Las Malvinas or the Falkland Islands? The Ugly Face of British Imperialism and Its Startling Cost

UPDATE

On Sunday and Monday March 10-11, a vote takes place asking the Falkland Islanders if they want the UK taxpayer to continue forking out almost £100,000 per annum for every family living on these desolate isles, when at home we have a massive unemployment problem and other important underfunded issues. No doubt the answer will be “Yes”, and this is understandable from the point of view of those who live there. When free gifts of such ample proportions are offered without ties, except a declaration of loyalty to the crown, it is a no-brainer. This funding, and much more has been going on for over 30 years.

Two months ago, in the New Junkie Post article reproduced below, it was argued that the wrong question was being asked of the wrong people. UK taxpayers should be asked if they want to continue funding the lives of people they will most likely never meet on islands 8,000 miles away, from which there is no return. Argentina, which is much closer to the islands and has long claimed sovereignty over what it calls the Malvinas, has its own viewpoint. The vote is irrelevant, since it does not take into account the interests of Argentina.

The Argentine ambassador to London, Alicia Castro, claims the vote is simply a diversionary tactic to stop the UK from engaging in pre-agreed talks between the UK and Argentina to be overseen by the United Nations. Castro also claims that Argentina is being presented as a persecutor even though the civil and political rights of islanders have been respected. The islander newspaper, Penguin News, leads with “Falklands prepares for Press Invasion.”

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With regard to the Falkland Islands, also known as Las Malvinas, the ugly faces of colonialism have once more raised their heads above the parapet. In doing so they have presented an invitation to take a metaphorical pop at them that is impossible to resist. On January 3, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner published in The Guardian a letter addressed to David Cameron in which she strongly questioned the integrity of Britain’s claims to the islands.[i] Yesterday The Sun newspaper — Murdoch’s seedy tabloid that is notorious for its screaming headline ‘GOTCHA’ when the General Belgrano was sunk in the Falklands conflict of 1982 with a concomitant loss of at least 321 lives — published a letter in the Buenos Aires Herald stating what it considers to be the British case.[ii] To imperialists, the loss of life in a conflict is unimportant, providing it is not one of their own, and it is of little concern to them that 255 British servicemen and women were killed in what we call the Falklands’ War. Their names are listed in this footnote.[iii]

It is almost 31 years since General Galtieri’s armed forces invaded the Falklands. Back then Margaret Thatcher’s popularity was well on the wane, and she saw this conflict as an opportunity to re-establish populist consensus, which regrettably proved correct. Harold Macmillan had seen the decline of the British Empire due to the burden it was costing us financially. Thatcher thought there was some kind of gold pot 8000 miles away and concluded that there would be long-term benefits in keeping the Falkland Islands under the United Kingdom’s control. Others in her party were not as convinced by this logic, and a distant relative of David Cameron, Ferdinand Mount, wrote a piece in The Spectator that gave some conservative estimates as to what the burden might be on the UK taxpayer. One of the things he pointed out was that the islanders rarely owned their homes, and most were tenants of the Falkland Islands Company. He also noted that only those of working age were likely to stay on the islands, whereas those too old to work, and young people, tended to emigrate, and there was a falling population.[iv]

Mount’s biggest argument for not going to war was the financial burden of doing so. Based on Keith Speed’s estimate, patrol of the islands would cost the UK taxpayer £20 million per annum. Mount postulated that this was a gross underestimate.[v] The figure, which has been falling over the last five years, was £69 million in 2010-11, less than half of what it was in 2005-06.[vi] Yet this, unbelievably, is one and a half times as much as the total gross domestic expenditure of the islands, which currently stands at about £46 million.[vii] In Mount’s well-reasoned argument for not going to war purely on financial grounds, he makes a calculation that each family on the islands would cost the UK taxpayer £40,000 per year. While quite a few of us would not mind earning that kind of money, the total cost per family today is closer to £92,000, having been reduced since 2005-06 due to a cut in military expenditure from above £180,000 per family per year.[viii] If you are a UK taxpayer, you should be asking whether this makes sense while unemployment is rising and wages are falling for the majority of UK citizens.

Of course, there might be some long-term returns for private individuals who have invested in Rockhopper Exploration and Premier Oil plc, but they are likely to get the same returns whether the Falklands are under UK or Argentinian control.[ix] Even then, there are no guarantees. The South Atlantic can be rough, and offshore spillage disasters are perhaps as much of a probability as any great financial returns. In any case, none of this wealth comes back to the ordinary UK taxpayers who are collectively funding the “protection” of the islanders.

