Divided Islands

The divided islands: Saint Martin

This series of articles will focus on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

The island of Saint Martin was discovered by Christopher Columbus, who was then on his second voyage to the Caribbean, on November 11th 1493, on Saint Martin’s day, hence the name. Due to its salt deposits and protected waters, the Flemish, Dutch, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish all wanted to take possession of the newly discovered land.

The Dutch started occupying Saint Martin in 1627, which caused direct confrontation with Spain as Columbus had claimed the island for the Spanish Crown. The Spaniards, however, Continue reading

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Divided Islands

The divided islands: Hispaniola

The next series of articles will focus on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.

From quickly scanning through the cases of split islands, it is easy to see that the divide is more than just about sovereignty and statehood. In a vast majority of cases, it is possible to see a broad gap between the parts although they share a common border and the same floating piece of land.

Map Hispaniola

Map of Hispaniola

Let’s dig into the first case, Hispaniola. The latter can also be referred to at Santo Domingo, after the name of its original capital.

Conquest and division

Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint Louverture

Discovered in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, Hispaniola, or La Isla Española as it was first named, is located in the Greater Caribbean. The location of the island was a strategic asset for Spain’s expansion in the Americas, notably in Mexico, Cuba, Panama and South America.  Upon discovery, the Spaniards killed the majority of the local populations, the Tainos, and principally settled in the South East region of the island, allowing France to occupy parts of the West. The French presence was recognized by Spain in 1697. In 1804, the slaves, under the leadership of Toussaint Louverture, revolted again the French and seized their independence under the name of Haiti. The West then invaded the rest of the island, after which the Spanish part declared its independence in 1844 under the name of the Dominican Republic. Unhappy about the situation, the Spaniards regained control of their territory to again become a Spanish dominion. Real independence was finally proclaimed in 1865. Haiti covers about one third of the island, or about 27 000 sq. km.

The island is prone to hurricanes and other weather-related disasters.

The Dominican Republic

Official language: Spanish

Population: 10,478,756 (July 2015 est.)

GDP per capita: $14,000 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 18.84 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 77.97 years

Human Development Index rank: 101

The Dominican Republic (DR) is a relatively stable democracy despite the recurring political scandals that shake the government in place every now and then. It was not always like that as before 1996, periods of dictatorship, coups and civil war followed one another. The current President is Danilo Medina Sanchez.

Economically speaking, the service sector has taken over the nation’s agriculture productions (sugar, coffee, tobacco). Tourism and telecommunication are the most important sources of revenue for the country. The extraction of silver and gold is also a non-negligible asset for the local economy. “Remittances amount to about 7% of GDP”, and come from Dominicans who emigrated to the US or Puerto Rico where they found better working conditions and higher salaries. In the Dominican Republic, unemployment is high (14,5% as estimated in 2014) and income inequalities force many to leave the country.

The Dominican Republic was not affected by the 2010 Earthquake which destroyed Haiti. The government, however, immediately sent aid to its neighbouring country.

Haiti

Haiti earthquake

The damaged National Palace in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, after the earthquake that occurred on Jan. 12, 2010. (Image: Logan Abassi—Minustah/Getty Images)

Official languages: French and Creole

Population: 10,110,000 (est. 2015)

GDP per capita: $1,800 (2014 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 47.98 deaths/1,000 live births

Life expectancy at birth: 63.51 years

Human development index rank: 163

Although rich under the colonial rule of the French due to the slave trade and deforestation, Haiti is now the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The country has been rules by a succession of dictators, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier. Political instability is still very important today, and the UN has had to get involved several times in order to organize local democratic and fair elections, like in 2004 after the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned. The current President, Michel Martelly, is currently running for re-election.

Haiti UN

UN peacekeepers attempting to direct earthquake victims queuing for aid outside the National Palace, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 25, 2010. (Source: Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images)

The development of the country is hindered by corruption, the low level of education, and dependence on foreign aid. In addition, the 7.0 of magnitude earthquake which epicentre was located 25km off of Port-au-Prince, the capital city, destroyed most of the city and killed over 300,000 people. 1,5million Haitians were left homeless after the disaster. The reconstruction of the country is still in progress with the help of international economic assistance. This disaster was a massive blow to the economy and development of Haiti, from which the country is still struggling to recover.

