The thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands War took a bizarre twist this week. It emerged that the UK is still demanding repayment from the Argentine government for money they borrowed in 1979 – with which they bought weapons to invade the Falklands.
Documents uncovered by the Jubilee Debt Campaign reveal that the Foreign Secretary at the time, David Owen, recognised the brutal nature of Argentina's then military junta, but authorised the sale all the same (see http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/Argentina3720still37203791owes3792... ).
Lending money to despots, and selling them weapons, has been a feature of UK government policy under Tory, Labour and coalition governments. When these dictatorships are replaced with more democratic forms of government, their countries are often weighed down with the inherited debt. When repayment is demanded, it's the people, not the dictators, who lose out.
A shady government unit stands at the centre of this scandal. UK Export Finance – previously called the Export Credit Guarantee Department – is part of Vince Cable's Department for Business. UK Export Finance has long backed projects supporting arms, aviation and fossil fuels. It has done business with some of the world's most oppressive regimes.
UK Export Finance is still demanding millions for deals done with former dictators in Egypt, Indonesia, Argentina and Iraq.
In opposition, Vince Cable criticised the department and called for its debts to be audited. Now he is against this policy.
On Tuesday 17 April – the Global Day of Action on Military Spending - people concerned about this situation will stage a nonviolent protest outside the offices of the Department for Business,between 8.30 and 9.30am. The protest is organised by Jubilee Debt Campaign and the London group of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
The Department is on Victoria Street in London. To read more about the event on Facebook, please visit http://www.facebook.com/events/277426555670117 . I hope to see you there!
(c) Symon Hill is associate director of Ekklesia and a member of the Steering Committee of the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT).
To read a Guardian article that Symon wrote last year about dictator debt, please visit http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/nov/03/vince-cable-egypt-di... .