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.
“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.