Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Falklands question

Stanley rooftop
Coming to the Falkland Islands, we figured it would be a good opportunity to get to know what the islanders really think about their nationality.  From the UK it is impossible to know what the people here are like and what they actually want for their life on these remote islands.  Most of us have only even heard of the FIs because of the 1982 conflict and even then all we know is what we have seen in the news, and that is mostly political posturing.
In the UK I have heard views ranging from 'we fought a war and people died so we should never give it back', through 'we only care because of the oil', to 'why should we support some people thousands of miles away, we should give it back to Argentina'.  Doubtless most of the people expressing these views actually know very little about it.  I make no pretence that a couple of weeks here makes me an expert either, but we have at least learned some facts, have met some islanders and heard what the people that live there really think.

Firstly there is the issue of who has a claim to the islands, which I'm afraid requires looking at a bit of the history.  And I can't claim to have done lots of research into both sides of the story, so whilst I am trying to put the real picture, I can't guarantee complete accuracy or lack of bias!  The first recorded sighting of the FIs was by English Sea Captain John Davis in 1592, and the first recorded landing by English Captain John Strong in 1690 when he named the Falkland Sound.  The first settlement was by the French in 1764 followed in  1765 by the English in another part of the islands, each with no knowledge of the other being there.

In 1766 the Spanish objected to the French settlement with the result that the  French sold their interest to the Spanish.  The Spanish kicked the British out of their settlement in 1770, but after diplomatic negotiations between the British, French and Spanish, the Exchange of Declarations restored the settlement to the British in 1771.  Argentina became a country independent of Spain in 1810 and territories passed to Argentina in 1816, but with no specific mention of the FIs.  Equally, there was no mention of the FIs in the Treaty of Amity, Trade and Navigation signed by the British and Argentines in 1825.

Argentine Louis Vernet formed a settlement at the old French/Spanish site in 1826, and was appointed commander of the islands by Buenos Aires in 1829.  Britain registered a formal protest at that time, asserting its own sovereignty.  This doesn't appear to have been resolved formally, but Vernet did obtain British counter signing of any of his land grants, and sought protection for his settlement, which suggests to me an acknowledgement of the British claim.

Then in 1831, Vernet upset the USA and Britain to do with sealing rights, apparently seizing property from an US ship, which prompted the US to send a warship to attack the Vernet's settlement.  The USA considered the Argentine claim to the islands to be unjustified, and supposedly declared the islands not to belong to anyone.  Argentina sent another interim commander, but he was murdered by his own men, and Britain reasserted it's claim to the settlement.

Argentine message during the conflict
In 1833, English captain John Onslow asked the Argentines to reach their flag with the British one and leave the settlement, which they did, but under protest.  Since then the Falkland Islands have been under British Sovereignty  The issue reemerged when Argentina joined the UN and objected to British sovereignty, but Argentina then refused three offers of discussions.  Negotiations were held for about 17 years after the 1965 UN resolution, but with no success.  British political support for the islands strengthened after the Argentine military invasion in 1982 and the subsequent war.

I don't claim any expertise in this area, but it seems to me that at the very least, the British do have a legitimate claim as that was confirmed by the only relevant parties in 1771.  The Spanish probably did have a claim, which may or may not have legitimately transferred to Argentina.  This seems to leave Britain with a definitive claim to at least partial Sovereignty in my reckoning although I can see how the Argentina feels it at least had some claim too.  Irrespective of the claims though, the UN has repeatedly urged the end to the ideas of colonialism and has a general principal of self determination of the people.

