Friday, April 17, 2015

The Falklands Affair

For a relatively small group of islands in the South Atlantic, the Falklands have, now for hundreds of years, been exceedingly contentious land. Various nations have historically asserted claims, however it is Britain and Argentina who remain bitterly embroiled in dispute.  

Spain was delegated the French settlement of Port Saint Louis in 1676, which it accordingly renamed Puerto Soledad. When ensuing colonial rebellions needed burly rejoinder, the Spanish were forced to abandon their possession, leaving the islands largely uninhabited. 

Louis Vernet, a German merchant of French descent, was accorded land on East Falkland in 1823 by the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, precursor to Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. However, Vernet sought permission from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires, agreeing to provide regular reports and expressing a desire for Britain's safekeeping of his settlement in the likely event of a return to a permanent presence in the Falklands, as was written by Jason Lewis.

While Britain had withdrawn from the Falklands in 1774, she had never ceded jurisdiction, leaving a plaque stating: "Be it known to all nations that the Falkland Islands, with this fort, the storehouses, wharfs, harbors, bays, and creeks thereunto belonging are the sole right and property of His Most Sacred Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc. In witness whereof this plate is set up, and his Britannic Majesty’s colors left flying as a mark of possession by S. W. Clayton, commanding officer at Falkland Islands". 

Britain's reestablishment of rule in 1833 may be seen as somewhat controversial but with a justifiable premise, nonetheless. The denizens of the islands are mostly descended from British families and identify wholly with their British heritage. Argentina's claims to the Falklands are, most tenably, geographical, with the islands lying some 300 miles (500 kilometers) off Argentinian shores.

Argentina's military encroachment in April of 1981 was almost exclusively a publicity stunt attempting to detract attention from the heavy-handed military government under which the economy was flailing and the population was continually suppressed. Leopoldo Galtieri, President of Argentina, ordered the invasion of the Falklands, as he knew regaining the "Malvinas" would raise popularity for him and the ruling government. As soon as Argentinian soldiers stepped on the Falklands, however, responsibility was theirs for starting a hopeless armed conflict against a nation who would never allow for a violation of her sovereignty. After much loss of life, most casualties being on the Argentinian side, the conflict resolved nothing and placed the Falklands back in British hands.


The most recent Argentinian rhetoric has been against the drilling of oil in the North Falklands Basin, reported the economist. Legal proceedings are to take place, according to Argentina's Secretary for Matters Relating to the Falkland Islands, against five companies. This he announced in London. 


Diplomacy has, unfortunately, achieved far too little for the dispute over who the islands righty belong to, and Argentinian leadership often makes the point that it cannot be to a nation some 8,000 miles away. Although implausible that Argentina will ever acquire the Falklands, legally, it would set a dangerous precedent. Distance does not determine any nation's right to land where there is a population identifying with another. Even Russia broaches the right to self-determination, one of Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, in defense of its roguish involvement in Ukraine.


While financial compensation would seem a legitimate step towards resolving the still apparent strife between these two nations, it would be unlikely that both sides would agree to it and would find a sum that both seem appropriately represents the value of the Falklands. Furthermore, the idea would also find political opponents in the respective parliaments of the concerned nations. MPs in Britain would likely argue that the United Kingdom has no obligation to pay for something that is rightfully theirs, while their Argentinian counterparts would see clear affirmation of their right to the islands if a financial compensation were to be discussed. 


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