The future of Haiti is, however, not very bright as the lack of local infrastructure impedes foreign investment. The instability of the country has also demanded for UN peacekeepers to deploy there for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti in 2004 “to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote the political process, to strengthen Haiti’s Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures, as well as to promote and to protect human rights.”

Contrast & cross-border issues

The contrast between the two sides of the island is drastic. One side, Haiti, is poor and underdevelopped, while the other, DR, is consistently developping.

Of course, some traits can be found in both Haiti and DR, such as their vulnerability to natural disasters and governmental instability. They, however, do not have the same means at hand to respond to those issues.

The main issue that affects the island of Hispaniola as a whole is migration, and more specifically from the West to the East. Immigration from Haiti to its neighbouring country has been important for centuries due to the lingering economic problems Port-au-Prince has been faced with. Discrimination against Haitian is, however, strong in Santo Domingo against the darker-skinned migrants. This originates from the colonial era as Haitians’ ancestors are the African slaves who rebelled against their white owners. Illegal immigration has been a recurring problem that the Dominican political class has tried to stop several times with gruesome methods. For example, in 1937, dictator Rafael Trujillo, ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians who had crossed the common border into his country.

Haiti at the border

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. (Image: Alex Proimos/Flickr)

Today, it is estimated that 300,000 Haitians live in the Dominican Republic to work in fields or dig the ditches to support the expansion of the country’s infrastructure, for the meager salary of $4.50 a day. Thousands of Haitians also cross the porous border every day to work in DR. In order to stop the illegal migration flows, the Dominican government has put in place “Operation Shield” to post more troops at the border. In addition, “a September 2013 Constitutional Court ruling revoked the citizenship of those born after 1929 to immigrants without proper documentation, even though the constitution at the time automatically granted citizenship to children born in the Dominican Republic”. This ruling has created indignation and fear amongst the Haitian population in DR as the Operation has the potential to the create the status of statelessness for those who have no family connection with the DR but have never lived in Haiti. 10,000 undocumented Haitians have already been expelled and many more have left DR out of fear. They now live in shanty towns on the Haitian side of the border and cross everyday to got to work.

The differences between the two countries are easy to see; they are the result of the colonial era, their respective political evolutions as well as weather conditions which affect each sides the island differently. All in all, Haiti and the Dominican Republic started their history together but are now on two very different paths. Hispaniola is divided, between languages, cultures, wealth, history, and skin colours. History is rarely linear, and Hispaniola is the perfect example of that.

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Territories in the Pacific

Tuvalu: Countdown to drowning  

Tuvalu is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. It is one of the worst case illustrating the damaging effects of climate change. COP21 and other strategies are the country’s only ways to pressure the international community to strike a deal which would effectively slow down the climate deregulation process, thus buying more time to the islands before they are covered by the seas. 

Tuvalu is made of nine tiny islands (five of which are coral atolls), located in the South Pacific somewhere halfway between Hawaii and Australia. The country spreads over a total of 26 square kilometers of land. It is also, with a little over 10,000 inhabitants, the third-least populous sovereign state in the world, after the Vatican City and Nauru.

Map of Tuvalu

Map of Tuvalu

The islands were not inhabited until the 14th century, when Samoans, Tongans and settlers from other Polynesian islands migrated there. The territories were discovered by the Spanish in the 16th century. The island of Funafuti, where the current capital is, was then visited by the Brits who gave it the name of Ellice Island, after the name of the ship they were embarked on. The name was then extended to the archipelago. Between 1850 and 1875, many Tuvaluans were kidnapped for forced labour on plantations in Fiji and Queensland. Combined with the introduction of European diseases, the population of Tuvalu dropped from 20,000 to 3,000.  In 1892, Ellice Islands were merged with the Gilbert Islands as a British protectorate, a situation which lasted until 1975. The name of Tuvalu, meaning “eight standing together” replaced that of Ellice Islands. Three years later, the territory obtained its independence. (For more details about the history of Tuvalu, click here)

