17 June 2015

Cristina Kirchner – enemy of the Falklands and economic freedom


With good reason, Cristina Kirchner has earned the sobriquet “the bully of Buenos Aires.” Argentina’s president has dedicated much of her two-term presidency to threatening the 3,000 overwhelmingly British residents of the Falkland Islands while suppressing economic and political freedom back home. It is no coincidence that Mrs. Kirchner expends so much energy menacing the peaceful inhabitants of a small group of Islands in the South Atlantic at the same time she presides over the economic decline of her own country. It is the hallmark of aggressive demagogues like Kirchner to whip up nationalist hatred against a backdrop of rising authoritarianism at home, and ever-growing state power. The Falklands issue has been an emotive and convenient vehicle for the Kirchner regime to deflect attention away from its disastrous economic policies and increasing political repression.

Just last week, Buenos Aires reiterated its claims to the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory, which were invaded by Argentina’s then military junta in 1982. The Islands, administered by Britain since 1833, were liberated by a task force launched by Margaret Thatcher, at great sacrifice with the loss of 255 British servicemen. In recent years, the Kirchner regime has resorted to a great deal of sabre-rattling combined with a concerted international campaign calling for UN-brokered negotiations over the sovereignty of the Islands. Hector Timerman, Argentina’s deeply unpleasant Foreign Minister, has even boasted in ominous language, that “the Falklands Islanders do not exist. What exists is British citizens who live in the Islas Malvinas.”

Kirchner has made the Falklands the number one foreign policy priority for her government, even wooing the Obama administration on the issue. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously stood shoulder to shoulder with Mrs. Kirchner in Buenos Aires at a press conference in March 2010, siding with the Argentine call for a negotiated settlement. As Clinton put it, “we want very much to encourage both countries to sit down… we will encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.” The Obama presidency even refused to publicly recognize the results of the March 2013 Falklands referendum, where more than 99 percent of the Falkland Islanders voted to remain a British Overseas Territory.

Argentina has upped the stakes recently, signing a “strategic partnership” with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, negotiating oil and gas deals, with rumours of a possible deal between Buenos Aires and Moscow to lease twelve long-range Russian Sukhoi-24 bombers, capable of reaching the Falklands. Argentina’s air force, heavily ravaged by defeat in the Falklands War, is badly in need of regeneration, and Russian collaboration could dramatically increase its capacity. In response to a rising military threat posed by Argentina, the British government has pledged an additional £180 million to the Falklands’ defences, which are already substantial.

It should be no surprise that Mrs. Kirchner has been cuddling up to Vladimir Putin, even offering her backing for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. There are striking similarities in leadership style – both are narcissistic, strong-arm politicians driven by a deep-seated populism and an intense hatred for the West. Kirchner and Putin have moved against critics of the state, stifling press freedom as well as the judiciary, while placing their acolytes in positions of power. Corruption is endemic in both regimes, with a culture of crony capitalism deeply embedded at the expense of free enterprise. On the world stage, Kirchner and Putin have allied themselves with rogue regimes, including Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and Fidel Castro’s Cuba, while the Russians have moved to provide Iran with missiles to protect Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Significantly, Kirchner and Putin are firm enemies of economic freedom. According to the 2015 Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom, Argentina ranks 169th in the world out of 179 listed countries, a staggering decline for Latin America’s fourth largest economy, and its lowest ever position. It currently ranks 27th out of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region, and is classified as a “repressed” economy. As the Index notes, “over the past five years, Argentina’s economic freedom score has dropped by over 7 points, plunging the economy into the “repressed” category. Considerable losses have occurred in eight of the 10 economic freedoms, most notably in government spending, investment freedom, business freedom and property rights.” To put all this in context, Argentina is ranked just above the likes of Iran, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea in economic freedom, hardly the kind of neighbors it should wish to be associated with. Argentina is even beaten by Burma, the Congo, and Belarus. Russia fares little better, ranked at 143rd in the world economic freedom rankings, placing 41st out of 43 countries in the Europe region.

In contrast to Argentina, the Falkland Islands are flourishing economically. As a British Overseas Territory, the Falkands does not have an individual ranking, but it has built a well-earned reputation for fiscal conservatism and free market policies. The Falklands, through its two main industries of fishing and tourism, generates an annual GDP around £100 million per year, an extraordinarily high GDP per person ratio. And with the recent discovery of major oil reserves in its waters, the Falklands is expected to generate significant oil revenues, directly benefiting the Islands themselves, and not the UK Treasury (the Falkland Islands pays no tax to the United Kingdom). Like Gibraltar, another British Overseas Territory threatened by a large neighbour, the Falkland Islands is a bastion of economic freedom, and an economic success story.

300 miles across the seas of the South Atlantic, Cristina Kirchner is nearing the end of her tenure as president, restricted to two terms in office. Following presidential elections in October this year, it remains to be seen whether the next Argentine president will continue the destructive economic policies of Mrs. Kirchner. It is to be hoped that Kirchner’s successor will choose economic freedom over economic ruin, and focuses his energy on improving Argentina’s economy instead of menacing the Falklands and currying favour with dictatorships from Moscow to Havana.

Great Britain must, however, continue to be on its guard in the face of Argentine aggression, regardless of who resides in La Casa Rosada, strengthening the defences of the Falklands, while standing up to any efforts to undermine the right to self-determination of the Falkland Islanders. And while Mrs. Kirchner will be stepping down as president in December, she may yet return to Argentina’s Congress, again stirring the embers of hate against Britain, the Falklands and its brave inhabitants. Vigilance and resolve must always be the British response.

Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.