Thirty-three years ago this month, Argentina attacked the Falkland Islands, and Great Britain dispatched a task force to recover them. Over the last five to ten years, Argentina – led by its President, Cristina Fernandes de Kirchner, has hankered after these islands with political and military pressure. The common terms used by Argentina include the oft-shouted accusation of ‘Pirates!” and the usage of the term ‘Illegal usurpation’ of the islands. The history of those islands and the various claims to them have swayed backwards and forwards in a tangled web, but whose claim is right, and how can we solve the argument once and for all?
Firstly, I am not going to go into every detail of the history and the tangled web which surrounds it; many of the points – who said what when or raised a flag, are largely irrelevant to the argument, which rests upon a few core principles of geography and international law. So, for the layman, I am going to put these down along with the Argentine claims, and see if we can debunk them, or if, in fact, they have a legitimate claim to these islands.
1) Uti Possidetis
The main Argentine claim to the Falkland Islands comes in the form of a curious piece of international law known as ‘Uti Possidetis’ – now, to understand this, you must know that what we now call ‘Argentina’ was a Spanish colony and collection of states until July 9th 1816 – in fact, independence was claimed in the name of ‘The United Provinces of South America’ – a conglomerate of several states gathered around Buenos Aires. When Spain withdrew from this war of independence, the law of Uti Possidetis came into play; the crux of which states that territory occupied and possessed by the new incumbent over the old shall now become the property of the victorious party. ‘Uti Possidetis’ is an old feature of Roman Law which translates as; “As you possess” – or more fully; “May you continue to possess such as you do possess.” Under this piece of law, Argentina claims that the Falkland Islands – once a Spanish garrison post, became its rightful territory.
Debunking Uti Possidetis: Though the main Argentine argument stands firm in international law, there is a major problem with this claim: Uti Possidetis states that land or territory occupied and possessed by the new incumbent becomes their own. However, no Argentinian forces ever set foot upon those islands nor claimed them. They were not occupied, they were not possessed and indeed they weren’t even mentioned in the articles of surrender or acceptance from the Spanish or the Argentinians. If the law applied to all Spanish territory outside of Spain, then it could have been used to claim the Canary Islands or the Balearics too…where does it stop? Well…it stops where you do; with the land occupied and possessed.
2) Proximity – The islands being part of the Patagonian Continental Shelf.
Argentina’s second claim – and often its most loudly declared, is the proximity of the Falkland Islands to Argentina and the fact that they are attached to the Patagonian Continental Shelf…therefore, at least in Argentine eyes, it is a part of their country – albeit separated by a somewhat large stretch of water.
Debunking Geographical Proximity: Nobody can deny that the islands are closer to what we now know as Argentina than they are to the UK, but this doesn’t really stand up: Greenland belongs to Denmark, the Canary islands belong to Spain, the Azores to Portugal….location doesn’t count in international law. If it did, well then Ireland would own the Azores, Morocco the Canary Islands, the USA Bermuda and Iceland would probably own Greenland or else be forced to fight it out with Canada…it is a silly idea. As to being part of the Patagonian shelf…well, geographers now dispute this as well, not that it matters, as per the above reason, but can we kill this claim off completely? – Well, yes. You see, Patagonia was never part of the ‘United Provinces of South America’ which claimed independence from Spain. This land was occupied by indigenous tribes until Argentina began to expand between 1843-1902 (remember that the British permanently occupied the islands in 1833) – and it expanded by bloody massacre of the Pampas tribes. In essence, being part of the Patagonian Shelf…even if the islands were proven to be so, matters not a bit, for Patagonia was not part of the ‘Argentina’ which claims the Falkland Islands.
3) The UK needs to comply with UN laws to de-colonise the Falkland Islands.
Dating back to 1965 and again in 1974 the United Nations began to look at the decolonisation of old territories, with a special demand that the UK and Argentina meet to resolve the issue of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. Argentina claims that the UK has consistently failed to meet these demands, and wishes to retain itself as a colonial power.
Debunking Decolonisation: There are two issues at stake here; the first of decolonisation and the second of talks with Argentina to resolve the dispute. As to decolonisation of the islands, however, there are a few major issues: Firstly, the Falkland Islands are not classed as a Colony, but as a ‘non-self-governing overseas territory’. Secondly, the British Empire Act of 1961 allows for all ex-colonial territories to decolonise themselves at will; the first country to do so was Jamaica in 1962. Thirdly, by having voted in their recent referendum (10-11th March 2013) a landslide 99.8% of the population wished to remain a British sovereign territory – by so-doing, they are deemed as having “decolonised themselves” in international law. As far as goes talks to resolve the dispute between the two countries, the UK did, in fact, begin a process of talks with Argentina throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s, by which time the Falkland Islands were slowly – and very underhandedly – being transferred into Argentine administration. In 1982, however, General Galtieri, head of the Argentine Military Junta, determined not to wait, but to attack the islands, determined to gain fame by a military more than a political victory. The British public rose up in defence of the islands and their people and a task force was sent to retake them. Since that time, the UK has entered into no more talks about sovereignty. The near-transfer of those islands towards Argentine administration still rankles many as amongst the most underhand actions taken by the UK government. As an aside, if Uti Possidetis did ever reside with Argentina prior to 1982, then after having taken the islands back and forced Argentina to surrender, then the law resides now with the UK.
