What the Pope can talk about with the Queen of England

The Queen of England will meet with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican. It is the first time that a Pope, who as an Argentine Bishop had expressed his belief that the Falklands, or Malvinas, should be returned to Argentina, will meet with the formal ruler of those British citizens living on the South Atlantic islands. Many Argentines and many Latin Americans await this meeting with expectation, write Federico Finchelstein and Fabian Bosoer.

The Queen of England will meet with Pope Francis on Thursday at the Vatican. It is the first time that a Pope, who as an Argentine Bishop had expressed his belief that the Falklands, or Malvinas, should be returned to Argentina, will meet with the formal ruler of those British citizens living on the South Atlantic islands. Many Argentines and many Latin Americans await this meeting with expectation, write Federico Finchelstein and Fabian Bosoer.


The Queen of England will meet with Pope Francis tomorrow Thursday at the Vatican. Many Argentines, and many Latin Americans, await this meeting with expectation.

It is the first time that the Latin American Pope will meet with the formal ruler of the country that many Latin Americans still regard as the first of Latin America’s informal empires in the nineteenth century.

It is the first time that a Pope, who as an Argentine Bishop had expressed his belief that the Falklands or Malvinas should be returned to Argentina, will meet with the formal ruler of those British citizens living in the South Atlantic islands.

Argentina has a historical claim to the land. And so does Britain. The Islands were originally Argentine (and before that part of the Spanish Empire) and were later occupied by Britain at the time of British informal predominance in the world of the emerging nations of the region. Before that, Britain attempted twice to take Buenos Aires from the Spaniards. This event is called in Argentina « the British invasions ». Later on in the interwar years, Argentina’s long tradition of anti-imperial nationalism was born out of a regional contest with the British Empire.

Finally in 1982, the Argentine military dictatorship went to war for the islands. But all of this belongs to the past. The originary events happened two centuries ago. And Argentina with a democracy of 30 years is far from its dictatorial past. Both countries should be realistic about their unilateral claims. Both countries should enter direct negotiations over shared sovereignty. Both countries should leave their territorial nationalism behind. Sharing responsibilities for example on natural resources would be a first step in this direction. The no-compromise war legacy is a history that needs to be treated as such. Historical analysis can play a role in distancing the past from the present and the future. But rather than properly historizicing the war in both countries the Kirchner and Cameron administrations tend to use these war memories as a political tool. Including sovereignty in open-ended negotiations would represent a change with or without the presence of the Pope. But will the Pope participate of the process as the Argentine president has asked him to do ? Some weeks ago, the Pope met in Rome with Argentine veterans of the war and they also asked him to intervene. Will he do that ? Perhaps, this could signal the first step in a future Argentine/British meeting.

If this happens, and with the proverbial pessimism that we embody as Argentines citizens and scholars, we believe this is unlikely. But if it happens it would be a novel instance where a supra-governmental meeting of sorts opens the way for a meaningful bi-national, political and cultural change among the two countries. Even a modest declaration by both the Queen and the Argentine Pope could unlock perennial misunderstandings rooted in nationalism and local politics. A joint declaration regarding the islands could start fulfilling something that international organisms cannot solve. For the Pope it would be an opportunity. His novel rhetoric could be matched with meaningful actions. A joint message could represent the first step in a public work of elaboration on the past histories of violence, colonialism and conflict and move Argentina and the United Kingdom to a more reflective zone of open-ended negotiations. This might be an unlikely outcome for a type of meeting that is generally more attentive to the spectacle of the visible rather than the substance of the politically possible. But this Argentine Pope gets along well with surprise and the unexpected.

Federico Finchelstein, an associate professor and chair of history at the New School, is the author of the new book The Ideological Origins of the Dirty War published by Oxford University Press.  
Fabián Bosoer is an opinion editor at the Argentine newspaper Clarín.

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