Argentina says it wants the Falkland Islands. Or rather, not just that it wants them, but that it wants them back.
Today, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner wrote an open letter to David Cameron, cc’ing the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, accusing Britain of forcibly acquiring the islands and saying they should be returned.
Didn’t go down very well with the recipient of the letter – just hours later, Mr Cameron pretty much said “well, you can’t have them”.
This comes days after disputed territory in Antarctica was called Queen Elizabeth Land, provoking the wrath of Argentina, and after a year of tit-for-tat exchanges last year with the 30th annivesary of the invasion.
FactCheck’s taken a look at what Ms de Kirchner says.
“One hundred and eighty years ago on this same date, January 3rd, in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism, Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands, which are situated 14,000km (8,700 miles) away from London.”
The islands have for a long time been a disputed territory.
While even earliest accounts of who first sighted it, and who first landed on it are disputed – some suggest that while the Dutch first saw it, the Brits first landed on it – earlier claims to sovereignty also include the French.
The French established a colony, Port Louis, in 1764, on East Falkland, in 1764. They sold it to the Spanish for £24,000 in the late 1767. It was renamed Puerto de la Soledad, and later, the French designation for the islands, Les Iles Malouines, would become Las Islas Malvinas.
Meanwhile, the British had taken possession of West Falkland and established a base at the new Port Egmont, until 1774, when the Brits withdrew their settlement, according to the Foreign Affairs select committee.
By 1811, the Spaniards had also left their settlement, and the island had no inhabitants other than sheep and cattle. It also had a couple of plaques, or the equivalent of – one from the Brits, which was taken to Spain and later reclaimed, and one from the Spanish.
In November 1820, Colonel Daniel Jewett, a US navyman, claimed possession of the Malvinas on behalf of Buenos Aires.
Argentina says that the UK not only didn’t protest but actively encouraged it through signing the 1825 Anglo-Argentine Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation. In that treaty, the UK agreed to recognise Argentine sovereignty and independence.
By 1829, when Buenos Aires attempted to place the islands under the control of Louis Vernet, Argentina hadn’t been given any reason to think it would be stopped.
Vernet established a colony only after seeking the permission of both the United Provinces and the British government, aware that London still claimed the Falklands for the British crown.
Argentina also says that after it acquired independence from Spain in 1816, it gained the rights to its territory. The UK disputes this saying that that principle – of uti possedetis – “is not accepted as a general principle of international law”.
FactCheck isn’t quite sure why the UK says this. As late as 1986, the International Court of Justice affirmed the use of the principle in the case, Burkina-Faso v Mali.
But, when Ms de Kirchner refers to the 1833 British claim on the islands, she has grounds for believing that the islands were beginning to fall under de facto Argentine control.
“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.”
The foreign and commonwealth office has consistently denied that anyone was removed from the islands by force.
Today, a spokeswoman repeated that denial in the face of Ms de Kirchner’s letter.
And a foreign affairs select committee report of June 2008 would appear to repeat that position, saying that the Brits “requested that the Argentines leave”. It doesn’t say whether they complied with that request or not, but does say that “British occupation therefore resumed”.
The FCO website, however, in describing that portion of history, does say that HMS Clio in 1833 told Juan Mestivier, whom Buenos Aires had appointed as Civil and Political Governor the previous year, to leave. The 24-man garrison that had arrived with him was also told to go.
However, contemporary accounts written by Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle which also went to the island, suggested that some settlers of various nationalities who had been living there were encouraged to stay. That would imply that while an Argentine garrison was asked to leave, there was certainly no expulsion of all the island’s inhabitants.
Britain has denied ever expelling civilian Argentine populations.
“In 1960, the United Nations proclaimed the necessity of ‘bringing to an end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations’. In 1965, the General Assembly adopted, with no votes against (not even by the United Kingdom), a resolution considering the Malvinas Islands a colonial case and inviting the two countries to negotiate a solution to the sovereignty dispute between them.”
Here, Ms de Kirchner is referring to the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial countries and Peoples of 14 December 1960.
That says that the General Assembly “solemnly proclaim the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations”.
In 1965, the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 2065, the Question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) where it noted the “existence of a dispute between the Governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland concerning sovereignty over the said Islands”.
It went on to invite both governments “to proceed without delay with the negotiations … with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the problem”.
And, that was adopted by a vote of 94 in favour, to 0 against, with 14 absentions. Britain did not vote against it, and went on to negotiate with Argentina during 1967 and 1968.
What Ms de Kirchner failed to state, however, was that the remainder of the resolution also said that negotiations should continue “bearing in mind … the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands”.
Interests which, Britain says, suggest that on the principles of self-determination Falklanders wish to remain an Overseas Territory of the UK.
By Fariha Karim