Falk­land Is­lands forges its own iden­tity out of a his­tory with for­eign­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BYMICHAELWARREN

ELaw­less is­lands

STAN­LEY, FALK­LAND IS­LANDS ver since sea­far­ing ex­plor­ers hap­pened upon these un­in­hab­ited is­lands in the 16th cen­tury, peo­ple have been fight­ing over them. The early years were a jumble, re­flect­ing ex­pan­sive dreams in the age of em­pires. The re­mote South At­lantic ar­chi­pel­ago was var­i­ously spot­ted, mapped, named or claimed by Por­tuguese, Dutch, French, Bri­tish, Span­ish and Amer­i­can sailors for three cen­turies be­fore Ar­gentina of­fi­cially de­clared its in­de­pen­dence from the Span­ish crown in 1816.

To Ar­gen­tines and Falk­land Is­lan­ders, the words “colo­nial­ism” and “self-de­ter­mi­na­tion” aren’t mere ab­strac­tions — they still touch the core of how each see them­selves as a peo­ple.

It’s why, as the 30th an­niver­sary of Ar­gentina’s brief and bloody war with Bri­tain ap­proaches, many is­lan­ders be­lieve the dis­pute will never end.

But some is­lan­ders are be­gin­ning to imag­ine a way out.

While all agree that is­lan­ders alone must de­ter­mine their fu­ture, and most seem com­fort­able with be­ing a self-gov­ern­ing Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory, some say the con­flict with Ar­gentina can be re­solved only if they re­move colo­nial­ism from the dis­cus­sion by chart­ing a course to­ward com­plete in­de­pen­dence. Many is­lan­ders al­ready re­fer to their land as a “coun­try.”

“I think it’s up to us to an­nounce, even if it will never come to pass, that we aim for in­de­pen­dence,” said John Fowler, who made the is­lands his home af­ter ar­riv­ing as a con­tract school­teacher from Bri­tain in 1971.

“It changes the ar­gu­ment. It says we are a de­vel­op­ing na­tion of our own, which is much bet­ter un­der­stood in a post-colo­nial world.” But Mr. Fowler’s re­mains a mi­nor­ity view. “We have our own iden­tity — Falk­land Is­lan­ders first and fore­most, and Bri­tish sec­ond,” said Stephen Lux­ton, the Falk­land Is­lands min­eral re­sources di­rec­tor.

“Our sta­tus as a Bri­tish over­seas ter­ri­tory is one ev­ery­body here is quite happy with. We’re not an im­posed pop­u­la­tion, and we’re not op­pressed, ei­ther.”

The Ar­gen­tines’ iden­tity also is wrapped up in their his­toric claim against the Bri­tish, which dates back to the repub­lic’s found­ing.

The French set­tled the is­lands first, in 1764, nam­ing them Iles Malouines, which the Span­ish trans­lated as Las Malv­inas.

A year later, the Bri­tish es­tab­lished a set­tle­ment there as well, claim­ing the is­lands as their own, with­out re­al­iz­ing that the French were al­ready there, on the other side of the ar­chi­pel­ago. Their dis­pute, and many oth­ers, con­tin­ued un­til 1833, when the Bri­tish navy defini­tively took con­trol.

A few years ear­lier, in its cam­paigns against Spain, Bri­tain cap­tured Buenos Aires.

Mem­o­ries of Bri­tish troops in the cap­i­tal were raw as Ar­gentina be­came a na­tion. Ever since, Ar­gen­tines have con­sid­ered the is­lands their lost prov­ince, a ves­tige of colo­nial power that they be­lieve Bri­tain stole from them af­ter oust­ing the South Amer­i­cans who had been there.

The view in the Falk­land Is­lands is quite dif­fer­ent.

Records in Stan­ley show that hardly any peo­ple in­hab­ited the wind-swept, tree­less is­lands when the Bri­tish took con­trol. The only peo­ple ousted were eight work­ers led by An­to­nio “Gau­cho” Rivero who were ac­cused of killing their five over­seers, who were Scot­tish, Ir­ish, Ger­man and French, in a la­bor dis­pute. The work­ers were paid in worth­less scrip and wanted real cur­rency to make pur­chases from pass­ing ships.

An ac­count­ing of the 1833 pop­u­la­tion writ­ten by the set­tle­ment’s clerk at the time, Thomas Helsby, de­scribes Rivero and the other gau­chos and In­di­ans as “mur­der­ers” who were even­tu­ally cap­tured in 1834.

These events also were recorded by nat­u­ral­ist Charles Dar­win and his crew, who stopped at the is­lands twice dur­ing their his­toric sci­en­tific ex­pe­di­tion.

The Bri­tish said they had to in­ter­vene be­cause the is­lands had be­come law­less. The U.S. Navy had de­clared them free of any na­tional au­thor­ity in a bid to pro­tect the in­ter­ests of Amer­i­can seal­ers and whalers.

Other con­tem­po­rary doc­u­ments, now kept in the archives of Ar­gentina, Bri­tain and Spain, to­gether show that no na­tion had undis­puted own­er­ship be­fore 1833, when Bri­tish naval power fi­nally gave set­tlers the se­cu­rity they needed to es­tab­lish them­selves.