Since the Falklands War, the UK taxpayer has funded, among other things, a new airport with a longer runway than that at Port Stanley. This is located at the military facility at Mount Pleasant. Together with a road linking it, the construction was budgeted at £215 million, or put another way, more than £300,000 per Falklands family.[x] In its typical “Hands off our territory” open letter published on January 4th, The Sun quite rightly refers to a referendum of Falkland Islanders scheduled for March, though its history of colonization of the islands is sketchy. The question being asked is whether the islanders wish to remain under British control. If a foreign power 8,000 miles away is lavishing its taxpayers’ hard-earned money on improving and protecting the islands to the degree the UK has been doing, with presumably an open checkbook to continue funding perpetually, this checkbook diplomacy might be inclined, one would think, to sway the opinions of the indigenous population. It might be reasonably assumed that they would consider themselves British through and through. But do they?

According to a Guardian fact chart, when the islanders were asked how they identified themselves, 29 percent considered themselves to be British, 9.8 percent considered themselves to be of St Helena identity, 5.4 percent Chilean, and a whopping 59 percent considered themselves to be Falkland Islanders.[xi] So British taxpayers’ funds only bought a modicum of loyalty. Margaret Thatcher made a terrible mistake and should have listened to Ferdinand Mount. Unfortunately colonialists do not count the cost either in human terms or in financial terms. Argentina’s president, in her own way, is as imperialist as Thatcher. Other land in Antarctica, which William Hague recently renamed Queen Elizabeth Land, and which is twice the size of the UK, is a vast area, part of which is also contested by Argentina. What is more, the segment of ocean which the UK lays claim to is even larger than the land area.[xii] The saber-rattling continues.

This calls into question how any state can claim land on the basis of simply going there and sticking a flag in the ground. Countries which have laid claims to the Falkland Islands and raised their standards there are: France (1764), Britain (1765-76), Spain (1767-1811), and a whole host of claims and counter-claims to the territory, sometimes with several countries simultaneously occupying the islands.[xiii]

Who has the best case in law? The populace of the Falkland Islands will almost certainly vote to remain under British control, since English is the official language of the islanders. The vote will only confirm that the Falkland Islands are English-speaking, like New Zealand or Canada. As with New Zealanders and Canadians the majority of those who live on the Falklands consider themselves to be Falkland Islanders. Before the UK spent so much of taxpayers’ money on improving conditions for the islanders, Argentina had the best legal case and several times tried to establish its claims under international law. These were simply ignored. The improvements and commitment to defend the islands have strengthened the UK case. On the other hand, contiguously, the islands belong to Argentina. Looking at it from Argentina’s point of view, the British position is a bit like China laying claim to the Isle of Man, for example.

A major problem with the referendum is that the wrong question is being asked. Furthermore it is being asked of the wrong people. The Falkland Islanders should not be asked if they wish to be considered British or Argentinian. Instead UK taxpayers should be asked if they want to continue funding every family on the Falkland Islands to the tune of almost £92,000 every year.

References

[i] http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/03/david-cameron-falkland-islands-argentina

[ii] http://belgranoinquiry.com/archives/443 and http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4725763/Falkland-Islands-are-British-The-Sun-tells-Argentina-in-open-letter.html

[iii] http://www.britains-smallwars.com/Falklands/roh.html

[iv] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2012/04/from-the-archives-defending-the-falklands/

[v] Ibid.

[vi] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2119639/Falklands-defence-budget-cut-despite-conflict-Argentina.html

[vii] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2013/jan/03/falkland-islands-data-charts

[viii] Ibid. These figures were calculated and rounded by assuming a family of 4, with a population of 3,000 and a military expenditure of £69 million per annum (rounded).

[ix] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockhopper_Exploration

[x] http://www.falklands.info/history/histarticle33.html

[xi] http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2013/jan/03/falkland-islands-data-charts

[xii] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/queen-elizabeth-II/9752856/Part-of-Antarctica-named-Queen-Elizabeth-Land-as-gift-for-Diamond-Jubilee.html

[xiii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Falkland_Islands

 

Editor’s Note: All photographs by Elizabeth Oliver.

 

 

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22 Responses to Las Malvinas or the Falkland Islands? The Ugly Face of British Imperialism and Its Startling Cost

  1. +11 Vote -1 Vote +1rufus
    January 5, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I fail to see that the fact that the majority of the people who live on the Falkland Islands view themselves primarily as Falkland Islanders is an issue. I vaguely recall the equivalent statistic in the largest (in terms of population) British Overseas Territory – Bermuda, where more than 80% viewed themselves primarily as Bermudians.

