Monday, April 16, 2012

Obama Bad at Geography, Good at Geographic Policy with the Falkland Islands

American President Barack Obama created controversy when he used the word “Maldives” in an effort to appeal to Latin American countries as a sign of the United States’ neutrality between the United Kingdom and Argentina over the Falkland Islands.  The statement at the Summit of the Americas conference is newsworthy for two reasons.

First, the Maldives are actually an island chain in the Indian Ocean approximately 8,000 miles (13,000) kilometers away from the disputed Falkland Islands.

Second, many British and pro-British news source are claiming that Obama has betrayed the United Kingdom by not using the term F"alkland Islands".  “The Malvinas” is used by Argentina and their supporters.  While the political arguments of whether Obama not changing the official policy of American neutrality on the issue is harming relations is up for debate, the simple fact is Obama followed U.S. geographical policy.

The words used for the islands are very political.  The term “Falkland Islands” is derived from Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount of Falkland.  The “Falkland Islands” dates back to 1690.  The term “Islas Malvinas” comes from the original French name of the island, Îles Malouines, or St. Malo Islands, named after the homeport of the settlers who landed there in 1764.  Recently, the term “Islas Falklands” has come into use by the island's small Hispanic population.

According to the U.S. Board of Geographical Names, the official geographic names body for the United States, the approved name for the islands is “Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)”.  Approved variants are “Falklands”, “Malvinas”, “Islas Malvinas”, and “Iles Malouines”.  The CIA World Factbook follows American policy in using Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), unlike in other times such as what the United States considers the capital of Israel.

The only transcript I can find right now about what Obama said is from the AFP in Spanish on a Cuban news website.  The article stated Obama said

Y en términos de las Maldivas, o las Falklands … nuestra posición en esto es que vamos a permanecer neutrales.

President Obama does not speak Spanish, which obviously means he spoke in English.  A translation of the above would mean he said

“And in terms of the Maldives, or the Falklands … our position in this is that we are going to remain neutral.”

So Obama meant to used both the terms “Malvinas” and “Falklands”.  Both terms are acceptable under U.S. policy.  Using one and not the other would have been read as a political policy change in the heated atmosphere of the summit.  To use a term like “Islas Falklands” would have been illogical since Obama does not speak Spanish and probably be viewed as forcing a political name into the Spanish lexicon.


Tony Burton said...

You write: "So Obama used both the terms “Maldives” and “Falklands”. Both terms are acceptable under U.S. policy."
How can "Maldives" possibly be "acceptable" when it's an entirely different place in an entirely different ocean?

Catholicgauze said...

Ah, now I did it too! "Catholicgauze bad at Geography" should be the headline. The error has been fixed

yaw sapon said...

This implies that he's meant to be a leader so to implement his policies in all aspects to save the world.

Tony Burton said...

Wow! That was a fast response! Keep up the great work. I always enjoy your posts.