Corbynmanía – a Latin flavour to Labour

Argentina calls the radical new leader of the UK opposition “one of ours”

The rapid rise of Jeremy Corbyn and his leftist acolytes in the British Labour Party has been met with mixed responses in the UK but a thumbs-up in Latin America.

For the governing Conservatives, there was early gloating over a man deemed originally to be ‘un-electable’ but this has been replaced by worried, cautionary rhetoric.

In the Labour ranks, there has been elation, bemusement, uncertainty and angst.

Some of the loudest cheers of approval have come from thousands of miles away.

For Argentina, the election of Jeremy Corbyn is a decisive and positive move in support of a man whose politics resonate deeply with many people across the country and, indeed, throughout Latin America.

Corbyn has pursued justice for the victims of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

He has led a UK parliamentary mission to the leftist Bolivia of Evo Morales.

He is blood brother to trade unions and a thorn in the side of ‘savage capitalists’.

He supports debt renegotiation and nuclear disarmament.

And the Latin links do not just exist on a political level: his second wife was Chilean and his current partner is from Mexico.

Finally, just this afternoon, on Tuesday 15 September, while he was addressing the British Trades Union Congress, he stood up for the rights of organised workers in Colombia, a notable right-leaning and Washington-minded Latin state.

Most tellingly for Buenos Aires, he is an anti-imperialist pacifist, in the true oratorical mould of Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales or Cristina Fernández and he opposed the 1982 Falklands War, arguing for a peaceful resolution to the dispute.

The current British government is intransigent.

It says it believes in the Falkland Islanders’ right to self-determination as underlined by their decision to maintain their status as a British Overseas Territory (and thus British nationality) in a 2013 referendum.

Case closed.

Or maybe not?

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, Buenos Aires sees it as very much open.

In an interview with the Pagina 12 newspaper on 14 September, the Argentinian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Alicia Castro, said she feels “joy, a great satisfaction” after Corbyn’s victory in the leadership contest.

She lauded his “emphatic show of solidarity with Argentina”, even going on to claim that “he is one of ours”.

Corbyn certainly has not followed the majority of his compatriots on the Falklands/Malvinas issue.

He is a member of the European Pro-Dialogue pressure group and in March this year questioned the increase in military spending in the Falklands by the UK government. (This blog reported on that at the time.)

In her interview, the ambassador went on: “his leadership can decisively guide British public opinion in favour of dialogue between the two governments”.

The swelling wave of socialist pride and power carrying Mr Corbyn at the moment certainly seems to have a momentum to it that comes from leftist Latin seas far from these shores.

Crude behaviour

A new discovery of oil off the Falkland Islands hardens Argentinian resolve 

The price of crude has been on a substantial slide since last summer, losing more than half of its value since June 2014. Oil firms have had to pull back on expansion plans and slash job projections. Oil-dependent economies, such as Venezuela, have been ravaged by the crash of the black stuff.

But such is the aura around oil that it still has the power for that instant spark, no matter how difficult the extraction or how poor the oil and no matter that there may be more dampening announcements to come after the fanfare has died down.

(A case in point for this final example would be the recent row-back from the claim that up to 100bn barrels of oil could be sitting near Gatwick Airport to the south of London.)

At the start of this month, three small UK oil firms revealed a find at their ‘Zebedee’ well in the North Falklands Basin. Although there was a muted response as far as shares go, and despite the current problems for oil companies caused by the low price of the stuff, Buenos Aires bristled when news came through.

The mythical draw of black gold provokes wide-eyed excitement when discoveries of fields are announced. It does seem that part of the Argentinian reaction follows this line of thought. The area around the archipelago has been charted by prospective drillers regularly over recent years, but this latest British find has stoked the possibility of a new industry in the South Atlantic.

Buenos Aires seems to have less of a problem with the fishing carried out by Falkland Island fleets but this exploration and exploitation of oil has enraged the Casa Rosada.

The Argentinian government sees the Islas Malvinas as constituent parts of the South American nation. To this end, any investigation or development of natural resources around the islands is seen as an illicit territorial encroachment.

On an international diplomatic level, it disagrees that the exploration of natural resources should be taking place where sovereignty is disputed. But is there a dispute when only one party feels wronged?

There may be no feasible extraction of workable crude for many years to come, but this announcement still feels like a slap in the face for the fumbling Argentinian economy.

Plummeting opinion polls for outgoing president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner could be roused by an oil rush. But she can only look out east over the ocean uneasily, and has resolved to support legal action against the companies involved.

The fate of the islands has also been mentioned in the UK general election campaign, with the governing Conservative party committing in its manifesto to “uphold the democratic rights of the people of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands to remain British, for as long as that is their wish.”

And late last month the British defence secretary said the UK government would invest £180m over the next ten years on improving and expanding the military presence in the islands.

The Falkland Islanders are sure to be feeling chipper and can picture an expansion of their own economy with all the industry and income that would accompany the development of the new finds, knowing that the mother country is still, for now, standing behind them.

The Argentinians believe the bolstering of soldier numbers by the British is another illegitimate move in the martial arena to protect unlawful actions in the civilian sector.

While the fog of diplomatic mistrust and the anxiety around military maneouvres shroud the windy shores of Tierra del Fuego and Stanley, there is to be no sharing of resources in those deep southern waves.

 

Global face/off

Mini versions of international disputes are being played out in the Olympic Games arenas

We may see the hammers being hurled, the sea being sailed and the roads being run, but throughout the Olympic venues there are interesting quirks, contentious flare-ups and small scenes of wider international political situations.

