ushuaia’s plaza islas malvinas: no falklands here


IMG_1126Las Malvinas son Argentinas – the Malvinas Islands are Argentine.  This is something you will see and hear during your travels to Argentina, in part due to a 2014 law passed by the Argentine Congress stating that all public transport must have signs with this phrase.

The Islas Malvinas, or as they are known to most of the world, the Falkland Islands, are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governance, and the United Kingdom takes responsibility for their defense and foreign affairs.  The current population is approximately 3,000.

At various times during their history, the islands have had French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Great Britain reasserted its rule in 1833, although Argentina maintained and maintains its claim to the islands. In April of 1982, Argentine forces temporarily occupied the islands. British administration was restored two months later at the end of the Falklands War. Under the British Nationality [Falkland Islands] Act of 1983, Falkland Islanders are British citizens and the official language is English.

Google Maps shows them as the Falkland Islands

Both the British and Spanish settlements had coexisted since the late eighteenth century, leaving a vacuum to be filled by the next colonial power, in this case Spain, based in what is now Argentina.  During the first half of the twentieth century, Great Britain reasserted its territorial influence over the islands and played a central role in its claims to various subantarctic and South Atlantic islands and a section of Antarctica.  During WWI and WWII the islands were used by Great Britain as a military base aiding control of the South Atlantic. In the First World War Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, a Royal Navy fleet defeated an Imperial German squadron. In the Second World War, following the December 1939 Battle of the River Plate, the battle-damaged HMS Exeter steamed to the islands for repairs.

Tensions between Great Britain and Argentina increased during the second half of the twentieth century, when Argentine President Juan Perón asserted sovereignty over the islands. The sovereignty dispute intensified during the 1960s, shortly after the United Nations passed a resolution on decolonization which Argentina interpreted as favorable to its position.  In 1965, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for both states to conduct bilateral negotiations to reach a peaceful settlement of the dispute.

IMG_2602Over the next few years, Great Britain, in behind closed doors meetings, discussed the possibility of the transfer of the Falkland Islands to Argentina, assuming its judgement would be accepted by the islanders.  An agreement on trade ties between the islands and the mainland was reached in 1971 and soon thereafter Argentina built a temporary airfield at Stanley in 1972.  Nonetheless, the wish of the islanders as expressed by their strong lobby to the British Parliament, and tensions between Great Britain and Argentina effectively halted sovereignty negotiations until 1977.

Concerned at the expense of maintaining the Falkland Islands in an era of austerity, Great Britain again considered transferring sovereignty to Argentina in the early days of the Margaret Thatcher government.  Sovereignty talks again ended by 1981, and from there tensions escalated.  In the spring of 1982, the disagreement became an armed conflict when Argentina invaded the Falklands and other British territories in the South Atlantic, briefly occupying them until a British expeditionary force retook the territories in June.  After the war, Great Britain expanded its military presence.  Argentina and Great Britain re-established diplomatic relations in 1990; relations have since deteriorated as neither has agreed on the terms of future sovereignty discussions.

IMG_1128In Ushuaia, along the coast, can be found the Plaza Islas Malvinas, a memorial park dedicated to the islands and to the Argentine soldiers who lost their lives in the late twentieth century conflict.  The lyrics to the song “La Isla de la Buena Memoria,” from a popular Argentine musician, Alejandro Lerner, can be found written on a placard in the park.