The Falkland Islands – History & Timeline

Falkland Wars 1480 – now!

1 – Summary

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I believe that, given the right forum, history may speak for itself. What follows is hopefully an opportunity for it do so – using the words of those people who were there, and those of the commentators that came after – in a contextual history of the Falkland Islands, with emphasis particularly on the ownership disputes with both Spain and Argentina.

So what does history tell us?

  1. That while the Papal Bulls issued after 1481 may have had some bearing on the actions of Spain and Portugal, they had no effect, nor legal authority, over the other European nations who were looking west. Even Portugal challenged the Pope’s edict, resulting in the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 wherein Spain and Portugal decided where their own spheres of influence in the New World should lie. That treaty bound the parties that signed it, no-one else.

  2. That the first European country to discover the Falklands archipelago will never be known with any certainty. Most likely it was by Portuguese explorers who knew those waters well, long before Magellan ever left Spain. Tordesillas placed the islands within Spain’s area however, and so Portugal had no reason to advertise its discovery. That was left to an Englishman, John Davis in 1592; followed by Richard Hawkins in 1594 who claimed the archipelago for Elizabeth I. History provides documentary evidence of these voyages, whereas no supporting evidence has ever been produced by Spain to prove otherwise.

  3. That the first settlement was built by the French on East Falkland Island in 1764 in an apparent act of small revenge for their losses in Canada. Any hope of gaining an advantage over the English was quickly overcome when France was surprisingly ambushed by Spain, who used both Tordesillas, and the family ties between the Crowns, to lay its own claim. Under pressure, France agreed to abandon their settlement in exchange for monetary compensation for the work done. France left in 1767 but, hardly noticed, England had arrived on West Falkland in 1765. Spain would attempt to rely upon the Papal Bull to assert a claim existent prior to the French arrival but this remained unrecognised by England. So it was the French, the English and, in third place, the Spanish. Even though urged by Bougainville, France never returned leaving the contest to England v. Spain.

  4. That the opening gambit was played by Spain with their ejection of the British garrison on West Falkland in 1770 – starting a diplomatic tussle that came very close to being a bloody war. Having itself been pushed off the archipelago, France was in no great mood, or condition, to go to war in support of Spain – a war that was not viewed with any great enthusiasm by the rest of Europe either. Alone, Spain could not win so the conflict was conducted through diplomatic channels resulting, as diplomacy so often does, in an inconclusive agreement returning the islands to the status quo that had existed in 1769. No secret deals, no secret promises, just a face-saving agreement that preserved few reputations. An inconclusive agreement that was not finally resolved until 1863.

  5. That the British did not leave in 1774. The garrison was removed; an early example of defence cuts – but British business remained. A dirty business that would light the streets of London. And sovereignty remained claimed by the English King – as stated so clearly in the plaque the garrison’s last commander nailed to the blockhouse door; under the Union Jack. Spain kept its own little fort, on East Falkland, but never had the temerity to attempt to raise its flag over the western isle. And then they left too – in 1811 – as Spain’s Empire crumbled around it.

  6. That Argentina did not inherit in 1810. There was no Argentina in 1810 – nor indeed in 1816. Nationhood does not come that easily. Recognition is the key, and the recognition of Argentina as an independent nation did not really arrive until Spain finally gave up its claims in 1863. The concept of inheritance – uti possidetis juris – evolved in South America around the same time, helping forge an agreement between the emerging nations at the Congress of Lima in 1848. Argentina’s borders were not fully formed until the 1880’s and never did include the Falkland Islands. Hard to inherit something which your benefactor refuses to let go, and whose own title is contested. Spain eventually recognised British title at the same time as it recognised an Argentina that included Buenos Aires – in 1863.

  7. That Buenos Aires failed to establish its own claim before 1829. David Jewett asserted the rights of the United Provinces of South America, a country which, unrecognised, did not exist. Nor did he have any mandate to do so. For all the documentary evidence from the period concerning this one man, the most important has never been produced – quite simply because it never existed. Nor was any authority imposed over the British (and American) businesses operating from the archipelago. Luis Vernet’s attempts to make money from the islands were ineffective prior to 1826; after which he had British permission. The first public attempt to change the sovereignty status of the Falklands only came in 1829 when Buenos Aires made plain its pretension. Immediately challenged by the British Crown – the clock stopped. The ‘critical date’ was set and every action that followed is immaterial. Jewitt did too little, while Vernet did it too late.

  8. That the only people ejected in 1833 were those attached to a trespassing garrison, sent from Buenos Aires to seize control of the Falkland Islands – an act of defiance against Great Britain’s assertion of ownership. The settlers, those that remained following the American debacle, already had British permission and they stayed. Indeed they formed the nucleus of what would, eventually, become a successful British colony. There was no “usurpation.”

  9. That Argentina’s claims were dropped by General Rosas when Buenos Aires signed its peace treaty with England in 1849. In international law, even as it was, the title to disputed territory passes to the possessor if not subject to specific terms within a peace treaty. This was known, and the matter was not aired by Argentina again until the 1880’s.

  10. That 1945 changed everything. The Charter of the United Nations, signed that year, introduced into international law the concept of self-determination. At its birth, this was perhaps not recognised fully as the principle it would develop into. Sixty-eight years later that idea is approaching manhood – already acknowledged as a basic human right – and in the area of decolonization, as declared by the United Nations, there is now “no alternative” to the exercise of self-determination by a non-self governing people. And the Falkland Islanders are very much a people.

Now I’ll let history speak for itself.

Roger Lorton 2013

Written by Junius

December 9, 2013 at 1:18 am

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