    I would be interested to see the equivalent statistics for the rest of the UK (what proportion consider themselves primarily Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or English), and whether there is a secondary self-description.

    I would consider myself English-British, I would hazard a guess that the majority of the Falkland Islanders consider themselves as Falkland Islander-British.

  2. -4 Vote -1 Vote +1steve
    January 6, 2013 at 2:22 am

    The Falkland Islands will one day become an independent nation this will end all sovereignty debates.

    • -8 Vote -1 Vote +1Fernando
      January 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

      The British citizens on Malvinas don’t wish for independence, never have, never will.

      If they were to request independence Britain would drop them like a brick. And their sovereignty case would not be any stronger than it is today, otherwise they would have requested already.

      The only way Britain can maintain its illegal occupation of Malvinas is with the threat or war. Notice how Britain’s response is never a valid argument or proof of anything, it is always “shut up we will bomb you” and that is that.

      Like asking its citizens whether they wish to remain British. Try telling the world why Britain has more rights than Argentina, THAT would interesting. The British government simply does not have an answer for that.

  3. +4 Vote -1 Vote +1Scott Davis
    January 6, 2013 at 3:17 am

    97.8% of the Falkland Islanders described themselves as British, Falkland Islander or of St. Helena origin. If the question in the survey were phrased, “Do you consider yourself British or Argentinian, given only those two choices?”, then at least 97.8% would have chosen British, and no more than 2% of the people would have said Argentinian – according to the results we see in the survey. Britain has a right to defend its own territory, and it is not “imperialism” for it to do so. Thousands of people live on the Falkland Islands, and they are indigenous to it, in the fullest sense that the word can be applied to the Falklands. The only basis for an Argentine claim to the Falklands is flippant repeated assertion, and under international law, that amounts to arrant nonsense. Britain has all the trump cards: possession, permanent settlement, international recognition, and a record of justified defense. On the same basis that Britain is being asked to give the Falklands to Argentina, Japan would be justified in asking the United States to “return” Attu, Kiska, Midway, Wake, Guam and the Northern Marianas. The people of the Falklands simply have no interest in belonging to Argentina, and Argentina covets the mineral resources which rightfully belong to Britain under international law. This is as absurd as Russia re-asserting its claim to Alaska, after they sold it to us. Argentina gave up its claims to the Falklands after the war – a war which began when Soviet agents showed Argentine intelligence surveillance photographs of the Falklands, showing them unguarded. This was a shameful grab by Argentina; and by a dictatorial regime in Argentina. After this phony ploy of the Argentine dictatorship, the people of Argentina were furious at the loss of life in this unjustified war, and they overthrew the dictatorship and elected a leader democratically.

  4. +8 Vote -1 Vote +1BritBob
    January 6, 2013 at 9:22 am

    Argentina does not even have a valid claim to the Falkland Islands. The British claimed the islands in 1765 – Argentina did not inherit them from Spain. Vernet had set up a business enterprise on the islands with the permission of the British. He then switched allegiance and was asked to leave the islands with his Argentine garrison in 1833. The vast majority of settlers chose to stay. The UN resolutions on the Falkland Islands merely ask that Britain and Argentina reach an agreement on sovereignty BUT state that ANY agreement reached must NOT go against the wishes of the Falkland Islanders.

  5. -3 Vote -1 Vote +1Fernando
    January 6, 2013 at 10:35 am

    “Would you like to be British?”

    What would a citizen from any nation say to that? And what difference does that make? Argentina has never objected to the British citizen’s wish to remain British, this is just a facade orchestrated by Britain to portray its citizens as victims and to divert attention from the real issue: Britain’s claim on Malvinas along with 1.000.000 km² of Argentine sovereign territory in the South Atlantic.

    A wish and a right of possession are two very different things. It would be like Argentina colonizing the Isle of Man 8,000 miles away to later say “Well, the citizens we put there wish to remain Argentine so the Isle of Man belongs to us”. Then we could claim 1.000.000 km² around the Isle of Man (which would pretty much encompass the whole of Europe) drill for oil, fish in European waters and as an Argentine overseas territory declare the whole place part of UNSAUR. That is exactly what Britain is doing in the South Atlantic.  
     
    There is no “poor little islanders” here, only a colonial whim from the most colonial nation in history. The same nation that expelled the people of Diego Garcia and put them in a filthy slum in Mauritius so the U.S could build a military base. Where was “self-determination” then? 
     
    Self-determination was not intended to keep a colonial power in control of its colonies. Why would such a principle even exist in the 21st Century?

