Strange timing – the Falklands dispute continues

Today marks the end of fighting in the Falkland Islands 30 years ago when the Argentinians surrendered to the British. For pedants out there, the British declared an end to military activities on the 20 June.

So the fact that Cristina de Kirchner (President of Argentina) is presenting her case today to the UN for the Falklands yet again strikes me as most ironic.

As I have, surprisingly, become most interested in these British Overseas Territories disputes, I thought a little digging was warranted.

The Falklands is different to Gib, in that there was no clear legal treaty. Although given that Spain has ignored the Treaty of Utrecht for 300 years, tried to invade Gib (and failed), tried to use political and legal recourses, it would have been unlikely to have been different in the Falklands Argentinian case even if there had been a legal treaty.

A bit of history.

To start with, population of the islands is nothing like as old as that of Gib. When Gib became English in 1704, people were still just landing at the Falklands and exploring. A few English, Dutch and French ships landed and made tentative attempts to name them.

The first recorded landing on the Falkland Islands occurred in 1690, and was made at Bold Cove near Port Howard on West Falkland to replenish the water supplies of British ship ‘Welfare’ commanded by John Strong, who named the stretch of water between West and East Falkland ‘Falkland Sound’ after Lord Falkland, who was a financial supporter of Strong’s voyage, Treasurer to the Navy and shortly to become First Lord of the Admiralty

Somewhat later, nearly a hundred years,

The first settlement in the Falkland Islands was established in February 1764 by a French nobleman, Antoine Louise de Bougainville, who named the Islands ‘Isles Malouines’ after St. Malo, the port from which the expedition set out. 

Pesky French, always competing with the Brits. We got there first!! Ironic the Spanish name for the Falklands is actually based on French….

Previously we had the church intervening. There’s a surprise. Remember this for later as it is an important one.

In 1493 Pope Alexander VI, a Spaniard obligated to the Spanish throne, issued a papal bull which drew a line north to south down the Atlantic one hundred leagues west of the Azores. 

Everything East of the line was granted to Portugal, and everything west of the line to Spain.  Portugal and Spain, the two most important Catholic countries of the age, confirmed this division in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas. 

England lodged a formal objection to the papal bull.

And then

In 1766 Political expediency forced the French to accede to Spanish demands that France abandon the colony, which the Spanish claimed contravened both the papal bull of 1494 and the recently signed ‘Family Pact’. 

The formal act of cession was carried out at Fort St. Louis (renamed Port Soledad or Port Solitude by the Spanish) on 1 April 1767 in the presence of Bougainville and a small contingent of Spanish settlers lead by the new Governor of ‘Islas Malvinas’ Don Felipe Ruiz Puente.

But in the meantime….

On 12 January 1765 a British exploratory expedition, consisting of the ships ‘Dolphin’, ‘Tamar’ and ‘Florida’ under the command of Commodore John Byron (grandfather of the poet), reached the Falkland Islands.
A landing was made on 25 January 1765 and the Falkland Islands were formally claimed for the Crown of Great Britain.  A watering-place and vegetable garden were established at Port Egmont. 

So, in the late 18th century, nothing new here, the Falklands were disputed by the British and the Spanish, including a threat of war by the British in 1771. Naturally, the British were making cut backs to the armed forces so withdrew in 1774. Followed, not long after by the withdrawal of the last Spanish governor in 1806. That left the Falklands as a base for local sealers.

Argentina gained independence from Spain in 1816 and claimed sovereignty over the Falklands in 1820, on the basis of the fifteenth century papal bull which – remember, England had objected to – and the subsequent treaty of Tordesillas in the following year, 1494.

The British Royal Navy returned in 1832, concerned about American intervention – slaughtering wildlife indiscriminately, destroying settlements and generally up to no good. The Brits posted a notice of possession. This sounds awfully like what goes on nowadays elsewhere….

In 1840 the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners decided the Falklands were suitable for colonisation (they couldn’t have known about oil back then?) and in 1841 the first governor arrived, leading to more than a hundred years of British colonialisation.

So there we have it, in a nutshell, but when the UN started talks 1960 about decolonisalisation:

The Argentine claim to the Islands rested on the papal bull of 1493 as modified by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, by which Spain and Portugal had divided the New World between themselves; on their title in succession to the early Spanish and French colonists; on the Islands’ proximity to South America; and on the need to end a colonial situation. 

The British claim to the Islands rested on the 1690 landing; on its open, continuous and effective possession, occupation and administration of the Islands since 1833; and on its determination to grant the Falkland Islanders the right to self-determination as recognised in the United Nations Charter. 

The Islanders asserted their wish to remain British, pointing out that their history, language and way of life was bound up with Britain. 

Far from ending a colonial situation, Argentine control of the Islands would create a colony, in direct contravention of the efforts of the United Nations to end colonialisation.  