Irreversible climate change

Tuvalu’s doomed situation is what has been bringing this country to the headlines: it is so far one of the places in the world which has been the most affected by climate change. The archipelago is, on average, at 2 meters above sea level, with the culminating point at 4,6 meters. With the global rise of the seas, Tuvalu is bound to eventually drown. The emergency of the situation has been raised already in 1989 when the UN listed “Tuvalu as one of a number of island groups most likely to disappear beneath the sea in the 21st century because of global warming”.

Global warming has been affecting Tuvalu in many different ways. Among others, the rising of the seas threatens human activities. The coral reefs which surround most atolls are being damaged, which jeopardizes the fish stock, Tuvalu’s only national resource and crucial for feeding the population. The sea is also “invading underground fresh water supplies, which has consequences for farming, while drought constantly threatened to limit drinking water. Annual spring tides appear to be getting higher each year, eroding the coastline.” Global warming has also brought in more extreme weather conditions in the region – cyclones especially – as illustrated by Tropical Cyclone Pam which hit Tuvalu and Vanuatu on March 10, 2015. Among other consequences, “Cyclone Pam has redrawn the map of Tuvalu, scouring away coastlines, cutting an island in half, and making one islet disappear altogether.” Plus, “researchers projected that international migration would increase sharply by 2055 from Tuvalu, Kiribati and Nauru. The study found storms and “king tides” are likely to worsen. Sea levels have risen about 20 centimeters in the past century.

Tuvalu, facing Cyclone Pam

Tuvalu, facing Cyclone Pam (Photo: AFP)

When Cyclone Pam tore Tuvalu and the Vanuatu apart, the Red Cross and other humanitarian aid organizations came to the rescue of the islanders. The Italian Foreign Ministry also donate 100,000 euros to Tuvalu and 300,000 to Vanuatu for rebuilding the two countries. However, as highlighted by the Tuvaluan Prime Minister at COP21, “While [the Tuvaluans] were grateful for the assistance [they] received from the relief community, this ad hoc response to the impacts of climate change cannot continue. We need a permanent mechanism for Loss and Damage anchored in the Paris Treaty to give us the assurance that the necessary response to climate change impacts will be forthcoming.”

Seeking new land

One must understand the gravity of the situation: Tuvalu may soon disappear, swallowed by the seas. The rising of the seas and cyclones have already pushed many to flee the archipelago to find safer living conditions – it is estimated that the Tuvaluan diaspora in New Zealand already regroups 2,600 individuals. However, not every inhabitant of Tuvalu has the financial means to emigrate.

The government of Tuvalu is currently seeking solutions for its population. Fiji has recently “reaffirmed it will offer permanent refuge to citizens of Tuvalu and Kiribati should the risk of rising sea levels intensify in their islands” and New Zealand also agreed to welcome more refugees. Australia has so far not made any commitment.

COP21

The UN Climate Summit currently taking place in Paris has been the perfect platform for Tuvalu and the other endangered territories around the world to make their voices heard.

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, the Honourable Enele S. Sopoaga, made the following declarations at the Leaders Events for Heads of State and Government at the Opening of the COP21 on November 30, 2015:

“Today, we stand here facing one of the greatest challenges of humankind, – climate change. We are at a critical point of history … Tuvalu’s future at current warming, is already bleak, any further temperature increase will spell the total demise of Tuvalu. No leader around        this room carries such a level of worry and responsibility … For Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and many others, setting a global temperature goal of below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels is critical … Tuvalu is already suffering the impacts of climate change.”

(For the full address, click here)

Tuvalu Banki Moon

(Top Left) Mr. Ban met with the Prime Minister of Tuvalu – Photo: Instagram @UnitedNations

Tuvalu has been an apparent leader of the fight taken on by small countries to put pressure on the big ones to come up with solutions and sign a deal. US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon both met with Tuvaluan Prime Minister Enele Sapoaga during COP21, thus illustrating the relevance of Tuvalu when discussing climate change.

