant deployment of HMS Dauntless.
The Prince is only posted for search and rescue and perhaps one could question the timing, but the truth is that it certainly doesn’t alter the circumstances of the islands and the reasons for the dispute. Some MPs might be visiting, but surely that can’t bother the Argentinians..? Must again be the timing, it’s a sensitive issue…
It is very sensitive, on both sides of the dispute. So why did Sean Penn stomp in with his size nines??
Well clearly he thinks it’s an uncomplicated black and white issue. He’s rocking around South America taking photo opportunities with political leaders, as he does.
Sean Penn and Hugo Chavez
Sean Penn and his dad, apparently...
No, it's the Uruguayan President, apparently...
Sean Penn and the Argentine President, Cristina Kirchner
And asked to comment about the Falkland Islands, the situation is clear to him:
“The world today is not going to tolerate any ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology”
He called the Islands ‘the Malvinas’, he was in Argentina of course, but still it is apparent he knows little about the situation, or at least doesn’t understand it, hasn’t thought it through.
This has become increasingly clear as he responded to the criticism of original comments, calling it “hyperbole” and went further to condemn the insensitivity of Prince William’s deployment to the islands.
Politicians, Journalists, Bloggers, and a multitude of internet commentators pointing out specific details and criticising his partisan contributions to a very complicated matter is “hyperbole”, but Mr Penn accusing Britain of a “ludicrous and archaic commitment to colonialist ideology” during a period that he does recognise is sensitive; well he must believe that’s appropriate and reasonable…
The legacy of colonialism is central to the issue of course, the imperialism that he so despises is fundamental.
“My oh my, aren’t people sensitive to the word colonialism, particularly those who implement colonialism."
And therein Sean Penn highlights his lack of understanding and how wildly he is missing a crucial point.
We have the UK that once ruled over a something like a quarter of the earth’s land masses and now oversees a few small territories dotted around the world, having relinquished control of almost all of its colonies and only retaining influence where the populations still desire it.
And then there is the claim from the former Spanish colony that wants to take control of originally uninhabited land, now populated by people that would like to remain under British control.
So who’s trying to “implement colonialism” now?
The Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has stated that Britain is a colonial power in decline, certainly in comparison to Argentina seeking new dominions; a colonial power in the ascendency…?
The Leader of Argentina
And when David Cameron recently accused the Argentinian government of colonialism, they certainly seemed a bit touchy. Sensitive one might say, Mr Penn?
A little upset and they seem to believe that their claim doesn’t relate to colonialism. As if their colonial population prior to 1833, was ‘essentially’ indigenous and not at all colonial. There is a clear case of double-think going on with many Argentinians, the paradox is should be obvious.
In this article, written in response to Cameron’s comments, it states clearly that the word “original” was removed from a statement about the removal of the pre-1833 population. Former, not original, but such detail is trivial semantics it appears…
It seems one form of colonialism is better than the other for Sean Penn, amongst others. “Archaic” colonialism is out, but the neo-colonialism of former colonies is fine by Sean..!
Except that of the USA, of course…
And along that line we come to crux of the issue, the reason for the passionate claims, and counter-claim; oil.
Sean Penn has actually rather cleverly been dragged into territorial claim motivated by oil.
If it weren’t for the possible presence of a large amount of oil in the vicinity, ‘Las Malvinas’ really would be nothing more than some windswept rocks in the South Atlantic. They’d be the ‘Falklands’ to everyone; populated by a few crazy Brit farmers and fishermen. Not the apparently extreme affront to the national sovereignty of Argentina.
Falklands Islands or Las Islas Malvinas?
Whatever you call them, they're bleak...
Here the BBC lay out the respective claims.
Why aren’t the Argentinian government’s claims imperialistic?
In response to Sean Penn’s comments a number of examples of other similar territorial situations have been pointed out, mostly to illustrate the absurdity of many of the aspects of the Argentinian claims. Each situation is different, but they are relevant; why are some originally uninhabited islands with a settled population that has determined its own nationality fundamentally different to any other similar example?
Not to attempt to try to list all of the possible similar cases, but it is worth mentioning some. One that probably got the most coverage last week was this Telegraph blog post: Sean Penn should return his Malibu estate to the Mexicans
The US did annex a number of states from Mexico following the US-Mexican war. I don’t believe that Sean would defend many of the acts perpetrated by US Governments, in the more distant past as well as in recent times, but it’s still technically relevant(the British historian, Dan Snow, directed a question to Sean Penn on Twitter about the circumstances of Guam, but it was pointed out that he probably wouldn’t attempt to justify such American overseas actions).
One of the main arguments that the Argentinians use is that self-determination is not applicable as the former population was removed by force, citing a UN resolution (so post 1945, in fact 1960 for the particular resolution).
