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The “Expulsion Myth” – Argentina’s Greatest Historical Falsehood

Britain did not expel an Argentine population in January 1833 when Britain re-asserted its sovereignty in the Falklands. But no piece of Argentine propaganda has been more successful than its falsehood that Britain expelled an “Argentine population”. This is known in British circles as the “Expulsion Myth”. Argentina uses it to support the specious argument that self-determination belongs to an “expelled Argentine population” and not the people who actually live there today.

Argentina has brainwashed its own citizens into believing this falsehood, and has used it in many international forums. Among other historical falsehoods, it was repeated five times by Argentine UN representative Dr. Jose Maria Ruda in a speech to the United Nations in September 1964. By using such false history, Argentina obtained UN Resolution 2065 in December 1965, which called for sovereignty negotiations. Those negotiations were still going on when Argentina invaded, starting the 1982 war. The British Foreign Office had not researched the history of the Falklands properly, and so was not in a position to contradict this expulsion falsehood. This disastrous omission contributed enormously to Argentina’s diplomatic successes both before and after the war. In fact, if what we know now about Falklands history had been known back in 1964, the Falklands War might not have taken place at all.

18th Century Claims

Here is what happened. France first claimed the Falklands in 1764 and founded Port Louis. In January 1765 Commodore Byron claimed the Falklands for Britain at the harbour he named Port Egmont. The British and French garrisons then both told each other to leave the Islands.

Spain took over the French settlement in the Falklands in January 1767. On 10 June 1770 Spain seized Port Egmont in a surprise attack during peacetime. War between Britain and Spain was only averted by the Anglo-Spanish Agreement of January 1771, known in Britain as the “Falklands Convention”. Spain was forced to dissociate itself from its attack on Port Egmont and to return it to Britain. The 1771 agreement recognised both Britain and Spain as rival claimants to the entire Falklands archipelago, but it did not decide the sovereignty issue; it merely prevented war at that time.

Britain evacuated its Port Egmont garrison in 1774 during the reorganisation forced by the approaching revolution in Britain’s North American Colonies. But British and American ships continued to use the Falklands, mainly for seal hunting. Spain did not use the Falklands for seal hunting, and did not introduce a civilian population; its settlement was just a garrison and penal settlement. Spain evacuated this in its entirety in 1811 to face the revolution in its South American colonies. That left the Falklands with no population at all, except visiting seal hunters, largely British and American. Oil from seals and whales was widely used in lamps and was the main lubricant used in the Industrial Revolution, and the pelts of fur seals were valuable.

Argentina Involved

After a failed attempt in 1824, a small Argentine settlement was established in the Falklands in June 1826. Its founder was Louis Vernet, an immigrant to Argentina, born in Hamburg, where his family were French Huguenot refugees.

In 1829, Argentina publicly made the Falklands into an administrative division known as a “Comandancia” on 10 June – the same date as the Spanish attack in 1770. This led to a British diplomatic protest. Argentina appointed Vernet as unpaid commandant, but he told Britain’s minister in Buenos Aires that he would have no objection to British sovereignty, as long as his property was respected. He sent a similar message to Britain in 1831 via a visiting British ship’s captain.

Vernet’s settlement was always in financial difficulties. In 1831, he tried to improve his situation by seizing three American sealing vessels, aiming to take over this lucrative business for himself. He did not molest British vessels – he had been warned in 1830 not to do so. He took one of the American ships to Buenos Aires for trial (alleging illegal sealing). He hoped all three would be confiscated and become his property. Instead it led to his ruin. He never returned to the Falklands.

The Americans did not recognise any sovereignty in the Falklands, and considered that Vernet had committed piracy. So the US warship Lexington sailed to the Falklands and broke up Vernet’s settlement over the New Year 1831 – 2. Its captain arrested several of Vernet’s men for piracy, and persuaded most of the European and Argentine settlers to leave. But most of Vernet’s gauchos, who he considered to be just employees rather than potential land owners, remained. So did three of his black indentured labourers (slaves).

Negotiations between Argentina and the United States failed in August 1832, and American envoy Francis Baylies left Argentina that September, severing diplomatic relations with Argentina for the next 11 years. Vernet did not want to return to the Falklands then, so on 10 September Argentina appointed a former French officer, Etienne Mestivier, serving in the Argentine army, as a temporary commandant. This provoked another British protest dated 28 September 1832.

Mestivier sailed from Buenos Aires in a small Argentine warship, the Sarandi, captained by Jose Maria Pinedo, on 23 September 1832. With him went a garrison of 26 soldiers, with their 11 women and 8 children. They reached the Falklands on 6 October 1832. So the British protest of 28 September was made before Mestivier and his handful of troops even reached the Falklands. Argentine criminals were often sentenced to service in the army, and this garrison included several.

After landing Mestivier and the garrison, the Sarandi went on a patrol around the Falklands, clashing with another American sealing vessel, the Sun. While it was away, on 30 November 1832, the garrison mutinied, murdered Mestivier, and then rampaged through the tiny settlement, causing chaos and plundering the houses. Several residents took refuge on a British sealing vessel, the Rapid, that was in the Falklands for repair at the time. The mutineers were caught by some gauchos, and crewmen from a French whaling vessel that arrived by chance during the mutiny. The arrested mutineers were held in irons on the Rapid.

Weeks passed and the remainder of the garrison feared that the Sarandí had been lost. So they chartered the Rapid on 29 December to take them all back to Argentina. It was due to sail on 31 December 1832 – but the Sarandí returned to Port Louis on 30 December and Pinedo countermanded the order for the Rapid to sail.