    Malvinas islands belong to Argentina, there is no question. Britain needs to dig deep and find the decency to admit that the only territory they can rightfully claim is Britain itself.

    • +5 Vote -1 Vote +1felix
      January 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      Fernando, you make an excellent point about the Chagossians, where the expelled population is coincidentally about the same as that of the Falklands/Malvinas. John is making an economic point, and that is what must be addressed: the cost benefit of allowing 2000 people near Argentina to continue speaking English. Am I missing something?

      • +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Rufus
        January 7, 2013 at 3:31 am

        Agreed, even to do a favour to one of Britain’s largest and most powerful allies, what was done to the Chagossians was a monstrous wrong.

        Why then would you expect the British to commit the exact same monstrous wrong to the population of another island group: to aid a nation that more resembles a shouty toddler with a grudge and a questionable record on being accurate about what they say than any sort of an ally?

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1BritBob
      January 7, 2013 at 12:59 pm

      The fact is that Argentina has no moral nor legal claim to the Falklands. After signing the Convention of Settlement treaty in 1850, President Sariento addressed the Argentine Congress on 1st May 1869 and said, ‘Argentina had no claims on other nations.’ Argentina had made protests about the British presence on the Falklands right up to 1849 but did not make another sovereignty protest until 1941 — sovereignty protests are usually considered defunct if there is a gap of 50 years or more between protests. The UN resolutions also state that, although Britain and Argentina should come together and settle the sovereignty issue, ANY decisions made should NOT be against the wishes of the 3,000 Falkland Islanders. As Ban Ki-Moon confirmed in November, the Falkland Islanders DO have the right to self determination. End. Argentina needs to move on and accept the position.

    • +1 Vote -1 Vote +1BritBob
      January 8, 2013 at 6:58 am

      Reference Diego Garcia – the inhabitants were re-housed and compensated. They also recently took the UK to the European Court of Human Rights and lost their case. Let us not forget that when all of this was going on Argentina was taking people on one-way helicopter trips.

      As I have said before, Argentina DOES NOT have a valid legal claim to the Falkland Islands. The moral claim also rests with the will of the Falkland Islanders.

      http://www.falklands.gov.fk/category/literature/
      (also in Spanish)

  6. -2 Vote -1 Vote +1Iestyn ap Robert
    January 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    “…contiguously, the islands belong to Argentina”

    Are you serious? The islands are 300NM plus from Argentina. Anyway geographical proximity is no basis for a territorial claim!

    I’d love to know what “case law” you refer to. There is only one forum where Argentina’s claim can be tested for legal validity – the ICJ, and as hard as I look I can’t find anything…

    • John Goss
      Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
      January 6, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Contiguous in its broader sense means close to, touching or overlapping. The legal sense of ‘contiguous zone’ is 12 miles but I deliberately did not write contiguous zone. Territorial waters for fishing rights, for example, were extended in 1982 with ‘exclusive economic zones’ to a distance of 200 nautical miles. 200 nautical miles from Argentina and 200 nautical miles from the Falkland Islands amount to a contiguous overlap. Whichever way you look at it the islands are much much closer to Argentina than they are to the UK by some 70 times or more. International law is often ignored by nation states and even the limit set by UNCLOS for the exclusive economic zone was ignored by the UK armed forces when the General Belgrano was destroyed outside the Falkland Islands exclusive economic zone. International Law was ignored when Argentina sent troops to the Falkland Islands. Unfortunately nation states do not abide by international law. Another example of this regards the US which does not recognise the International Criminal Court which enables it to imprison and torture people regardless. International law is complex.

      • John Goss
        Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
        January 7, 2013 at 12:05 am

        A bit of unintentional hyperbole. I meant by ‘some 20 times or more’ in the last comment.

  7. -9 Vote -1 Vote +1Casey James Edinger
    January 7, 2013 at 1:26 am

    Only reasonable solution is for Argentina & the UK to merge into one super nation. United Kingdom of Agentina. Lol jk. But seriously, it really shouldn’t be up to the Islanders. That would be like Wisconsin choosing to become part of Norway or Sweden because it has strong cultural ties with those nations.

  8. +7 Vote -1 Vote +1FalklandIslander
    January 7, 2013 at 7:34 am

    I am a Falkland Islander and I would like to respond to some of the points of this article.

    Firstly, the Falkland Islands is not a colony, lets make that completely clear. We have our own democracy and civil service. We are self-governing, meaning we set our own budgets, policies, taxes etc, however Britain helps us with defence and foreign affairs. This neatly leads us on to the nature of the article, quite a misleading one.

