Pope may be dragged into Falklands dispute

March 14, 2013 at 6:25 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, March 14 (UPI) -- Pope Francis, acclaimed worldwide as a powerful new champion for the world's poor, risks becoming embroiled in Argentina's increasingly strident rhetoric of a sovereignty claim on the British Overseas Territory of the Falkland Islands.

After The Telegraph newspaper in London republished past pronouncements on the Falklands by the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope's present position on the islands triggered more speculation in Britain and the Falklands in the South Atlantic, which reasserted their Britishness in a referendum only last week.

The Guardian newspaper said the papal appointment gives Argentina hope that it has a weighty supporter for their sovereignty claim "but experts say he will remain neutral."

Pope Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, is reported to have said the islands were usurped by Britain.

Argentina has intensified its campaign for territorial control over the Falklands since its failed attempt in 1982 to seize the islands. Britain and Argentina fought a 74-day conflict on the islands which led to 913 deaths and precipitated the fall of Argentina's military dictatorship.

At a Falklands memorial mass in 2012, Cardinal Bergoglio said, "We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the homeland who set out ... to claim the country that is theirs and they were usurped," the Telegraph said.

Analysts said there's little to suggest that Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has secured a powerful new ally in the Falklands campaign. But the Falklands issue also pits the pope against an unwelcome dilemma.

Most Latin American governments back the Argentine claim but a papal pronouncement on the issue will likely alienate Catholics in countries that back Britain over the issue. The pope's distancing from the dispute, widely anticipated by British diplomats and British Catholics alike, will also present the pope with problems in Latin America, analysts said.

"Pope Francis is known to have a frosty relationship with Fernandez but the president has already hinted that she views his election as a boost to get back what Argentinians call Las Malvinas," the Guardian said.

In a reference to her attempts to draw Britain into talks over the Falklands, Fernandez told a gathering at Tecnopolis science and technology fair she hoped Pope Francis will "send a message to the great powers so they will engage in dialogue ... that he will manage to talk to those wielding the power, those who have weapons and financial might, into looking at the emerging countries and promote civilized dialogue," the Buenos Aires Herald reported.

Fernandez has demanded that Britain begin negotiations over the sovereignty of the islands, a demand rejected by London.

The British Foreign Office said Thursday: "We wish Pope Francis every success in his papal duties. Our position on the Falklands remains, as ever, that the people who live there should be free to determine their own futures."

British commentators said the pope was unlikely to become involved in the Falklands debate, although Argentina's government would likely capitalize on his past statements, made as an Argentine bishop to his flock.

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