Monday, 7 January 2013

Falkland islands - Let the islanders decide

Some thirty years after the war in the Falklands ended there is still diplomatic tension over the small islands with Argentina demanding the islands and Great Britain argues that it should be up to the islands in a self-determining vote, one is due to be held in three months time.

 The argument goes back to the early Nineteenth century when the British used strong arm tactic to remove an Argentine Garrison from the islands in January 1833. It is true that the British Empire has used hard line tactics and even bullied in its’ bid to dominate Trade routes and territory however did Britain have the right?

Well, the first sighting of the island was by a passing Dutch ship in 1600 and an English vessel under Captain Strong  sailed through the islands in 1690. The French were the first to land a colony in 1764 on  East Falkland and in a coincidence the following year the English landed the following year on Saunders Island but claimed the island group in the name of King George. Both colonies were in complete ignorance of each other.

This is where Argentina come in, teniously. In 1767 the French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire who put it under their local governor in Beunos Aires. Spain then decided to make things nice and neat and evicted the British from their colony in Port Egmont in 1770. Negotiations were held to avert a full blown war and the Spanish promised to restore the fort and all it's stores but retained the nature of sovereignty still remained unanswered.

War did tear the world assunder some six years later with the American War of Independence, which rapidly turned into a world wide conflict. The British government were forced to reannalyse how they used their resources and where they were scattered, even prior to the conflict. In 1774 the isles were abandonned with a plaque claiming sovereignty was left behind.

Spain, likewise maintained a governor until 1808 and a colony until 1811 before similiarly leaving a plaque stating their sovereignty.

Following the collapse of the Spanish Empire and the establishment of the United Provinces of the River Plate, a privateer captain David Jewett landed in 1820 and claimed them in the name of the latter. Luis Vermet was set up a settlement for the Provinces in 1828. He requested protection from Beunos Aires (who made him the military and Civil commander of the islands) and from Britain, should they ever return.

1831 saw Vermet fall out with the United States causing an incident by holding several fishing and Whaling vessels before the USN Lexington came down and carried out some gunboat diplomacy to free their citizens.

1832 the Royal Navy arrived and orderred the Argentine garrison to leave the islands, although the senior Argentine officer protested he failed to act and the islands passed peacefully to Britain. The islands did not fall under British jurisdiction so the perpetrators of the Gaucho murders could not be tried for killing British citizens. The Royal Navy set up a waystation and ran the islands as a Squadron base until 1840 whence it became an official colony.

It is a strange historical story as to who has right if any. Ultimatly though Britain has been in posession for almost two hundred years. Generations of islanders have grown up and descending from British citizens. It is completely different to contested land such as Alsace-Lorraine which changed between Germany and France on a generational time scale.

I know, as an Englishman my international view on this will be bias, indeed if I was Argentinean I'd probably be writing about the Malvinas belonging under Buenos Aires. However I'm only arguing that the islanders themselves should be given the voice, after all it is their home and their way of life.

Sean Penn may have said that the British are rattling the Imperialist sabre over the islands but the simple point of the matter is the Islands are British overseas territory until such time as the islanders say No. If after the referendum they do decide to become an Argentine province then I'm sure a timely hand back, like Hong Kong's will be carried out.

The question is, if the Islanders vote to stay British - will Argentina leave them alone?

1 comment:

  1. Course they won't!! One of the BBC reports about their bitchy letter last week said something along the lines of saying their referendum would be illegal and non-binding...