Britain Reacts

Alarmed by news of the raid by the USS Lexington, the British Government had ordered the Admiralty to send a warship to visit the Falklands every year to uphold Britain’s sovereignty claim and prevent any foreign forces from establishing themselves there. The British Government was much more concerned about the possibility of American forces than about Argentine forces. HMS Clio was the first ship and was followed three weeks later by HMS Tyne. Captain Onslow of the Clio raised the British flag again at Port Egmont, which was deserted, on 20 December 1832. Onslow then sailed to Port Louis arriving on 2 January 1833. He found the Sarandi there and ordered Pinedo to leave and take the garrison. He sailed on 4 January 1833 taking the garrison and their dependants. The Rapid left the next day taking the mutineers in irons. In Buenos Aires, seven of them were shot by firing squad for the murder of Mestivier. Three others were disciplined – two were severely flogged and had their period of service in the Argentine army extended. This mutinous garrison was the only group expelled. It had been there just less than three months. They were clearly not genuine residents, and if the Sarandi had returned just three days later they would have already gone. The British protest at the appointment of Mestivier clearly covered the handful of troops that went with him and had been made before they even reached the Falklands. Despite this, Argentina has tried to make Britain’s action look like “ethnic cleansing”. That is the “Expulsion Myth”.

The truth is that Britain only expelled the mutinous, murderous, and recently arrived garrison. Captain Onslow of the Clio had specific orders not to molest the handful of civilians, some of whom were gauchos, skilled horsemen engaged in hunting the wild cattle that had been introduced in the previous century. Their skill had enabled Vernet to supply fresh meat to vessels coming around Cape Horn. Without them, that would cease. So Onslow tried to persuade them all to stay – and most did. The only gaucho who chose to leave was the Uruguayan Mateo Gonzalez (with his partner Marica). The Brazilian gaucho Joaquin Acuna went too (together with his partner Juana). As far as Britain was concerned he too went of his own free will. But Vernet later described him as a “slacker”, and praised one of his own men for removing him. Two more gauchos had been removed by Pinedo as “idle” and “incorrigible”. They had been put on the Sarandi before it had left on its patrol. Their departure had nothing to do with Britain – they were removed by Argentina.

Pinedo wrote an account of it all when he got back to Buenos Aires. He recorded three “foreigners” leaving – he clearly thought they did not qualify as genuine residents. Two of them were Juan Quedy and Jose Viel. They were not part of Vernet’s operation, and nothing is known about them. Another was a Galician seaman, Francisco Freire. He had been in the Falklands throughout 1832. He would clearly not have been forced to leave. Pinedo also listed a “prisoner”, Maximo Warnes. He was probably the first inmate for the prison that Argentina intended to establish in the Falklands. He must have come with the garrison and left with them. Pinedo made it clear that none of the genuine residents had been forced to go. However, a “distressed” British seaman, Charles Brasier, was taken onboard the Clio at his own request, and Onslow took an American seaman, William Drake, on board too. He was seen as an “improper” person to be in the Falklands. This left twenty-two civilians in the Falklands, including nine gauchos and three women, two of whom were Vernet’s black indentured laborers. One of these black women had children, who left in the 1850s.

Vernet’s Men Return

Representatives of Vernet returned to the Falklands in March 1833 and re-established his operation – and his poor treatment of the gauchos. This led to an outburst of violence by a few of the gauchos on 26 August that year over a pay dispute. Five of Vernet’s top men were murdered. Two of these were British. So this has been misrepresented by some Argentine nationalists as an anti-British rising. But they represented Vernet and so Argentina, not Britain. Vernet regarded the murders just as crime, not patriotism – and this view is shared by most Argentine historians. In fact, the Argentine History Academy ruled on this in 1966 stating just that. Those murders crippled Vernet’s operation. British ships returned to the Falklands in 1834, and arrested the murderers, and the Falklands have been British ever since – except during the Argentine occupation in 1982.

The handful of survivors of Vernet’s operation lived on in the Falklands. Vernet accepted compensation for his moveable property, mainly his horses, in 1858. The last of his settlers died in 1871 in Stanley.

Argentina dropped its claim to the Falklands in 1850 when the Convention of Peace (following the Parana War) annulled all outstanding problems. But Argentina tried to revive it again in 1884, after it had occupied the mainland coast opposite. Argentina’s current campaign began during the Second World War as it tried to take advantage of Britain’s difficulties then.

The Expulsion Myth at the UN

Argentina has used the Expulsion Myth to mislead the United Nations into passing several Resolutions calling for sovereignty negotiations. One was Resolution 2065 in December 1965, which led to sovereignty negotiations. Another was 31/49 in December 1976. That forbade unilateral action by either Britain or Argentina. Argentina cites this nowadays to criticise British activity in the Falklands. But Argentina broke 31/49 disgracefully when it invaded the Falklands in 1982. It broke it again in 1994 when it put its claim to the Falklands into its 1994 constitution. It broke it yet again in 2009 when, under Argentine law, it put the Falklands into the Province of Tierra del Fuego.

Now Argentina repeatedly calls for a “peaceful negotiated solution”. However, with its claim now enshrined in its Constitution the “solution” could only be a complete handover of the Falklands to Argentina – against the will of the Islanders.

The Falkland Islands Association exists to ensure that the Islanders have the right to choose their own future, and not be bullied into becoming part of Argentina.

“The ruins of the warehouse at Port Egmont, where Commodore Byron claimed the Falklands for Britain in January 1765”.

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