One of the anomalies of the Games themselves is that the competition begins before the official opening ceremony has taken place. And so it was in Glasgow, two days before the grand spectacular in the Olympic Stadium, where North Korea’s women took on their Colombian counterparts in the football tournament. And the Scottish national stadium Hampden Park was where the North Korean footballers were introduced on the big screen alongside the South Korean flag, a serious mistake and one which was not taken lightly by Pyongyang. After much complaining and apologising the match got under way and the Asian women seemed to have been spurred on by the banner mix-up and saw off the Colombians 2-0.

A few days later, Great Britain’s men played their Argentinian counterparts in the Riverbank Hockey Arena. The tone for this particular game had been set in May when Fernando Zylberberg, one of the Buenos Aires players, took part in a training video (below) on the Falklands Islands (or Las Malvinas) that provoked reactions of patriotism at home and widespread anger in the UK. Ironically, Zylberberg eventually did not make the London 2012 squad because of concerns over his fitness, despite the athletic moves he pulled out in the clip. The controversy over the video unsurprisingly spilled over into the match, with several heavy challenges going in and both teams having players sin-binned.

Source: pupianews, 6 August 2012

The Olympic and Paralympic Games also give smaller nations often disregarded on the world stage the chance to come out and participate. But the process of choosing who is and who is not an Olympic nation is complicated. Hong Kong, Bermuda and Puerto Rico are represented independently of China, Britain and the US despite closer constitutional links. But Kosovo and South Sudan have not been granted International Olympic Committee (IOC) membership yet. Their athletes have to undergo the bizarre but by no means uncommon choice to compete for another country (or, indeed, for the IOC themselves, as in the case of marathon runner Guor Marial) in order to take part in the Games.

Countries which have gone through or are going through the Arab Spring, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Bahrain, all still turned out teams and with Qatar and Saudi Arabia selecting women athletes, all competing Olympic nations have now had female representatives on their books for the first time.

Another bone of contention is over Taiwan. China considers the island to be its twenty-third province but the Taiwanese feel very strongly that the two countries are just that – separate nations. However, the islanders have no seat at the United Nations and few official diplomatic relations, although many state have informal ties with Taipei. China, (or the People’s Republic of China), exerts a lot of pressure globally to try to win support for Taiwan just to be seen as part of the larger motherland and the island has had to bow to different stresses in order to be able to compete in the Olympic Games. At London 2012, as at Games past, Taiwan (or the Republic of China), uses the name ‘Chinese Taipei’, which is drawn from the name of its capital city. And an invented flag flies above the athletes; one that combines the Olympic rings and the country’s national sun symbol.

But before the Games had even begun there were protests linking back to geopolitics, some of them more laughing matters than others. Iran claimed that the official London 2012 logo was actually a coded reference to Zion, and therefore a secret way of forwarding Jewish nationalist propaganda on a global sporting stage.

Bolivarian bluster

A Latin American left-leaning bloc show their internal unity and their international exposure

The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) group of socialist nations is certainly filled with bombastic leaders living up to its florid name. The bloc has just had its most recent get-together and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was a more than willing host for the club.

The leaders met yesterday for talks and debates and came out with some conspicuous agreements. Firstly, they ensured they set themselves against popular opinion at the United Nations by resoundingly supporting Russia and China’s veto of a proposed Security Council resolution on Syria endorsing an Arab League peace plan. These Latin and Caribbean countries are well known for their dislike of all things Western (as far back as September 2010 this blog highlighted the friendship between Bolivia and Iran – see ‘Latin-Persian alliance on the way? – 25/09/10′). Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba and Ecuador last month to re-affirm the mutual contempt for London, Paris and New York. Hugo Chávez called the veto “very positive” and Bolivian president Evo Morales said that ALBA “joins the veto”.

Controversial statements like these were not surprising. Chávez took this opportunity to criticise the handling of the Libya conflict by the Western powers with his famous categorical hyperbole :

“They invade, bomb, destroy a country, assassinate its president…it’s imperialism’s schizophrenia”

There are two Latin American nations sitting as non-permanent members of the UN Security Council and, notably, neither of them are in ALBA. Colombia and Guatemala (who both currently have conservative presidents) voted in favour of the resolution condemning the violence in Syria and calling on president Bashar al-Assad to stand down. So despite the fact that the leftist bloc’s title supposedly includes ‘the Peoples of Our America’, their support for Russia, China and Iran and anti-Western sentiment is not shared across the region.

One topic that does garner more backing from Latin Americans outside ALBA is the Falkland Islands/Malvinas territorial dispute. This weekend ALBA favourite Rafael Correa, the Ecuadorian leader, called for:

“more concrete, more forceful decisions, Latin American sanctions against Great Britain…[the UK’s position is] an assault on sovereignty, extemporaneous colonialism”

Hugo Chávez has excitedly addressed Queen Elizabeth II in the past to hand over control of the islands to Argentina and this blog has covered the issue in previous posts (see ‘An island life for me‘ – 11/02/11).

The membership list of ALBA is a real political mix, including regional giants like Venezuela, Central Americans like Nicaragua and tiny Caribbean states like Antigua & Barbuda. The noises they make are often parochial proposals. But every now and again they come out with provocative opinions on sensitive global issues. ALBA loathes foreigners meddling in other states’ affairs but it seems unmovable on the Syrian violence even if, in this case, the UN resolution was based on Arab League reforms drawn up by Middle East politicians. While the Western powers will not lose sleep over the failure of St Kitts & Nevis to support them, Ecuador and Cuba are important players in that developing region and it is worrying that the ALBA organisation seems fundamentally opposed to all Western ideals.