FALKLAND ISLANDS
A little piece of Britain in the South Atlantic

The flag of the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands, situated in the South Atlantic just off the southern end of the South American continent, have been a British possession for many centuries. The uninhabited islands were first claimed for the United Kingdom in the 18th century.

There has been a permanent settlement on the islands since 1833, and the modern Falkland Islanders are almost entirely descended from British stock. Both the official and spoken language of the islands is English. The islanders have always considered themselves to be British, and have no wish to be anything other than that.

During the mid to late 20th century, the British Empire was breaking up. This was the result of fighting two cripplingly expensive world wars, and a general lack of interest in maintaining an expensive colonial Empire. Those world wars had bankrupted the United Kingdom and left it eclipsed by the might of the two emerging super powers, the USA and the Soviet Union.

By 1981, most of the colonial possessions had been granted independence, beginning with India in 1948. As the power of the United Kingdom waned, and its role as a military power diminished, its armed forces were greatly reduced in size. This reduction in the nations fighting strength had in particular, a very severe impact on the Royal Navy's ability to protect the UK's most remote possessions.

Argentina

Argentina has always maintained a spurious claim over the Falkland Islands, based on nothing more than the geographical proximity of the islands to the Argentine mainland. In fact, Argentina also lays claim to the Falkland Island dependencies of South Georgia, the South Sandwich islands and the British Antarctic Territory. It is akin to the United Kingdom claiming the territory of France because of its proximity to the UK!

Additionally, Argentina has always been an unstable country, and has had to endure a succession of corrupt military dictatorships. Such was the case in 1982. At that time, the Argentine economy was in tatters and the people suffering under an oppressive and brutal military regime.

Since at least 1981, the military junta in Argentina had been considering a military adventure in the Falkland Islands as a means of diverting the peoples attention away from the crumbling economy.

During the preceding decade, the British government had been giving out many tacit signals to the Argentines indicating they were more than willing to cede the islands to Argentina. However, in no way were the people of the islands having anything to do with that notion, regardless of the bribes and incentives offered to them by the British Government.

It is symptomatic of the past British Governments often cynical attitude toward its citizens overseas, that it was considered fully acceptable to cede the Falkland Islands and its people to an odious and brutal foreign military dictatorship. This however should not be a surprise, given the obsession with cost and profit which was all too prevalent under the Conservative Thatcher Government.

Perhaps the strongest signal given to Argentina was the fact the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship, Endurance, was withdrawn from service under John Nott's notorious 1981 Defence Review. This action contributed to the Argentine belief that Britain was unwilling and unable to defend her possessions in the South Atlantic. At the same time, the British Antarctic survey announced budget cuts that would force closure of the Grytviken base on South Georgia.

Argentina Invades

On April 2nd 1982, a massive invasion of the Islands by Argentine forces took place. The 80 Royal Marines and local volunteer force were overpowered after courageous resistance and the Islands were placed under Argentine rule. The British parliament were left floundering and in a state of shock. Eventually the decision was made to send a military task force to the South Atlantic to re-take the islands.

It is interesting to note that despite this unprovoked attack on British territory and the subsequent invasion of enemy forces, our so-called allies in NATO were not exactly keen on coming forward to offer military assistance. In fact, Spain felt sympathy towards the position of Argentina, doubtless spurred on by a fit of pique over the Gibraltar situation.

The combined British Task Force was dispatched on April 3rd, the first troops landing at San Carlos Bay on May 21st. By June 14th, the Argentine invaders had been overcome after fierce sea, land and air battles. 12,000 troops surrendered. 258 Britons, including three Falkland Islands civilians, lost their lives.

To date, the United Kingdom maintains a strong military presence on the Falkland Islands, enough to deter any further Argentine military adventures. However, the islanders must remain ever vigilant, as British Governments can never be relied upon to protect their kith and kin, especially if they can sell them down the river for diplomatic ends.

The Falkland Islands Today

Map of the Falkland Islands showing the exclusion zone and oil field

Lately, with another economic crisis running riot in Argentina, and a government needing a distraction to save its own political skin, the Falkland Islands have once again stepped centre stage. Argentina is once again pressing its outrageous claims on the islands, especially since significant oil reserves were discovered around the territory. The British government are thankfully having none of it, nor would the British electorate allow them to have any of it.

In March 2013 a referendum on sovereignty was held on the Falkland Islands, at the request of the islanders themselves. They wanted to establish once and for all in the eyes of the world, that they have no wish to fall under the suzerainty of Argentina, and wish to remain firmly attached to the United Kingdom as a self governing overseas territory.

In the words of  Gavin Short, a Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly, spoken on the 12th June 2012:

"We have thought carefully about how to convey a strong message to the outside world that expresses the views of the Falklands people in a clear, democratic and incontestable way. So we have decided, with the full support of the British Government, to hold a referendum on the Falkland Islands to eliminate any possible doubt about our wishes."

Don't cry for me Argentina, as the famous song would have it and indeed, as the islanders definitely had it, with a thumping majority of 99.8% of the vote in favour of retaining strong ties with the UK.

99.8% of Falkland Islanders vote to stay with the UK

Upon the election of the new Argentinean Pope in March 2013, the president of Argentina scuttled off to the Vatican in order to solicit papal aid in acquiring the Falkland Islands. Desperate measures indeed and a national embarrassment for her country, a country that really needs to learn it cannot just walk into the homes of others and occupy them whenever the mood takes them.

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ęCopyright - James of Glencarr