Tuvalu, like the Maldives, Philippines and many other are already facing the effects of global warming. It is no longer something which is coming, it is already here. And although COP21 wants to prove that the issue is being taken seriously by governments, what has been put on the table so far has not been ambitious enough. Even Ban Ki Moon called for a lower threshold than negotiated, explaining that “even a 2-degree rise will have serious consequences for food and water security, economic stability and international peace … The world’s Small Island Developing States have even less room to manoeuvre, and are desperately asking the world to keep temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.” Sacrifices will need to be made, but they need to be made now before it is really too late.

Sovereignty recognition against attention

Tuvalu, like most Pacific islands, is extremely isolated and dependents almost exclusively on imports and international generosity and support. However, an interesting fact somewhat put Tuvalu, along with Vanuatu and Kiribati, back on the map in 2011 – this time, for other reasons that climate related issues.

Three years after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008 during which the pro-Russian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia seceded, the government of Tuvalu formally recognized the independence of the two newly created political entities. Their independence is not, however, recognized by the international community in the name of Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Many questions were raised following what seemed to be quite a random diplomatic act on the part of Tuvalu. What did they get out of recognizing two separatist regions located on the other side of the planet and with which they had nothing in common? Although there is no clear answer, the fact that Russia and the archipelago established diplomatic relations a few weeks after the recognition cannot be a coincidence – it seems extremely odd that Russia and Tuvalu would hold private meetings to discuss bilateral cooperation, including trade, fishing and education when the two nations had never been in contact before.

Tuvalu is also one of the few countries to recognize Taiwan today. This has, however, pushed Taiwan to say that it “wants to help Tuvalu deal with the effects of rising sea levels”.

So, what can we deduct from those two cases? It is possible to assume that, by recognizing states in search of international recognition, Tuvalu actually attracts media attention which can come in helpful to raise awareness about the archipelago’s struggles – a money-against-recognition type of deal is probably the most probable option. It may also push those who do not wish for Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Taiwan to be recognized as independent states to raise their bids and offer Tuvalu support in an effort to buy their allegiance. As an illustration,  Tuvalu finally retracted its recognition of the two secessionist regions last March when the Pacific nation agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Georgia. It seems like changing side is never a problem. This strategy has proven relatively effective, but Tuvalu’s best bet today is still on demonstrating that global warming is no longer a myth.

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Countries, History and Culture, Uncategorized

Nauru: When Development Goes Wrong  

Imagine an island lost in the middle of an Ocean where people have lived in peace and harmony with the local nature and wildlife for centuries. Then imagine the damages of colonialism and the exploitation to exhaustion of the local natural resource. Then what? Well, everything, from the local culture, wildlife, source of revenues and chance for a bright future have disappeared. This is what happened to several isolated places around the world. The most extreme case is, however, that of Nauru. This little island of 21 square kilometers located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Australia and Hawaii, has been through it all, from peace to war, from a quiet traditional life to extreme westernization, and from wealth to poverty.

Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

Nauru, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean

Discovered in 1789 by a British Captain who nicknamed it ‘Pleasant Island’, Nauru was then colonized by Germany in 1888 and taken over by Australia after World War I. The Japanese occupation during World War II dramatically reduced the local population by deporting two-thirds of them to Micronesia for force labour, or because of starvation and bombings during the war. After the conflict, Nauru became a trust territory administered by Australia. The island finally seized its independence in 1968, thus becoming the world’s smallest sovereign entity of the time.

From ‘Heaven’ to Hell

In 1900, it was discovered that Nauruans were sitting on large amounts of phosphate, a highly demanded natural resource used as fertilizer for agriculture. The exploitation of the mineral thus started. The production became more intense with the development of new means of transportation and the modernization of the industry. Australia was the main importer of the resource. The entire economy of Nauru adapted to the wealth of their soil: all traditional occupations disappeared and everyone reconverted into the production of phosphate. As the local population was not sufficient, foreigners arrived on the island, mainly from neighboring islands but also from Asia. At the end of the 1990s, it was estimated that “out of a total population of 12,000, some 4,000 are foreigners. Australians serve as managers, doctors and engineers, Chinese run the restaurants and shops, while other Pacific islanders do the dirty work in the mines.”