The Mexicans would have a good case, maybe someone should tell them..? Maybe Sean didn’t know? He likes Latin America it seems and dislikes US foreign policy, so should be happy with that kind of ‘regime change’…
Many will simply say this is ancient history, but it was still extremely relevant less than 100 years ago, in part bringing about the US entry into the First World War – The Zimmerman Telegram. And with the Falklands we’re talking about force applied nearly 180 years ago whereas the Mexican-American war ended 164 years ago.
If they’re using a relatively modern convention to settle a dispute that began over 100 years before United Nations was founded, how far can we go back? And what other examples can we then include? Certainly the former Mexican states.
Do the Spanish want Jamaica back? It was taken by force (damn British pirates...) and therefore self determination of the current population doesn’t apply…?
Is it just that the Spanish don’t actively raise their potential claim? As with Mexico and their former territories, because they should probably think about staking a claim…
Is it that a treaty was applied at the time? Surely effectively agreed under duress, due to the act of force that is now crucial to the stipulations for sovereignty? Where does current international law stand on such treaties signed following acts of perpetrated long before the international mandate of the UN existed?
If the Argentine forces of Galtieri had been victorious in the 1982 conflict and some sort of terms and handover agreed, would that have applied under any international law?
As far as I can tell looking at any summary of the islands’ history, the Argentine ‘population’ that was ‘forcibly removed’ in 1833, wasn’t much to speak of and so I doubt anyone thought it warranted a treaty. Who knew how things would pan out..?
The Spanish seem to get involved a lot… There is the ongoing issue of sovereignty over Gibraltar. Acquired by force many years ago, but the current population have determined that they want to remain British.
But it’s so close to Spain??? In fact, so close, it’s practically in Spain..!
Unlike the Falklands… Where it’s just that Argentina is the nearest country.
South America, the Atlantic and the Falkland Islands
And proximity as a claim? Can it really be that simple?
A lot of your everyday average internet commentators (Argentine, British and others) have stated that they believe such islands should be ruled by the closest nation, so again regardless of the inhabitants’ wishes. Well if there were some crazy turn of events and a selection of these people were given power, there’d be a few island states getting ready for some interesting regime change…
The Canaries Islands (once more the Spanish and again taken by force many years ago), the Channel Islands (oh wouldn’t the French love that..?), the Faroe Islands (closer to Britain, but also close to two nations other than the sovereign power) and Greenland (though granted we’re talking autonomy, but what does it matter what the people want..?), Bermuda, Guam, Puerto Rico and there’s more…
Hawaii was mentioned a lot in the recent reactions, it is relevant, in terms of proximity (although no major nation is closer than the US) and the way in which it became part of the USA. And though they did have a choice in officially becoming a state; in the referendum they didn’t have the choice of becoming independent.
Many of the internet based advocates of the Argentinian claims, used examples such as the Hebrides and what if they were under Argentine rule? The world would be a vastly different place for one thing, but in response one could use all the examples above and the Hebrides are inhabited by peoples other than those of the hegemonic state of the UK. They might become independent soon, determined by them and their mainland cousins.
What if the Faroe Islands were controlled by another state? What if Ireland….. No, the Argentinians ruling and populating, because that would the equivalent, the Hebrides, is a ridiculous example; the course of history has led us to this point.
Proximity in itself should almost be irrelevant when you look at all of the different situations in the world. And many of the possible examples have had an indigenous or ancient populations, the Falklands didn’t. But it seems in the righteous world of Sean Penn and Argentine politics this is overlooked.
They talk about the use of force, but what happened to the indigenous populations of the Americas? What are their rights now under international convention..?
What happened to the aboriginal people of the Americas happened for hundreds of years, before and after whatever exactly happened to the tiny colonising population of Las Malvinas.
Again the double-think becomes apparent. It seems to be some belief that as this is an independent former colony wanting to takeover the land of a colony still ruled by the Mother country, under an ‘archaic’ system; then it is a righteous cause.
If the people of the Falklands had gained independence, would that change the situation? Of course, if it had happened some time before 1982 and the UK had not intervened, then we wouldn’t have ended up talking about UN conventions for actions taken well over 100 years ago, in 2012.
On a much smaller scale the situation of the two nations is in some way similar to that of the US and Canada; the US became independent and Canada remained as a dominion. Canada was on their doorstep, not fully independent until 1982, an affront to their freedom and sovereignty, they should have invaded..! Maybe gone into cohorts with the French, again…
Oh they did...
None of it is as clear cut as some believe. And again how far could you go back with the principles of the Argentinian arguments?
The US, Australia, the original tribes of Britain, most of the world outside Africa… Even in Japan, though few would think about such a case. Land often taken by force, territory annexed, etc, and now things have changed.
