Falkland islands: Argentina appoints Malvinas secretary

Creation of new post comes amid escalation of nationalistic rhetoric in both London and Buenos Aires over disputed islands

The Argentinian president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, has opened a fresh bureaucratic front on the Falklands issue by creating a new government post of Malvinas secretary.

The first holder of the position, Daniel Filmus, immediately accused Britain of double standards and condemned the occupation of the islands.

At his swearing-in ceremony on Monday, the former senator for Buenos Aires said the creation of the post reaffirmed the government's commitment to resolving the dispute through peaceful, democratic means.

"Argentina is telling the world we are not a complete country. Argentina is a country that lives with colonialism in the 21st century, which we find totally unacceptable," he said.

According to the foreign ministry, the new secretariat will design and co-ordinate strategies "for the defence of Argentinian rights and interests as well as informing the world about Argentine rights".

The appointment comes amid an escalation of nationalist rhetoric between London and Buenos Aires.

David Cameron said the UK was always ready to defend the Falklands in a Christmas message to the islanders. "The Argentine government will never succeed in any attempt to misrepresent the history of your islands or question your right to self-determination," the British prime minister promised.

This provoked a sharp response from the Argentinian foreign minister, Héctor Timerman, who said the British "lion roars but does not inspire fear any more".

At stake is not just the vast maritime territory around the islands in the South Atlantic, but billions of dollars worth of oil and gas revenues. Fields now being developed around the Falklands are expected to bring in £200m-£300m a year.

Argentina has tried to apply economic, legal and diplomatic pressure to prevent the extraction of those resources. Its congress recently passed a law that imposes criminal sanctions, including 15-year jail sentences, on people involved in "illegal exploration of hydrocarbons in the Argentinian continental shelf".

The British government, which has 1,300 troops on the islands that were the fought over by the two sides in 1982, accuses Buenos Aires of bullying tactics.

Despite the new secretariat and law, the situation for the islanders is thought unlikely to change. They have lived in economic isolation from Argentina for many years now and last year voted overwhelming to remain under British rule.


Jonathan Watts, Latin America correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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