All things being equal, the people of the Chagos Islands in the central Indian Ocean are due a lot of sympathy, and the British are for the most part a sympathetic, hospitable lot. The Îlois or Chagossian people, who are of mostly African descent, were removed from their remote homeland in the late 1960s and early ’70s to make way for a massive United States, United Kingdom, and NATO air base that is a keystone of Western air capability for Middle Eastern and African conflicts, most of it on the large Chagossian island of Diego Garcia. For decades, about half the 3,000-strong Chagossian nation has lived in exile in the village of Crawley, in Sussex, England, and this diaspora has become more and more politicized, demanding a chance to resettle in the cluster of atolls that they regard as home. Only just last year (as reported at the time in this blog) did the U.K. government seem to give in, promising to “study” the “feasibility” of resettling the Chagossians in what is now, formally, the British Indian Ocean Territory (B.I.O.T.).
It is hard not to side with the Chagossians. Whatever the usefulness of the military base, their rights were violated, and they are a landless people. From a human-rights perspective, it is an open-and-shut case, and most British tend to agree.
|Olivier Bancoult, Chagossian activist|
Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982 and ended up soundly defeated in the subsequent war with the U.K. The Falklands, which have no indigenous people, has never had a permanent Argentinian population, though it was claimed by a Connecticut naval mercenary in 1820 on behalf of Argentina’s predecessor state, the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata. Argentina’s persistence in pressing its claim—now only in legal and political fora—is wildly popular throughout Latin America (even Pope Francis backs the claim!), despite the fact that there is no real argument behind it except proximity (even weaker than Russia’s argument for annexing Crimea). A referendum in the Falklands on the islands’ status a year ago came out with 1,513 votes to keep the current status—a self-governing territory of the U.K.—and only 3 votes against.
It seems fairly likely that the Argentine administration of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were the ones who had the idea of linking the Chagossian and neo-Perónist Falklands-annexation causes. This wouldn’t be the first time Argentina has tried to scare up allies among groups who see Britain as a colonizing aggressor. Last year, Buenos Aires tried to get separatists in Scotland on its side. Part of this plan was a hope that the presence of a large ethnic-Welsh population in Argentina’s Chubut province, in Patagonia, could strum the harp strings of Scottish feelings of pan-Celtic unity. But this was a misjudgement: Scots and Welsh people died defending the Falklands from Argentine aggression too. Even the anti-Westminster nationalists north of Hadrian’s Wall were insulted by the Argentine suggestion.
|Flag of the Falkland Islands|
Bancoult, the C.R.G. president, does not live in Crawley, but in Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation where most of the rest of the Chagossian diaspora lives and which, awkwardly, also claims the B.I.O.T. as its own. I hope Bancoult likes it in Mauritius: after making the serious blunder of pandering to a nation still seen as a fierce enemy of the British people, he may not be going home any time soon.
|Making themselves at home for the time being: the Chagossian national football team|
(as mentioned before in this blog) plays in Britain against stateless teams like Sealand and Alderney.