Thursday, 9 February 2012

Let The Falklanders Decide

Things are heating up between the United Kingdom and Argentina; over the Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas in Spanish).

It is all about who owns the 4,700 square miles. Officially the United Kingdom owns the Falkland Islands and has done since 1833.

The history of the small islands is quite odd considering the size.

In 1774, economic pressures leading up to the American Revolutionary War forced Great Britain to withdraw from many overseas settlements. Upon withdrawal the British left behind a plaque asserting her continued claim. Spain maintained its governor until 1806 who, on his departure, left behind a plaque asserting Spanish claims.

A dispute over fishing and hunting rights resulted in a raid by the US warship USS Lexington in 1831.The log of the Lexington reports only the destruction of arms and a powder store, though in his claim against the US Government for compensation (rejected by the US Government of President Cleveland in 1885) Vernet stated that the settlement was destroyed. The Islands were declared free from all government, the seven senior members of the settlement were arrested for piracy and taken to Montevideo, where they were released without charge on the orders of Commodore Rogers.

In November 1832, Argentina sent Commander Mestivier as an interim commander to found a penal settlement, but he was killed in a mutiny after 4 days. The following January, British forces returned and requested the Argentine garrison leave. Don Pinedo, captain of the ARA Sarandi and senior officer present, protested but ultimately complied. Vernet's settlement continued, with the Irishman William Dickson tasked with raising the British flag for passing ships. Vernet's deputy, Matthew Brisbane, returned and was encouraged by the British to continue with the enterprise. The settlement continued until August 1833, when the leaders were killed in the so-called Gaucho murders. Subsequently, from 1834 the the islands were governed as a naval station until 1840 when the British Government decided to establish a permanent colony.

A new harbour was built in Stanley, and the islands became a strategic point for navigation around Cape Horn. A World War I naval battle, the Battle of the Falkland Islands, took place in December 1914, with a British victory over the smaller Imperial German Asiatic Fleet. During World War II, Stanley served as a Royal Navy station and serviced ships which took part in the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

Sovereignty over the islands became an issue in the second half of the 20th century, when Argentina saw the creation of the UN as an opportunity to pursue its claim. Talks between British and Argentine foreign missions took place in the 1960s but failed to come to any meaningful conclusion. A major sticking point in all the negotiations was that the inhabitants preferred that the islands remain British territory.

On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic. The military junta which had ruled Argentina since 1976 sought to maintain power by diverting public attention from the nation's poor economic performance and exploiting the long-standing feelings of the Argentines towards the islands.

The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 502, calling on Argentina to withdraw forces from the Islands and for both parties to seek a diplomatic solution. International reaction ranged from support for Argentina in Latin American countries (except Chile, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago), to opposition in the Commonwealth and Europe (apart from Spain).[citation needed] A divided United States administration, initially publicly neutral, eventually came out in support of the United Kingdom.

After short but fierce naval and air battles, the British landed at San Carlos Water on 21 May, and a land campaign followed leading to the British taking the high ground surrounding Stanley on 11 June. The Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June 1982. The war resulted in the deaths of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as 3 civilian Falklanders.

Well, that is the history of the Falkland Islands. So why the big fuss? Oil.

A 1995 agreement between the UK and Argentina had set the terms for exploitation of offshore resources including oil reserves as geological surveys had shown there might be up to 60 billion barrels (9.5 billion cubic metres) of oil under the seabed surrounding the islands. However, in 2007 Argentina unilaterally withdrew from the agreement; Falklands Oil and Gas Limited then signed an agreement with BHP Billiton to investigate the potential exploitation of oil reserves. Due to the difficult climatic conditions of the southern seas exploitation will be difficult, though economically viable; the continuing sovereignty dispute with Argentina is also hampering progress.

In February 2010 exploratory drilling for oil was begun by Desire Petroleum, but the results from the first test well were disappointing. Two months later, on 6 May 2010, Rockhopper Exploration announced that "it may have struck oil". Subsequent tests showed it to be a commercially viable find; an appraisal project was launched  and on 14 September 2011 Rockhopper Exploration announced that plans were under way for oil production to commence in 2016, through the use of floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) technology.

That is why the fuss over the small islands. Where there is oil there is cash. So Argentina try and assert power over the Falkland Islands purely for the cash. But the United Kingdom don't look too good either. OK they protected the Falkland Islands in World War I when Argentina didn't. But why does the United Kingdom care so much? Once again Oil.

The 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom cost 1,000 lives and effected countless others who lost people in the war. So what would a war accomplish? Nothing. Ask any military person - The Royal Navy and the British forces can take out Argentina. The British Navy is still one of the most powerful and strategic.

But a war would result in more people dying unnecessarily. Instead of all the bickering between Argentina and the United Kingdom why not just do the sensible thing - have a referendum of the Falklanders. Let the people who actually live there decide what they want. And both sides (Argentina and the United Kingdom) will just have to abide with what the Falklanders want.

The Falkland Islands have their own government, and govern themselves, so let the people decide.

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