Recent stories about Argentina’s renewed declaration of the Falkland Islands may have made the news recently, but under the radar is a similar declaration of islands off the coast of Argentina. In this case, however, Argentina plays the role of the incumbent British tenants while the Netherlands – yes, the Netherlands – is playing the role of the protesting claimants.
The Isla de los Estados, Staten Island in English but, more importantly, Stateneiland in Dutch, were originally founded by two Dutchmen, Jacob le Maire from Antwerp, and William Schouten from Hoorn. La Maire and Schouten, who also founded the Tonga islands, documented the island on December 25, 1615, and called the area in which Stateneiland is located “country of the Lord of the States”. The name was given by Dutchman Hedrick Brouwed who circumvented the island for the first time in 1643. Located south of Argentina, between South America and Antarctica, the island is steeped in a jingoistic orange shade, and it is rumoured that the Dutch government is willing to stake its historic claim to the island once more.
Allegedly the Dutch government wants to make use of the forests on the islands, using the nuts yielded by the Nothofagus trees within the forests – their desired use of these nuts is unknown. The Dutch are also interested in the goats and deer present on the island. But Argentina also lays claim to the island, largely because of the geographic location of the island.
The first Argentine present on the island was Luis Piedra Buena who became obsessed with the island. Bueno utilised his house on the island for when parts of the Argentine navy arrived on the islands needing shelter and warmth – an average of eight wrecks a year occurred on the island at the time. Bueno became internationally recognized for his countless acts of courage in saving several stranded sailors. Argentina then sent six navy ships to a port on the island to build a lighthouse in 1884, but it was abandoned in 1902.
This lighthouse on the island gained eternal fame in Jules Verne’s last novel “The Lighthouse at the End of the World”. In the 1990s the French navigator Andre Bronner travelled to the island to replicate the famous lighthouse which had long since fallen into ruins following the passages of time. Bronner had to overcome various problems in completing this project, most of which were caused by the Argentine government who had declared the island an ecological reserve. It is this sovereignty over the island that the Dutch wish to challenge, using their historical claim to the island to dispute Argentina’s current sovereignty. The island is currently untouched by man.
Tensions could rise though. Argentina’s own historic claims, the lighthouse in particular having a great importance to the country’s navy at the end of the 19th century, could come into direct confrontation with Holland’s preceding claims. Argentina also claims to be preserving the island’s precious flora and fauna – which Holland appears to wish to utilise.
To avoid rising these tensions to an unnecessary level, it seems that the best solution for the two countries may simply be to maintain the current status quo. Holland’s reasons for claiming the island, as things stand, seem dubious and a result of historical pettiness. Argentina’s geographic claim in opposition to this would similarly appear petty and unnecessary. As things stand, the island causes neither of the countries’ people any particular stress. Any strife caused by the Isla de los Estados would seem, quite frankly, like an attention grabbing scheme by the Dutch. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen.