Part 5 - The Argentine Claim

The United Nations and Decolonisation

In 1960 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in resolution 1514 "the necessity of bringing to a speedy and unconditional end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations."  The resolution recalled the right of all peoples to self-determination, but also stated its conviction that all peoples have "an inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory."  Argentina claimed that the British administration of the Islands was an affront to their territorial integrity, and in 1964 they raised the future of the Falkland Islands at the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation (also known as the Committee of 24). 

 The Argentine claim to the Islands rested on the papal bull of 1493 as modified by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, by which Spain and Portugal had divided the New World between themselves; on their title in succession to the early Spanish and French colonists; on the Islands' proximity to South America; and on the need to end a colonial situation.  The British claim to the Islands rested on the 1690 landing; on its open, continuous and effective possession, occupation and administration of the Islands since 1833; and on its determination to grant the Falkland Islanders the right to self-determination as recognised in the United Nations Charter.  The Islanders asserted their wish to remain British, pointing out that their history, language and way of life was bound up with Britain.  Far from ending a colonial situation, Argentine control of the Islands would create a colony, in direct contravention of the efforts of the United Nations to end colonialisation.  

On 8 September 1964, a light aircraft circled over Stanley before landing on the racecourse.  The pilot jumped out of his plane, planted an Argentine flag, handed over a letter stating Argentine sovereignty over the Islands to a bemused Islander, before flying off again.  The arrival of the plane was timed to coincide with the presentation to the United Nations Committee on Decolonisation of the formal Statement of Argentina's claim to 'Islas Malvinas'.

In 1965 the Committee on Decolonisation agreed, against Britain's strong objection that the Committee was not competent to deal with the matter as it concerned a territorial claim not one of decolonisation, that the Falkland Islands were an instance of colonialism and the governments of Britain and Argentina should proceed without delay to hold peaceful talks aimed at ending the sovereignty dispute, consistent with the principle of granting independence to colonial countries and peoples and "bearing in mind the interests of the population of the Falkland Islands".  The United Nations General Assembly ratified the Committee's decision and passed resolution 2065 to this effect.  Britain made no further objection, and entered into talks with Argentina, talks which continued on and off without resolution until the 1982 Conflict.

Argentinian Terrorism

In 1966 an Aerolineas Argentinas DC4 on an internal flight in Argentina was hijacked by a group of twenty nationalist terrorists calling themselves 'Condors'.  The arrival of the plane in the Falkland Islands was timed to coincide with the start of the Autumn session of the United Nations.  The terrorists forced the pilot to fly to Stanley and land on the racecourse.  The plane missed the grandstand but hit some telegraph poles and sunk into the mud.  The terrorists took four Islanders hostage, handed out to the next Islanders to arrive leaflets stating they had arrived to take over the Islands on behalf of the country to which they belonged, ran up the Argentine flag and demanded to see the Governor, before the plane was surrounded by marines and members of the Falkland Islands Defence Force.  

The terrorists vowed never to surrender but after a cold and uncomfortable night gave themselves up to the local priest and were housed in an annexe to St. Mary's Church until they were handed over to an Argentine naval ship and taken back to Argentina where they received nominal prison sentences.  The hijackers were seen as heroes and two years later a plaque honouring their achievement was unveiled in Buenos Aires.  Later it was discovered that this had been the first of three planes planning to land on the Falkland Islands.  The two other planes, with reinforcements and press, were grounded when the Argentine President was informed of the scheme and issued an order temporarily banning all civilian flights.

Later that year a small detachment of Argentine marines landed via submarine Santiago del Estero near Stanley for a few hours over a period of several nights.  Their remit was to reconnoitre potential landing beaches near Stanley.  The second officer on board, Juan Jose Lombardo, rose through the ranks to become Chief of Naval Operations and as such was the man responsible for planning the 1982 landings.

Islanders Reject Sovereignty Discussions

In November 1968 the Argentine press sponsored a plane to reach the Islands, but the plane crash-landed on Eliza Cove road.  The two Argentines on board - one the pilot from the 1964 Racecourse incident, the other one of the 1966 hijackers - wanted to attract publicity during the visit to the Islands of Lord Chalfont, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  As the plane flew overhead Lord Chalfont was talking to a public meeting, trying to allay Islanders' fears after news leaked out that the previous year British Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart had initiated sovereignty discussions during a visit to Buenos Aires the previous year.  

The unexpected Argentine visitors were returned to Buenos Aires on the ship which took Lord Chalfont back.  Their plane was dismantled and also shipped back.  The Islanders told Lord Chalfont in no uncertain terms that they rejected a Memorandum of Agreement negotiated between Britain and Argentina in August 1968, to the effect that Britain was prepared to discuss sovereignty provided the Islanders' wishes were respected.  Islanders made it clear that they were not prepared to accept or cooperate with any proposal which did not have their full approval.  

This firm stance was backed by a debate in the House of Commons, and by the Falkland Islands Committee, newly-formed in London by barrister Bill Hunter-Christie and other supporters of the Islands.  The Emergency Committee, as it was known, became a permanent thorn in the side of the Foreign Officer, countering every official move with public reminders that the Islanders were loyal British subjects, and their 'wishes', not just their 'interests', had to be respected.  In December 1968 the British government was forced to pledge that Islanders' wishes would be 'paramount'.

Communications Agreement

In response to this situation, Argentina resolved to try to win the hearts and minds of the Islanders by persuading them of the advantages of closer association with Argentina.  In 1971, following more secret talks and against the wishes of the Islanders, the British and Argentine governments signed a Communications Agreement.  Islanders were free to travel through Argentina, direct air and sea links would be set up between the Islands and Argentina, and post and telephone rates would be harmonised.

The effect of the Agreement was devastating.  The British Government terminated the subsidized shipping link with Montevideo in Uruguay, forcing Islanders to travel through Argentina.  Britain promised to provide a passenger-cargo ship operating to South America, implying that the new ship would be capable of trading with Uruguay if the Argentines ever abused their monopoly over air service, but this pledge was never fulfilled by Britain.  The Argentines built a temporary airstrip in Stanley in 1972 so that its military-run state airline, Lineas Aereas del Estado (LADE) could operate a weekly service to and from the mainland.  Britain fulfilled its promise to build a permanent airport, which opened in 1976, but which was notably too short to allow direct flights from Britain.. 

Islanders travelling through Argentina were forced to carry Argentine Identity Cards, known as a "tarjeta provisorio" or provisional card, bearing their personal details and the Argentine coat-of-arms.  Issued in Buenos Aires, the much-hated "white card" as Islanders called it, was a de facto Argentine passport, which only Islanders required and not other temporary residents of the Islands from mainland Britain.  The Argentines set up an office in Stanley to run LADE.  Mail was routed through Argentina.  It was agreed that Argentina would not insist that Islander men endure military service, but this only implied that they were in fact Argentine citizens who were merely being given special treatment.

It was also agreed that medical treatments unavailable in Stanley would be provided in Argentina, and scholarships would be made available for Islander children to study in Buenos Aires, Cordoba and other Argentine cities.  Argentina would provide Spanish language teachers for the Islands' schoolchildren.  The Foreign Office brief to its staff in Stanley was to do all they could to foster good relations between Islanders and Argentines.  

In 1974 Britain and Argentina agreed that the Islands would be supplied with petrol, diesel and oil by YPF, the Argentine State Oil Company, at mainland rates.  Again, Islanders objected, increasingly uncomfortable at their economic dependence on Argentina.



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