The Falkland situation

February 16, 2012

Quién posee las Islas Malvinas?

Argentina has voiced increasingly potent claims of ownership concerning the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas as they are known in Argentina.

I recently read that American actor Sean Penn has slammed the UK inferring that the their position wafts of  “archaic and colonialist ideology..” But what is this increasingly heated toing and froing about? I am British, yet I know nearly nothing about the context of the argument (thanks State education), so I’ve decided to do a little research myself.

The Falklands has an interesting, complex, and long history.

1592 – Most people believe that the Islands were first sighted, other than by American Indians, by English explorer John Davis.

John Davis


1600 – Sebald de Weert, a Dutch captain and vice-admiral of the Dutch East India Company was recognised for accurately plotting the Falkland Islands.

1690 – The Islands were named The Falklands by John Strong, an English captain on route to Chile. The Islands were named after Viscount Falkland (Strong’s boss), who was the Treasurer of the Navy.

1713 – Treaty of Utrecht ratified Spain’s control over its (colonised) territories in the Americas, including the Falklands.

1764 – The earliest territorial claim to the Islands actually came from the French, by Antoine Louis de Bougainville. This was also the period of the first recorded settlement on the Islands, which the French named les Malouines.

1765 – Commodore “Foul-weather Jack” lands on the islands and plants the Union Jack, in a possible attempt to reaffirm possession for the Crown likely to be based on grounds of Davis’s prior discovery. British settlements established on Saunders, which is one of the outlying islands. The next year the British colonials discover the French colony.

1767 – The Spanish were angered at France’s and England’s claim of the Islands. The French were allies of Spain, and as such, ceded ownership to the Spanish after a ‘small’ reimbursement. British forced from the Islands three years later.

1771 – Conventions made within the Treaty of Madrid conceded the Spanish claim to Britain. Officially, the Islands did not become a British colony until 1833.

1816 – Prior to the British colony being established, the islands had reverted to administration de facto by the vice-royalty of the River Plate, an administrative entity consisting of representatives from the Spanish empire from present day Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Bolivia. This entity claimed independence from the Spanish Crown during the time when Spanish colonies were in revolt against Spain.

Falkland Islands


1825 – Britain and the Argentine Government signed the Treaty of Amity, Trade and Navigation. No mention of the Falkland Islands.

1829 – A Buenos Aires resident (originally French and German connections), Louis Vernet, an interesting character, undertook a private venture and established a colony at Puerto de la Soledad. Vernet was then named unpaid Commander of his concession by the Buenos Aires Government.

1831 – 5 years after establishing his colony on the Islands, Vernet seized three American sealing ships, in an attempt to control fishing of the surrounding waters. As a response, America sent the USS Lexington to the region and the vessel destroyed Vernet’s colony at Puerto de la Soledad, and the remaining inhabitants were said to have left on the Lexington. America then proclaimed the Islands ‘free of any government’.

1833 – Since this time, British administration has remained unbroken.

The history continues from here, and if you’d like to read on please see this detailed historic timeline. It is important to note that the five years between 1829-1831, includes the only significant Argentine settlement, and appears to be, as Michael Kuczynski put it in his FT Comment article, “the fons et origo of Buenos Aires’ claim to the islands.” However, it is abruptly apparent the history makes the situation far more complex.

Escalating tensions.

Cristina Kirchner has recently claimed that the UK is “militarising the South Atlantic, one more time” in reference to the War in 1982. It was actually the military junta of Argentina, led by General Leopoldo Galtieri that instigated the War in 1982, in an effort to improve their waning public popularity, mainly attributed to the dire economic situation of high inflation and low growth. Even the Peruvian Government attempted to dissuade the General from launching a military attack based on the foreseeable reaction from the UK.

General Leopoldo Galtieri

Mario Menéndez (right) with Leopoldo Galtieri, the President of Argentina, in April 1982 on the Falkland Islands. Source:

Is this about oil?

Some commentators believe that the issue of oil exploration is a key driver of the current Argentinian position. According to sources, there are significant oil reserves in the surrounding waters of the Falkland Islands, and even if the four British oil interests aren’t officially promoting this fact, the Argentinian’s firmly believe that this is the case. Ownership, or even partial-ownership of these exploration rights would, without any doubt, significantly bolster Argentina’s economic growth.

What about the inhabitants?

The Falkland Islands population of over 3,000 is predominantly of British descent, and these inhabitants have stated that they wish to remain British. In fact, there are even more Chilean’s than Argentinians living in the Falklands, and we are likely to hear Chile’s official position on the situation soon as David Cameron, the British PM is planning a lengthy phone conversation with his Chilean counterpart to discuss this issue.

Argentina and their spokesperson, Sean Penn, are criticising the UK for exercising colonial behaviour, but the act of forcing control by one nation over another’s inhabitants is the definition of Colonialism. This is exactly what the Argentina’s objective appears to be, and this seems somewhat hypocritical. One article, which I found rather amusing but also drew strong parallels from, likens Argentina’s current rhetoric to that of forcing Alaska to become part of Canada.

Sean Penn and Cristina Kirchner


I found the following excerpt from PiCA, a Global Research Organisation, which sums up the situation neatly from an International Law perspective.

“The dispute over the Falkland/ Malvinas Islands is interesting and complex, with no obvious answer within the realms of international law, hence the fact that is it still an unsolved dispute after so many years. Even if the British are indeed colonising the territory there were no peoples being subjugated as there were never any indigenous people- hence it is not really colonization which traditionally means usurping the culture and rights of indigenous people, as was done for instance by the Australians to the aboriginals. This suggests that the legal formulas do not deal with a case where in effect there are no indigenous peoples and thus it cannot be compared to British, Spanish or Portuguese, to name but a few examples of Colonialism in other parts of the world…  Furthermore, the culture, language and loyalty of all the people on the islands are clearly British and despite the arguments which have been provided against their self- determination, it is a factor that simply cannot be ignored.  Thus, it appears as though there is no clear legal framework to solve this case which is why we still see the issue of these islands in today’s news, so many years later in 2009.”