IN NEWS: Falkland Islands Dispute
- Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wrote an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron demanding the return of the disputed territory (Falkland Islands), and describing the British claim on it as a blatant exercise of 19th Century colonialism.
- The row came ahead of a referendum, in March, on the status of the British-administered islands which Argentina calls “La Malvinas”. (A referendum is a direct vote in which an entire electorate is asked to either accept or reject a particular proposal)
- “The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity,” Ms Kirchner said (the reason why Argentina rejects referendum).
- “The Question of the Malvinas Islands (Argentine name of Falkland Islands) is also a cause embraced by Latin America and by a vast majority of peoples and governments around the world that reject colonialism,” Ms Kirchner said.
- Within hours, UK firmly rejected any negotiations and said it would “do everything to protect the interests of the Falklands islanders”.
Background of the Disputed Falkland Islands
- The windswept and almost-treeless territory is made up of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, as well as hundreds of smaller islands and islets.
- The islands are said to have been sighted in the 1500s. An English captain made the first recorded landing in 1690, and France and Britain subsequently established settlements.
- Britain claimed the whole of the Falkand Islands in 1765, while France transferred its settlement to Spain in 1767. Although Britain withdrew from its settlement in 1774 on economic grounds, it never relinquished its claim to sovereignty.
- Spain abandoned its settlement in 1811 leaving the islands uninhabited apart from occasional visits from British and US fishing vessels.
- In 1820, newly-independent Argentina claimed sovereignty, and later founded a settlement. Britain established control over the islands in 1833 in support of its own earlier claim to sovereignty, and expelled the Argentines. Most Argentine settlers left gradually thereafter. The British who then settled came to make up the islands’ first permanent population.
- Argentina continued to press its claim to the islands, which intensified in the 1960s.
- In 1965 the UN designated the territory as a “colonial problem” and called on both countries to negotiate a solution.
- Talks were held on and off for more than 17 years, failed to resolve the issue. After months of ostentatious display of military power, Argentine troops set foot on the islands on 2 April 1982.
- Britain and Argentina waged a brief but bitter war over the territory in 1982.
- Though Britain reclaimed the islands the dispute has continued to simmer.
- London and Buenos Aires restored diplomatic relations in 1990.
- In February 2010, tensions rose further when a British company began exploring for oil near the Falklands’ waters.
- Argentina had responded to the drilling plans by introducing new rules requiring all ships travelling to the Falklands through its waters to have a permit.
- Early in 2012 the British government dispatched one of its newest destroyers, HMS Dauntless, to the South Atlantic to patrol the Falklands coast.
- Buenos Aires responded by formally complaining to the UN that Britain was “militarising” the area.
- The Falkland Islands government decided to counter Argentine claims by scheduling a referendum for the first half 2013 on the status of the islands, saying that it wanted to “send a firm message to Argentina that the islanders want to remain British”. Britain has said it will respect the result of the vote.
Possible Reasons for the dispute
- Land is a resource which will always be scarce.
- The seabed around the islands is thought to contain substantial oil reserves, but although there has been extensive exploration by oil companies, exploitation of the reserves has not yet begun.
- Argentina says it has a right to the islands, which it calls the Malvinas, because it inherited them from the Spanish crown in the early 1800s. It has also based its claim on the islands’ proximity to the South American mainland.
- Argentina regards the referendum as illegal, claiming that the islanders are “occupiers” and not legitimate citizens.
- Argentina urged Britain to abide by a 1960 U.N. resolution that proclaimed the necessity of “bringing to an end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations”.
- Argentina also cited a 1965 resolution inviting the two countries to “negotiate a solution” to the dispute.
- Argentina accuses Britain of “forcibly” occupying the islands exactly 180 years ago, on January 3, 1833, and changing its demography by expelling the original Argentinean population and replacing it with British settlers.
- Argentina continues to assert its claims to the UK-administered Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas), South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands in its constitution, forcibly occupying the Falklands in 1982, but in 1995 agreed to no longer seek settlement by force.
- Britain rests its case on its long-term administration of the Falklands and on the principle of self-determination for the islanders, who are almost all of British descent.
- Britain said the people of the Falklands had “a clear desire to remain British” and the Argentinean government should respect their right to self-determination.
- UK continues to reject Argentine requests for sovereignty talks.