Argentina is persisting with its claims to the Falkland Islands, perhaps with a dangerous insistence that many in London had underestimated. Hector Timerman, the Argentine Foreign Minister, recently made outlandish statements and claims, and led open rows with British officials during his recent visit to London.
As Argentina’s claims on the islands began to resurface again, last year Britain had to divert assets and investment from other more pressing situations in West Africa and the Middle East, in order to build up its naval forces in the South Atlantic.
Stripping away the layers it is actually interesting to look at the history of the Falkland Islands in an effort to determine who has the greatest claim.
When discovered by Europeans in the 16th century the Falkland Islands were uninhabited. It was not until 1764, when France became the first to establish a colony on one of the islands, that people began to live there.
A year later, and unaware of the French colony, a British captain established a British settlement on a different island. The French then left their island in 1766 allowing the Spanish to take control.
In 1770 the Spanish then attacked the British island forcing its occupants to flee, but a year later the British were back to re-establish their claim and the colony town of Port Egmont became an important port-of-call for British ships in the area.
In 1776, the British withdrew its forces from the island due to the upcoming American Revolutionary War, yet the British citizens remained behind and the islands continued to be a part of the commonwealth.
In 1780 the Spanish then arrived back at the islands proclaiming their own sovereignty, destroying the British colony, and forcing the British islanders to leave. The Spanish ruled the islands from Buenos Aires until they left in 1811 due to various pressures from war at home and also calls for independence from their various colonies. Despite their departure the Spanish still claimed ownership of the islands (much like the British had), although British citizens were able to move back to the islands.
The first Argentine claim to the islands occurred in 1820 when an American colonel David Jewett arrived on one of the island with 40 soldiers and claimed them for the area that would become Argentina. He spent less than 6 months there before leaving.
In 1832 Argentina tried to establish a penal colony on the island, but upon arrival the soldiers mutinied and killed the captain.
In 1833 the British returned with a naval task force to permanently re-take control of the islands.
During the first and second world wars the Falklands offered an important port for the British Navy.
Argentine delegates first condemned Britain's "act of international piracy" in establishing a colony in the Falkland Islands at the London meeting of the International Parliamentary Union.
In 1976, after a military junta took control of Argentina, a military base was covertly established on Southern Thule (one of the islands). It was discovered by the British in 1977, where upon they made a diplomatic protest.
Argentina invaded the islands on 2 April 1982. For a brief period, the Falkland Islands found themselves under Argentine control. The British responded with an expeditionary force that landed seven weeks later and, after fierce fighting, forced the Argentine garrison to surrender on 14 June 1982. The junta that had taken control of Argentina and led the attack on the islands was toppled soon after.
Within the Falkland Islands Margeret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at the time, is considered a heroine because of the determination of her response to the Argentine invasion. The islands celebrate Margaret Thatcher Day on every 10 January, and named a street Thatcher Drive after her.
Based on historical facts Britain clearly has the greatest claim over the islands, all Argentina can say is that the islands are closer to Buenos Aires than to London. So where do the Argentines find the sense of conviction to make such bold claims of ownership over the islands?
Diplomatic analysts say that the reason for Argentina’s increased interest in the islands is a political ploy by the President Cristina Kirchner. The battle for control of the Falklands is being made into a far bigger deal than it needs to be in an attempt to shift public attention from domestic economic and political concerns, amongst other problems.
David Cameron the British Prime Minister has taken a rather rational position and stated that the Falkland islanders themselves should decide to which country they wish to be linked; the vote will take place in March.
However Timmerman has dismissed this idea, remarking that the vote “doesn’t mean anything because if you ask the colonial people who came with a colonial power and replaced the people who were living in the Islands (although we have already confirmed that British citizens lived on the islands long before Argentina began to take interest), it is asking the British citizens of the Malvinas Islands if they want to remain British.”
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com