4) The islanders are British and should go home.
Argentina claims that the islanders – which it terms the ‘Kelpers’, are British and should therefore go home. In this mindset, it is further claimed that the referendum in 2013 was illegal, and as relevant as if several thousand British people in mainland Argentina held such a vote and attempted to declare themselves independent.
Debunking the “Go home Kelpers” claim: Where is home? – Who is in their home really? Argentinians are transplanted Spaniards, for a start…should they go ‘home’? Americans are transplanted British, Polish, German, Dutch, Italian, African…well, you get the point. Hardly anyone these days is indigenous…how far back do we go? Africa? Romans, for instance, are displaced Trojans…Romulus and Remus were the last of the people who fled from the city of Troy in the 1200’s BC – so is Rome really Greco-Turkish? The point is that the Falkland Islanders are home. They have known no other home. There were no indigenous people on the islands ever, so they’re pretty much as close to home as anyone can be. International law cares nothing for where you are from, but where you are now, and upholds the “Inalienable right to self-determination” (which Argentina signed up to in 1965) – which right the islanders exercised in 2013 in their referendum, which was overseen by a number of UN nations and declared legal. By Argentina’s claim, they should all be packing up and returning to their ‘home’ in Spain as well!
5) Because we want them!
This really is the crux of the debate, and falls down dramatically…well, pretty much everywhere. This one doesn’t even require debunking, as you can imagine, but let’s explore a few points here. Argentina does NOT want the islanders; just the islands, yet a nation is its people and their democratic rights and wishes. The two are inseparable. In order to counter this, Argentina planned in 1982 for a ‘final solution’ to the ‘problem’ of the islanders by mass-execution. No people = no claim. The people of those islands do not want to be a part of Argentina, and by the very act of coveting them, Argentina therefore espouses the ‘colonial’ mindset against which it is arguing in the first place! It has been claimed that the realisation of the oil wealth of the islands has prompted British interests, but this is bunk: Nobody knew of oil under the Falklands in 1982, and any oil revenues will go to the islands and the islanders – conversely, Argentina wants to take them all for itself. It is claimed that the issue of the islands is a political standpoint to garner votes…well again, whilst the 1982 war certainly had Margaret Thatcher re-elected, yet British politicians refuse to discuss the issue. Again, conversely, it is all that Kirchner talks about (when she is not being racist to the Chinese, of course!) and now all public transport – and even the new 50 peso note is adorned with “Las Malvinas son Argentinas” – the Argentine government controls over 80% of the media and the people there are becoming brainwashed by the government, which is still on a wave of popularity over the islands…a smoke-screen to give people a cause, which means Kirchner doesn’t have to deal with the issues of starvation and mass-unemployment in her country. “Because we want them” is actually the only claim from Argentina which stands, and that alone because you cannot argue with a fool.
The end result: The end result of all of this is that the Falkland Islands have never been Argentinian, and also can never be. No British Prime Minister would or could give them over as was almost done by 1981 – Argentina screwed itself over by invading and attacking what it was going to get anyway, and we all know what we were taught by our parents; “If you snatch, you don’t get.” In truth, there is no case to answer, nor is there any justifiable claim which Argentina can uphold. Uti Possidetis, Geographical Location, UN Demands…all of it means nothing due to the right of self-determination as voted upon by the islanders; the only legitimate and now indigenous peoples those islands have ever possessed. People whose families worked the land, were buried in it and became a part of it. Ultimately, the Falkland Islands are not pieces of rock to be bartered over, but someone’s home, and that counts for everything.
Argentina is a beautiful country inhabited by wonderful people, but there is a brainwashed element which seeks to extirpate peaceful farmers by force and perhaps even genocide…and all for votes and oil. It is now time for President Kirchner to relinquish these old claims and tell her people to focus upon building the country; not to waste the country’s precious little wealth on war planes, missiles and weapons of death and destruction. Britain is no threat; we have no desire to conquer someone’s country or attack it – we are the world’s ‘good guys’ – we build, we defend rights, we bring aid and rescue, but when we defend ourselves, it is still with every vestige of energy which gained us a quarter of the globe two hundred years ago. Our ideals have changed as a nation, but our prowess very much has not. I believe that within 3-5 years there will be a second war for the Falkland islands…a war which the people there do not want to see; but that we may be educated on it, it is wise to know the facts, and the fact is this: The Falkland Islands are British – and for ever.