    The Falklands is hugely appreciative of our defence and we will never forget the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom in 1982. But lets make it completely clear (are you reading this Fernando?) the defence is there because of a very real threat. Just under 31 years ago an aggressive nation invaded our islands and forced an administration upon the islanders that was alien and unwanted. That is why the islands need military defence. It is not a conspiracy of Britain trying to invade South America, (which Argentina alludes to), it is not to force us Islanders to be British and it is not to maintain the Falklands, it is purely for our defence (30 years is not a long time and my family lived through the war).

    The Falklands and its people would love nothing more to live in peace and not require a military defence, but it is Argentina’s fault for why we have one. Argentina continues to threaten us, maybe not through military means (even though the Argentine Defence Minister did admit that the current British military presence was the only thing that was preventing Argentina moving in) but through economic and diplomatic. Argentina is trying to destroy our economy and force us to hand our home to them.

    The Falkland Islanders have human rights, just like anyone else on the planet. We can determine our political, economic, cultural and social future, and we do that now. Under Argentine control, we would not be given the same rights. The Islands would be controlled remotely from Buenos Aries and not by democratically elected individuals like we enjoy now.

    Our defence is costly, but we are British citizens facing a very real threat, just because we are only 3,000 strong and live 8,000 miles away means we are not entitled to have our human rights and freedom guaranteed?

  9. Vote -1 Vote +1felix
    January 7, 2013 at 10:22 am

    ….and on the economic point, defending someone else’s democracy and civil service 7000 miles away using UK taxpayers’ money, even though they are British Citizens (since 1983)???? If the population were 3 million? 300? 3??

    Nicely summed up in a comment here:

    Friday, February 17th 2012 – 03:59 UTC
    “UK analysts [from Edison Investment Research] says Falklands’ oil industry could be worth 180 billion dollars in royalties and taxes” Merco Press.

    “WOW. $180 billion. Good. The Falkland people can pay back the UK taxpayers for saving their asses. However, let us get real. The UK should negotiate with Argentina – lease and share the spoils of the seas.”

    • +3 Vote -1 Vote +1Rufus
      January 8, 2013 at 4:03 am

      There’s the problem. There was a joint exploration/exploitation agreement that was signed in 1995. Would you care to guess which country tore it up in March 2007? I’ll give you a clue, it wasn’t the UK or the Falkland Islands…

      • Dady Chery
        -1 Vote -1 Vote +1Dady Chery
        January 8, 2013 at 10:26 am

        In 1995, the corrupt Menem administration was in full swing in Argentina, adopting austerity measures and pardoning those who had committed crimes against humanity. All of this regime’s agreements, including those with the IMF are rightly torn.

  10. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1Sam
    January 9, 2013 at 5:30 am

    I would like to make a point about the Islanders’ national identity. Yes, the majority of them say they are Islanders. They are also British. I see myself as a Yorkshire girl first and foremost, then I am English, then I am British. The term is ‘United’ Kingdom. Meaning different peoples are united. The English, Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish. Yes, there are those in each country who believe they should be independent, but as yet, they are not. When the Falklands get money for the oil found, they are willing to help pay towards their own defence. They also have their own Defence Force, members of whom fought in World War I and World War II. They value their Falklands identity and ancestry as well as their British identity and ancestry.

    The Islanders are happy to live their lives peacefully. I know many who have been to Argentina and find it a beautiful country. Unfortunately, the Argentine Government is not willing to live peacefully and won’t even recognise the Islanders as a people.

  11. John Goss
    -4 Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
    January 10, 2013 at 5:42 am

    An enlightened article was posted on my blog about the British imperialist approach to the Chagos Islands as compared to their approach to the Falkland Islands. It was posted by Sabretache. Rufus mentions this criminal act. What is disturbing is the length our military went to in killing the Chagos islander’s pets, mistreating the natives and kicking them off the island that they once called home. Then it explains how they tried to cover up this disgrace.

    If you Google “Falklands and Chagos – a tale of two islands” it should bring up a Peter Presland article of that title.

    These are the British of whom some Falkland islanders think we should be proud? Well I for one am not proud. I am ashamed. Falkland Islanders should be too and it is one reason why it is in the Falkland Islanders best interests to have a negotiated settlement with independent observers sealed in international law. It would also release British taxpayers from the unnecessary burden Mrs Thatcher’s war imposed on us.

  12. +1 Vote -1 Vote +1John Goss
    February 28, 2013 at 9:57 am

    It is fascinating to see how my comments, and other comments not supporting “British rule for the Falklands/Malvinos” viewpoint have been voted down while and those supporting British rule have been voted up since I last visited a couple of months back. I suspect trolling.