Welsh Settlement in Argentina: 150th Anniversary
Later this month, the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement in Patagonia will be celebrated in Argentina. On 28 July 1865, 153 Welsh settlers, including women and children, mainly from South Wales, arrived on the converted tea clipper, the Mimosa, near the Chubut River in Patagonia. They had been invited by the Argentine Government in line with their policy of attracting immigrants to open up the land and bring it under Argentine control. Initial settlement was difficult; the land offered was not as fertile as described but, with help from local indigenous people, the Welsh settlers persisted. They founded the town of Rawson, which is now the capital of Chubut province, and attracted a further 465 Welsh settlers in 1866 to construct a railway from the lower Chubut valley to Puerto Madryn. There are now about 50,000 descendants of the Welsh immigrants, mainly around the towns of Trelew and Trevelin, with about 5000 maintaining Welsh as their first language. Since the 100th anniversary in 1965, the Welsh national authorities have done much to foster the development of the Welsh language amongst the Welsh community in Argentina.
A delegation from the Welsh Assembly, led by Carwyn Jones AM, First Minister of Wales, will visit Chubut to attend the celebrations. Regrettably, it is likely that the Argentine Government will seek to exploit the occasion to promote their sovereignty claim to the Falkland Islands.
They have already begun the process. The Government of Argentina staged a photographic exhibition in the Palace of Westminster, which the Argentine Ambassador, Alicia Castro, opened on 7 July with the Chairman of the House of Commons Welsh Affairs Committee (David Davies MP). Mrs Castro said: "The Welsh settlers are an excellent example of the consideration, friendship and opportunities that our country [Argentina] offers people of British descent”. At the Argentine Embassy reception on 9 July to celebrate Argentina’s Independence Day, she commented: ‘We hope that this year, which marks the 150th anniversary of the Welsh settlement, will also be a year in which Argentina and the UK resume friendly and meaningful dialogue’ over the Falkland Islands.
Argentina has previously suggested that the Falkland Islanders have no reason to fear absorption into the Argentine Republic, notwithstanding plenty of evidence to the contrary. But the Islanders have made it crystal clear, particularly in the referendum in 2013, that they wish to remain a British Overseas Territory. The Falkland Islanders have the right to determine their own political future and should not be bamboozled by Argentine hypocrisy.
We have every confidence that the Welsh First Minister will not allow himself to be misrepresented by Argentine propagandists. We only hope that other members of the delegation will maintain the line.