But before we get to what the people want, there is the argument about proximity.  No-one can deny that the FIs are a long way from Britain, but they are also 300 miles from Argentina.  Compare that to the Channel Islands which are 14 miles from France and the French Islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon which are around 12 miles from the coast of Canada. Or how about the British colony of Guyana, French Guiana and the Dutch colony of Suriname, all nestled between Venezuela and Brazil.  This list is endless and if you simply said that the biggest and closest country has a right to those smaller ones around it, most countries would eventually end up as Russian or Chinese.
And even if you do accept that Britain stole the FIs, possibly before Argentina even actually existed as an independent nation, if Argentina thinks that Britain should give them back now, does this mean that it will be giving back any of the 54,000 square miles of populated territory that the Triple Alliance of Argentina, Brazil and Uraguay took from Paraguay after the wars in the 1860s?  And of course if we go further back, many Argentinians actually descend from the Spanish conquerors who wiped out most of the indigenous populations of South America.
Realistically these arguments are just not feasible. Obviously these acts of history are not the doing of the current people of Argentina, and it is not right to blame them for what happened, just as however much I think it regrettable that it has caused such problems, I refuse to feel guilty for the issues in Northern Ireland.  If you start trying to change or reverse history, then where on earth do you stop.  Boundaries and claims on countries have changed so many times, how can you say which is the more legitimate claim simply in those terms?
So what about the money.  Well in fact, The FIs support themselves entirely. The only thing that they get from the UK is military protection.  Of course that does have a cost to the UK, but we do not, as some believe, pay for their hospitals, education or anything else.  And the oil?  Well that is nothing to do with us either, so the suggestion that we only protect the FIs because of that is wrong too.  We are told that the oil would belong to the islanders (though doubtless some would get more from it than others), and it would help them to provide more and better services to the islands.  We have been told that the islands may make a payment to the UK, which would be regarded as a kind of thank you for the military protection, but I have no idea if it would actually happen.
But surely the most important factor here is the people.  When we came here we didn't really know what to expect.  Are the people really British?  Do they look and sound British?  Do they have any links at all with the UK? Well the answer is a resounding yes to all three questions.  There are some people who have come here mostly from Chile or St Helena, but the majority of the population, the real Falkland Islanders, are as British as they come.  If you put them in a pub in London the British drinkers would have no idea that they came from 8000 miles away.
Most of the islanders have relatives in the UK and many of them have lived and worked there at some stage in their lives.  And as the education system here can only give opportunities up to GCSE level, if the children show the capability to go on to A levels or university, they are given a grant by the Falkland Islands to get the rest of their education in the UK.  They have a British Legion club, they celebrate Poppy Day and the Queen's birthday, and they watch British Forces TV and radio.  Visitors to the island have declared Falkland Islanders to be 'more British than the British!'
And for the first time since being away from home, we have managed to have proper sausages and bacon for breakfast, marmite, salt and vinegar crisps, cheddar cheese, fish and chips with real vinegar, and Dairy Milk chocolate.  The shops here sell exactly what you would expect to see in the UK, including Sainsburys and Waitrose branded goods.  It is just like being in a village in the UK, but windier and with penguins. 
Argentine message during the conflict
During the 1982 conflict the message to the islanders was that they were being liberated from British power, and welcomed by Argentines as their long lost brethren. And in Argentina we saw numerous signs that remind people that the Malvinas are Argentine and must not be forgotten.  I don't know how important an issue it is for most Argentine people, as it is not a conversation that I have felt I could get into so far, and I make no effort here to say that such sentiments are wrong, but the reality for the islanders is that they don't consider themselves to be even remotely connected to Argentina.
The people we have spoken to here regard themselves as Falkland Islanders and are proud of their own heritage and self governance.  But equally they are proud to be a part of Britain, celebrating the same traditions and values that we do.  They value the protection we give them very highly, as they feel a constant pressure from the politicians in Argentina and live in fear that without British protection they would lose either their nationality and their freedom, or their home.  They are already struggling, as a result of the blockading, to get eggs or fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as the flights being threatened.
Falkland Islands poster
I can't pretend that I know what the answer should be officially, and I am not looking for a debate on the matter, but to me, common sense says that the Falkland Islanders should remain allowed to govern themselves under the British sovereignty and protection that they themselves choose to have.  It is unimaginable for the people of the Falklands that they could be expected to fall under Argentina in the future, and it is equally unimaginable to think they should have to leave the islands that they and their ancestors have called home for over two centuries.


  1. Hi, I always fancied visiting the falkalands. Your visit is fancinating. Wow. I simply cannot think what it must be to live there.

  2. Hi Mike. It was a great place to visit because of the place itself, the people and the amazing wildlife, but can't imagine living here permanently. Someone suggested that we coud get work there for a few years and we figured we could perhaps cope with 6-12 months but no more than than before we would get tired of the limited options available. But even though the people here may move away for a while, they all seem to come back, so I guess it must work for them.


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