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Prince William’s deployment to the Falkland Islands sparks anger and unease

February 1, 2012

If his first overseas military tour were not news enough, the location of Lt. William Wales’ (aka Prince William, Duke of Cambridge) deployment will surely make headlines.  The Duke, probably the most famous newlywed in Europe and certainly the most well-known member of the Royal Air Force (RAF), will fly to the Falkland Islands tonight to begin a six-week tour as a search-and-rescue pilot for the RAF.

Prince William will fly to the Falkland Islands tonight. Source: telegraph.co.uk

The Falkland Islands are a small archipelago off the coast of mainland South America with a population of 3,140.  The island, a self-governing British territory, is best known as a site of contest between the Argentine and British governments during the early 1980s. Argentina has claimed sovereignty over the Falkland Islands since Britain established sovereignty in 1833.  In 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands under then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, resulting in a two-month long unofficial Falklands War.  Argentina was forced to withdraw after its defeat by the United Kingdom.

Although the UK and Argentina resumed diplomatic relations in 1990, the UK has maintained a military presence of around 1,200 troops in the Falklands since 1982—more than a third of the island’s native population.

Prince William’s deployment comes just two months before the 30th anniversary of the Argentine Invasion of the Falkland Islands on April 2, 1982, “a time when muffled drum rolls can be heard as the governments in London and Buenos Aires square off with each other again over their rival claims to sovereignty over the islands,” according to The New York Times.  The timing of Prince William’s deployment is made even stranger by the upcoming Argentine release of The Iron Lady, a film biopic that depicts UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sending the British fleet to the Falklands.

According to CBC News, the tensions between the UK and Argentina go beyond Prince William’s deployment.  England’s RAF recently announced that it will send a new destroyer, the HMS Dauntless, to the Falklands. Argentina, in turn, has imposed a naval blockade on ships flying the Falklands flag. Argentina’s foreign ministry said in an official statement that by going to the Falklands, Prince William wears “the uniform of the conqueror.”

While this news in no way signifies another war between Argentina and the UK, it has sparked anger in Argentina over the perceived escalation of the conflict by Britain (which Britain denies) and has drawn a large amount of attention from the British press due to Prince William’s involvement.

The whole mess is also an uncomfortable reminder of the legacy British, and indeed European, colonialism.  According to The New York Times, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has said that Britain’s rule in the Falklands is a “colonial holdover” and merely a means to the possible discovery of oil reserves within the British economic exclusion zone.  In January, Prime Minister David Cameron told Parliament that it is in fact Argentina’s motives that are colonial: “What Argentinians have been saying recently, I would argue, is actually far more like colonialism, because these people want to remain British, and the Argentinians want them to do something else.”

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner with former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Source: Wikipedia

Whether the crux of the issue lies in oil, colonialism, royalty, or historical wounds not quite healed, the story will likely unfold during the coming weeks.

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