Sep­a­rate iden­tity

The pop­u­la­tion of 3,000 that has grown up since then ar­rived by birth or by choice, apart from ship­wreck vic­tims who de­cided to stay.

To­gether, they have forged a unique iden­tity: They speak the Queen’s English, fly Bri­tish flags, watch the BBC and get their kitchen ap­pli­ances by con­tainer ships from Eng­land.

They have much more in com­mon with a small vil­lage in the north of Scot­land than main­land Ar­gentina, even if the South Amer­i­can coast is just a 45-minute plane ride away.

“All the kick-up now about the sovereignty is miss­ing the point,” said Adrian Lowe, a farmer rais­ing five chil­dren and 3,000 sheep with his wife, Lisa, a fifth-gen­er­a­tion is­lander.

“Re­gard­less of what his­tory says, these peo­ple have worked the land, they built it up, they made it what it is now.”

The hard work and self-suf­fi­ciency of the set­tlers who be­gan cut­ting turf and lay­ing stone for shel­ter nearly two cen­turies ago comes through in the in­su­lar cul­ture.

Most is­lan­ders are di­rectly or dis­tantly re­lated to one an­other and de­pend on one an­other in ways that much larger so­ci­eties can no longer un­der­stand. They tend to look on out­siders — even Bri­tish who come to work on tem­po­rary con­tracts — with a cer­tain de­gree of sus­pi­cion.

Since 1851, the Falk­land Is­lands Co. dom­i­nated the colo­nial econ­omy, em­ploy­ing sheep farm­ers at pun­ish­ing wages and send­ing the prof­its back to its share­hold­ers in Bri­tain.

Only in the 1980s did the FIC, as the com­pany is known, be­gin sell­ing its farms to the is­lan­ders. It wasn’t un­til 2002 that the is­lands’ gov­ern­ment for­mally be­came an in­de­pen­dent over­seas ter­ri­tory.

The Falk­land Is­lands Gov­ern­ment now runs a di­rect democ­racy. It has its own con­sti­tu­tion, sets laws, raises taxes and pays for it­self, apart from the $110 mil­lion Bri­tain spends an­nu­ally on its de­fense.


Ves­tiges of colo­nial rule re­main. The high­est au­thor­ity is a gov­er­nor, ap­pointed by the Bri­tish For­eign Ser­vice to act as the queen’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, but he “wouldn’t dream of just try­ing to im­pose some­thing on us,” said Jan Cheek, one of eight mem­bers of the Falk­land Is­lands Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly.

Ar­gentina’s con­sti­tu­tion, mean­while, was amended in the 1990s to make re­cov­er­ing the Malv­inas through peace­ful means a na­tional pri­or­ity.

Pres­i­dent Cristina Fer­nan­dez has tried to pres­sure Bri­tain into sovereignty talks by turn­ing away Bri­tish ships, en­cour­ag­ing Ar­gen­tine com­pa­nies to di­vest from Bri­tain and rais­ing other trade bar­ri­ers.

Now she is pre­par­ing to mark the April 2 an­niver­sary of Ar­gentina’s 74-day oc­cu­pa­tion with fresh calls for Latin Amer­i­can unity against Bri­tish colo­nial­ism.

Is­lan­ders say the Ar­gen­tines de­lib­er­ately have left them out of the equa­tion, try­ing to pres­sure Bri­tain into talks as if they have no say in their own fu­ture.

“Ar­gentina has never said what it would do with us if it got us. The Bri­tish have said it’s up to us. But if we keep bleat­ing on about be­ing Bri­tish, then the rest of the world can get on de­scrib­ing us as a colony,” said Mr. Fowler, who has served as ed­u­ca­tion su­per­in­ten­dent and ed­i­tor of the weekly Pen­guin News.

The Falk­land Is­lands ar­chi­pel­ago re­mains one of the world’s most re­mote, un­der­pop­u­lated and un­spoiled places.

About the size of North­ern Ire­land or the state of Con­necti­cut, it has moun­tain ranges and wide plains, me­an­der­ing rivers and white-sand beaches, plen­ti­ful wet­lands and an in­cred­i­ble va­ri­ety of wildlife, in­clud­ing pen­guins, sea lions and the rare caracara bird.

Stan­ley still has just a hand­ful of pubs and no stop­lights, and the coun­try­side re­mains lit­tle changed from how it was cen­turies ago.

“It’s a very spe­cial coun­try. We do ex­pe­ri­ence some small hard­ships and there’s an aw­ful lot of iso­la­tion, but I love it,” said Ms. Cheek, whose great­great-great-grand­fa­ther James Biggs ar­rived from Eng­land in 1842 with his wife and four chil­dren and a col­lec­tion of seeds.

Now she is one of the ma­tri­archs of a nine-gen­er­a­tion fam­ily that has lived in the is­lands ever since. “Liv­ing, be­long­ing. When you’ve lived here this long, it’s in your DNA. It’s home.”


The Falk­land Is­lands Co., with head­quar­ters in Stan­ley, is the largest pri­vate em­ployer of the in­de­pen­dent over­seas ter­ri­tory. Res­i­dents have one of the high­est per capita in­comes in the Western Hemi­sphere.

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