Now this is where the British ie we, did stuff it up in respect of the Falkland Islanders.

In 1971, following more secret talks and against the wishes of the Islanders, the British and Argentine governments signed a Communications Agreement.  Islanders were free to travel through Argentina, direct air and sea links would be set up between the Islands and Argentina, and post and telephone rates would be harmonised.

The effect of the Agreement was devastating.  The British Government terminated the subsidized shipping link with Montevideo in Uruguay, forcing Islanders to travel through Argentina.  Britain promised to provide a passenger-cargo ship operating to South America, implying that the new ship would be capable of trading with Uruguay if the Argentines ever abused their monopoly over air service, but this pledge was never fulfilled by Britain. 

The Argentines built a temporary airstrip in Stanley in 1972 so that its military-run state airline, Lineas Aereas del Estado (LADE) could operate a weekly service to and from the mainland.  Britain fulfilled its promise to build a permanent airport, which opened in 1976, but which was notably too short to allow direct flights from Britain.. 

Islanders travelling through Argentina were forced to carry Argentine Identity Cards, known as a “tarjeta provisorio” or provisional card, bearing their personal details and the Argentine coat-of-arms.  Issued in Buenos Aires, the much-hated “white card” as Islanders called it, was a de facto Argentine passport, which only Islanders required and not other temporary residents of the Islands from mainland Britain. 

The Argentines set up an office in Stanley to run LADE.  Mail was routed through Argentina.  It was agreed that Argentina would not insist that Islander men endure military service, but this only implied that they were in fact Argentine citizens who were merely being given special treatment.

It was also agreed that medical treatments unavailable in Stanley would be provided in Argentina, and scholarships would be made available for Islander children to study in Buenos Aires, Cordoba and other Argentine cities.  Argentina would provide Spanish language teachers for the Islands’ schoolchildren. 

The Foreign Office brief to its staff in Stanley was to do all they could to foster good relations between Islanders and Argentines.  
In 1974 Britain and Argentina agreed that the Islands would be supplied with petrol, diesel and oil by YPF, the Argentine State Oil Company, at mainland rates.  Again, Islanders objected, increasingly uncomfortable at their economic dependence on Argentina
Britain recognised that unless momentum was maintained in talks with Argentina there was a risk that Argentina might initiate a military solution. 

In July 1979 the new Conservative government sent Minister of State Nicholas Ridley to visit the Islands. 

After his visit Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington put forward three proposals.  His starting point was that ‘Fortress Falklands’ was not feasible on the grounds of cost – Britain could not afford to maintain a sufficiently powerful military presence on the Islands to deter an invasion. 

The first option, ‘Sovereignty Freeze’, whereby both sides agreed to disagree and take no action to further their claims for a specified time, was seen as unacceptable to Argentina.  The second option, ‘Condominium’, a joint government, would see the Argentine flag and Union Jack flying side-by-side, with two police forces, two governors, two official languages, but this was seen as unworkable. 

(Sounds like Peter Caruana’s Andorra solution (joint sovereignty ie Spanish and British) for Gibraltar…. wonder where he got his idea from?)

Nicholas Ridley was sent back to the Islands in November 1980 to try to persuade Islanders to accept the third proposal for ‘leaseback’ whereby nominal sovereignty would be given to Argentina but British administration would be maintained for a fixed number of years until the final handover. 

Islanders were unconvinced, and Parliament gave the proposals a hostile reception, pointing out that British peoples should not be handed over against their will to such an unsavoury regime as the Argentine junta.  In the face of this opposition the Conservative government once again reiterated that the Islanders’ wishes were ‘paramount’.

Interesting that, I always thought it was Lord Carrington who was doing the dirty deals. Nicholas Ridley has always got up my nose, or more specifically, his smoking did. Might have known it was him that was a party to it all. What an obnoxious piece of work he was, and I only saw him once. I’m also surprised Falkland Islanders wanted to remain British after that sort of treatment but I guess the alternative was worse.

Here Ridley is again with his crap views. And more about Britain generally leaving people in the lurch.

Ridley advised that leaseback remained the only feasible solution and recommended that Britain initiate an education campaign to persuade Islanders, but this proposal was rejected by Lord Carrington who felt that any attempt to put pressure on Islanders would be counter-productive. 

However, the cumulative effect of stalled sovereignty negotiations, the British Nationality Act 1981 which would deprive many Islanders of their rights as full British citizens, the announced withdrawal of HMS Endurance, the shelving of plans to rebuild the Royal Marine barracks at Moody Brook, and the proposed closure of the British Antarctic Survey base at Grytviken on South Georgia, was to convince Argentina that Britain had no future interest in the Islands. 

And the next to happen was the war which everyone knows about if they are reading my blogs because you are all old enough to remember it.