Despite the many examples throughout history, in the present day the Falkland Islands do remain an oddity, something of an anomaly. Although there are notable ongoing disputes throughout the world; between Russia and Japan over the Kuril islands, Kashmir and it’s not even worth going into the Arab/Israeli dispute here… There’s Tibet and the Tamils in Sri Lanka, how’s international law working out in those areas???
None of them quite have the characteristics and profile of the territorial disagreement in the South Atlantic.
The presence of oil and the accompanying propaganda have certainly inflamed what must seem such an insignificant dispute to many around the world; the population is after-all very small.
(There has been some scoffing from Americans about the reaction to Penn's involvement, the comparison to the former Mexican territory must seem ridiculous…)
It can seem a clear-cut issue to many, with the colonial history and geographical set up, but it is more complicated. Nowhere near as simplistic as the Argentinian government claims; citing the relevant aspects of history that suit their argument.
It is developing into the same patriotic fervour and clamour for territory that an extreme Right wing government whipped up into a war. Now it’s a Left Wing government, it’s fine? To Sean Penn at least…
It’s not a black and white issue and it is clear the British Left are unsure where to stand; many are not drawn on it. The Guardian the main mouth piece of the Left in the UK did not set out a clear opinion on the dispute itself but commented on Sean Penn and his freedom of speech - Sean Penn has every right to wade in on the Falklands
But there is an uncertainty in the Left, the lack of opinion made this clear. They can see the factors I’ve laid out, this not a simple anti-colonial issue.
Probably more importantly though, whatever their specific opinion is, they know it’s a vote loser. Sure fire. It was a vote winner for Thatcher in 1983 and don’t Labour know it.
Michael Foot and Margaret Thatcher
I think a lot of ‘principled’ Leftists, in and out of Labour, would rather the Falklands were handed to Argentina, if only to stop the nagging conscience, but few would utter it out of their circles…
Some Left wing and anti-British commentators will use the standard simplistic view of history; British Empire = bad, everything opposed = good! Except America; was good, independence from Britain an’ all that, but now bad… America boo!!!
As I say there has been limited opposing opinion in Britain, but it’s there and for a moment I thought it would be clearly exposed on BBC Question Time (16/2/12). However, I didn’t see the programme and can find no further reference than this remark on Twitter. John Prescott in un-spun mode, no advice, no stage management, possibly letting his anti-Tory, Leftist apologist conscience get the better of him..? Til they shut him up???
Labour out of touch with the public opinion..? Never let it be said…
Always in touch...
Sean Penn’s politics are perhaps a little different to those of the British Labour party and the Liberal Left in the UK, but his background is different and he’s not afraid to speak his mind on topics that in the US can adversely affect his image.
He’s clearly an idealistic man, who knows perhaps in his mind there is no contradiction; if he could bring it about maybe he’d happily give California back to the Mexicans? Handing the whole of the United States back to the Native Americans might be a step too far and into clear contradiction…
Though there is indeed a lot of hyperbole surrounding the issue, propaganda and passion on both sides of the debate, we all have to hope there can be some resolution without permanent and damaging division, worst of all conflict. No-one can want another war.
The fact is the world is changing and there are huge power shifts occurring. The South American continent, particularly the big three of Argentina, Brazil and Chile will be able to wield more influence. There is also a power issue underlying it as well as the oil and I think as time goes on, with the road Britain is on (as many gleefully indicate; ‘in decline’) it’s hard to see what will happen to the Falkland Islands, especially with such a hard existence surrounded by relatively hostile neighbours. Although as things stand, oil money can be a real game changer either way…
And it’s only a small population, the balance could be tipped perhaps (I haven't look into those technical details) and there you go Argentina..!
(The issue of immigration is raised in his article in the Guardian "The legalisation of Argentinian immigration to the Malvinas/Falkland Islands is one that it seems might have been addressed, but for the speculative discovery of booming offshore oil in the surrounding seas this past year". As it stands the Islanders and the authorities are holding the right to maintain the islands as they see fit)
It’s also true that in this changing world with territorial disputes in the subcontinent and China, two of the new power houses in the world, I’m not sure about Sean Penn’s patronising ‘the world today’ statement. That’s the world he sees, the world the Left imagine outside of the hegemonic and imperialistic American dominated West.
I used to like his films… He does try to raise important issues and perhaps his heart is in the right place, he has apparently done a lot of good work in Haiti, but in this case he’s taken a side assuming the opposing arguments are based along the same lines as his usual perspective and his firmly held assumptions.
He sidles up to the relevant politicians using his position and high profile, but how many people does he help and does he further his fundamental causes?
Hard life Sean?
And I didn't mention Team America once!
The Falklands issue will continue of course and will reach a peak this year around the various anniversaries of the war. There is certainly more to write, this post was meant to be brief…
I wonder what the Occupy Movement think of the Falklands/Malvinas issue..?
9 hours ago