In his reply of 19 February to my letter of the 12th, Mr. Cisneros says “the worst thing we can do is quibble and distract ourselves from the main problem”. But it is not a “quibble” to state simple facts, as I did in my letter. So I suggest we get a few facts straight – not unilateral facts, but straightforward historical facts.
In the first place, the claim to the Falklands inserted in Argentina’s 1994 Constitution does breach UN Resolution 31/49 of 1976. It was a unilateral act performed 18 years after the passing of the UN Resolution (no previous Argentine Constitution mentioned the Falklands). The EU treaties do not breach it; they simply list all EU overseas territories, and Britain’s overseas territories were listed from 1973, three years before 31/49. Those treaties have been widely misunderstood in Argentina; and even the Lisbon Treaty does not set that list of territories in stone. Argentina’s constitution, however, does just that. It now requires any negotiations over the Falklands to end in total British capitulation; there is no other possible outcome. No arbitration is possible now either, since Argentina could not accept a result that went against its constitution. UN Resolution 31/49 was intended to promote a negotiated solution, but Argentina’s constitutional claim prevents that. As I said, it is a breach of that Resolution.
Secondly, my letter of the 12th clearly stated that Britain expelled only the Argentine garrison from the Falklands in 1833, not the civilian inhabitants. Mr. Cisneros has falsified this – it was only the garrison that I was referring to in saying: “Such a group cannot be considered a genuine population at all”. Britain had protested at its departure from Buenos Aires, and some of its members had murdered their commanding officer, plundered the settlement and terrified the civilian inhabitants. The garrison had been in the Falklands less than three months. They cannot be considered among what Mr. Cisneros calls the “pre-1833 settlers”.
Thirdly, Mr. Cisneros twice says that the Argentine settlers at Port Louis in 1833 had been there for 13 years. That is untrue; he is presumably counting the 13 years from the visit of the American David Jewett to Port Louis in 1820, and seems to assume that Jewett left settlers there. He did not; after Jewett’s successor William Mason left the Falklands in Jewett’s ship Heroína on 13 May 1821, Port Louis was uninhabited and there was no one from Argentina in the Falklands until 1824 (but there were many British and American ships, some of whose crews knew the islands well and had been visiting for decades).
The first Argentine settlement began on 2 February 1824, when Pablo Areguati and some 25 gauchos arrived at Port Louis, in an attempt to exploit the wild cattle. But they failed, came close to starvation, and abandoned the enterprise. The last of them, seven gauchos and the capataz Aniceto Oviedo, were left behind by the expedition’s ships, and were rescued by the British schooner Susannah Anne on 24 July 1824. From then on, there was again no one from Argentina in the Falklands until Louis Vernet landed with a group of gauchos on 11 June 1826 and occupied the derelict houses at Port Louis. That settlement was a success. But Vernet was a Huguenot from Hamburg; he did not think Argentinians were suitable as permanent settlers in the Falklands. After his land grant in 1828, he began to look for Northern European families, and also obtained 30 black indentured labourers (i.e. slaves).
Vernet left again in November 1831 with his family, some slaves and servants, and a ship’s crew (29 people in all) in the American sealing vessel Harriet, which he had captured, provoking the raid by the USS Lexington. All Vernet’s European settlers and all but three of his black slaves left in the Lexington in January 1832, and the Lexington also took seven men as prisoners for seizing American ships – about 47 people in all. That left only about 25 people in the Falklands, most of them gauchos. So it was the Americans, not the British, who took away two-thirds of the settlement’s population. Argentina has concealed this at the United Nations in order to support the “Expulsion Myth” – the falsehood that Britain expelled an Argentine “population” in 1833.
But the British government had become alarmed at the growing American involvement, and gave orders that the Falklands should be visited annually “by one of His Majesty’s ships” – only a yearly visit was intended at that time. HMS Clio was the first such ship, but she sailed away again without leaving any effective British authority there.
Mr. Cisneros seems to be ignorant of British history too, since he says that the “usurpation of the Malvinas” was “the manifestation of an imperial project repeated in many parts of the world”, but in the 1830s there was no such project; it did not come until the 1880s. HMS Clio’s visit was intended to forestall further American action – and it did just that; the Lexington was preparing to leave Montevideo again for another visit to the Falklands when the news arrived that the Argentine garrison had been expelled.
The gauchos were all that was left of the true population in 1833, and most of them stayed in the islands when Britain re-asserted its sovereignty. So Mr. Cisneros was wrong in saying of the civilians “none stayed after the arrival of Englishmen armed to the teeth”. Britain did not expel the civilian residents; only the mutinous, murderous garrison was expelled, and it was the garrison that I referred to as not a “genuine population”. In saying that most of the genuine residents were gauchos I was not being derogatory, still less racist, as Mr. Cisneros suggests – what utter nonsense. I have every respect for the gauchos, and Captain Onslow of HMS Clio respected them too. He obeyed his orders not to molest any civilians – he wanted them to stay so that they could continue to hunt the wild cattle, which they continued to do. In ignorance of the situation in the Falklands, Mr. Cisneros describes that as “reducing the local population to ‘hunting the wild cattle and supplying fresh beef to visiting ships’” and says that it resulted in “the Argentines retreating to the Stone Age ….”. More nonsense. The gauchos were there to hunt the wild cattle; that is why Vernet took them to the islands in the first place, and what they had been doing all along.
So when HMS Clio arrived at Port Louis in January 1833, no one from Argentina had lived there for more than 6½ years. Throughout that time, British and American ships remained active in and around the Islands; and had been active amongst the Islands long before then. Indeed, the Americans had been hunting seals there for at least 60 years – since before their independence from Britain.
Finally, there is no connection between the Falklands issue and the attacks on Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807. Those attacks took place during the Napoleonic Wars; Britain was at war with Spain, so an attack on Spanish territory was legitimate – and the first attack was made without orders from the British Government.
In any discussion of the Falklands dispute, it is a serious distortion to omit to mention that Argentina and Britain concluded a peace treaty, the Convention of Settlement or “Arana-Southern treaty”, ratified in Buenos Aires on 15 May 1850, by which Argentina confirmed that the Falklands were legitimately British. Both sides accepted that it was a peace treaty, and all writers on international law, including the influential Argentine writer Carlos Calvo, state that in a peace treaty, any territories not mentioned are confirmed in the possession of the power that held them when the treaty was signed. The Convention of Settlement does not mention the Falklands, so it confirmed them in Britain’s possession. That is underlined by the fact that after 1850 Argentina completely ceased to protest against Britain’s possession of the islands and did not even mention them again to Britain until 1884. In the 1860s several Argentine leaders confirmed in top-level statements that there was no dispute with Britain.
The conclusion is clear: by agreement with Argentina, the Falkland Islands have been British in law since 1850. Mr. Cisneros says that Britain is “hanging on to that territory by might, not right”, but that is untrue; he is ignorant of the facts.
Mr. Cisneros has demonstrated how difficult it is to discuss the Falklands issue sensibly. I have discussed it on several occasions with members of the Malvinas lobby in Buenos Aires. That’s when I offered historical presentations. But there were no takers. I was once told I was “not the right level to discuss the issue with”, and that they wanted “to discuss it with the British Government”. Mr. Cisneros clearly agrees with that.
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