I was hugely sceptical about Margaret Thatcher’s initiation of the war. Trailing in popularity polls, it seemed such a blatant move, and it would mean the loss of British lives, some 250 in the end.

Diplomacy, that was the way to sort it, I thought. Or maybe I just didn’t like Thatcher. Either way, I have to say right now, that I think she made a superb decision. Getting rid of the school milk was a good idea too, as no-one really liked it. Ooops, off topic.

Interesting though, that unless you actually do the research and analyse any topic objectively, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. So Britain didn’t want to keep paying for the Falklands (or Gib, or anywhere)? One questions where the money does go in the UK, but that’s another post.

In the meantime, well done to everyone who contributed in the Falklands War.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher summed up the conflict to Parliament, saying:
“The battle of the Falklands was a remarkable military operation, boldly planned, bravely executed and brilliantly accomplished. 
We owe an enormous debt to the British forces and to the merchant marines.  They have been supported by a people united in defence of our way of life and of our sovereign territory….
We went to recapture the Islands, to restore British sovereignty, to restore British administration. 
I do not intend to negotiate on the sovereignty of the Islands in any way except with the people who live there.”  

All quotes from FalklandsInfo


About roughseasinthemed

I write about my life as an English person living in Spain and Gibraltar, on Roughseas, subjects range from politics and current developments in Gib to book reviews, cooking and getting on with life. My views and thoughts on a variety of topics - depending on my mood of the day - can be found over on Clouds. A few pix are over on Everypic - although it is not a photoblog. And of course my dog had his own blog, but most of you knew that anyway. Pippadogblog etc
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11 Responses to Strange timing – the Falklands dispute continues

  1. Perpetua says:

    A really interesting couple of posts, roughseas. I well remember the war itself, but you have filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the situation. And, yes, it’s no coincidence that the Argentinian claim has resurfaced at the 30th anniversary.


    • I had gaps in my own knowledge obviously so thought I would try and repair the damage. While I was thinking about the war, I wanted to look back and see where the arguments had come from (a bit like Gib).

      As for the war, it merits a post in its own right.

      Or that Argentina is struggling economically? I’m interested in this topic from a lot of angles, historical, legal, self-determination, colonialism, and basic politics. The last one is taking precedence as ever, sadly.


  2. Good post! Interesting fact (for me anyway) that my ex-boss Chief Executive at South Holland, Chris Simpkin, left to become the Chief Executive of the Falkland Islands in 2002 and stayed there for six years.


  3. Thanks. I never really knew that much about it until today. There speaks the illiterate history grad from the 80s 😦

    Nice job I would have thought. So many Land Rovers out there, who could not want a job like that?


  4. I remember the images of the young conscript at the end of the war dazed and humiliated in Stanley as the Marines took charge. The leaders, as I recall had done a bunk leaving them to their fate.

    Presumably the papal bull should bind the UK as we were papists at the time? Henry had his tantrum in 1533. In any event, we may base our claim on the International Law principle of ‘Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers’ but that other legal concept of ‘I am the king of the castle’ could apply in favour of the French due to their early settlement.

    All the heads of state, Argentine, Spanish, British and anyone else who thinks they want to unsettle the equilibrium of the Falklands and Gib should be armed with soda syphons and pillows, be put naked in a field and fight it out to the last premier standing. This should be televised worldwide and the revenue spent in trying to help third world poverty.

    I would pay to watch the humiliation


    • I think I vaguely remember that. Can’t have been a good experience (slight understatement there) being a conscript with hard-nosed professional marines coming in.

      Regarding the papal bull, we did object you see, so knowing us, that gives us a get-out 🙂 I see you have been boning up on Henry. Looking for the irish connection were you? 😀

      Like everywhere, I think French, Spanish and British were all keepers at one point, but we stayed. So that’s that.

      And, it would be a far more productive use of time than this endless overpaid wrangling invariably involving far too much international travel etc etc etc. But when they have fought it out, someone needs to say, thanks people, but the status quo remains anyway, but we’ve all had a laugh.


      • No actually, looking up the reformation (is that what is was?) haven’t got round to all the other goodies!

        If we did it would give them a taste of their own, Oh France you won OK no-one’s going to pay any attention but thanks for the entertainment.

        Idea courtesy of Katzinsky.


        • Had a book called Renaissance and Reformation, classic history text book. Interesting period.

          France don’t win anything these days, pretty much like the Brits. Both a spent power.



  5. EllaDee says:

    Good post – I remember the Falklands War but did’t know the ins & outs of it. Those poor islanders – so much meddling by so many with nothing but their own interests at heart.


    • Thanks ED. It seems so long ago – I guess it is – so that’s why I wanted to read up about it and find out a bit more. Like you, I remember it, and realised I knew zilch. Don’t know much know, so worth another read and a bit more research methinks.

      But yes, shame for the Islanders being messed around.


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