Phosphate made Nauru extremely rich: in the 1970s, the island even became the second largest country in the world, with three times the GDP of the United States. The island quickly developed, and the newly founded sovereign state took it upon itself to offer the best services to its population, possible thanks to the revenues generated by the mining. With the feeling that the wrongs of the past had been corrected, namely that the local resources were finally in the hands of the local population after decades of foreign rule, the Nauruans were now able to consume to their liking, and did not need to work to enjoy a high quality of life. The government could indeed provide free health care and education to everyone without imposing taxes.

This situation lasted as long as there was phosphate left: being a finite resource, phosphate eventually ran out. The ‘resource curse‘ had stricken.

A Series of Poor choices

Nobody was oblivious: it was clear from the very beginning that the phosphate would not last forever. A series of measures to continue benefiting from the revenues of the mineral were put in place such as a diversity of investments abroad. Most of them, contracted by the Australian authorities and the Nauruans government both seemed to have met misfortune, thus shrinking the long term revenues for the island. In addition, eager to enjoy their wealth, the Nauruan governments made some poor choices which cost them later on: the creation of a local airline, Air Nauru, was clearly not adapted to the needs and size of the island with its 7 planes even though the local population was around 10,000 inhabitants. When the revenues came to lack, Nauru was no longer able to pay for all the services it had previously offered, and accumulated large amounts of debt it tried to cover by asking for loans from the Asian Central Bank, but also by trying to become an offshore banking center, and tax haven for the Russian mafia, without success as the G7 quickly put an end to it. Nauru even sued Australia in 1989 in front of the International Court of Justice asking for repair for the destruction of one third of the island during the colonial era. Australia settled the suit for about $75 million. The fall of the price of phosphate in the 90s only worsened the situation, until it ran out in the early 2000.

The story of Nauru’s descent from prosperity to penury is one of the most cautionary tales of modern development

Dramatic Consequences

Beyond the impact on the local economy, the exploitation of phosphate irreversibly affected numerous aspects of Nauru’s life. First, the local population seems to have forgotten how to do anything with is not linked to mining; fishing has long been forgotten and replaced by imported processed food and the excavation of the phosphate has destroyed all possible arable land. As a result, the island entirely depends on imports for its food and the population presents high levels of obesity and diabetes and high blood pressure, and the life expectancy has dramatically dropped to 50 for men and 55 for women. It is estimated that 95% of the population is overweight.

Nauru

Nauru from the sky – Photo: Radio Australia

The consequences for the local climate are also worth mentioning: the deforestation on 90% of the islands have induced a continuous drought and is struck by heat waves. In addition, the local population lives on the coast, which is only 10 meters above the sea level, making them very vulnerable in the face of climate change and the rising of the oceans. For that reason, Nauru has joined 44 other small countries like Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) who fight together to ensure the survival of their threatened nations. The Maldives are on the forefront of the battle, hoping to put pressure on the big countries to halt the already ongoing global warming process which is already harming many in small islands around the globe.

Today, “seen from the air, Nauru resembles an enormous moth-eaten fedora: a ghastly grey mound of rock surrounded by a narrow green brim of vegetation.”

All in all, Nauru has become “case study for environmentalists and anthropologists in how easy it is to destroy a tropical ecosystem and crush a native culture.”

Finding Something Else To Do

The phosphate age is over and Nauru has needed to find new sources of revenue, which it has found by working with Australia. “Under former Prime Minister John Howard, the nation introduced the now-infamous Pacific Solution, a policy of diverting asylum seekers to detention centers on nearby Pacific islands.”

As a result, Nauru has become a refugee camp for all those got caught while trying to reach Australia by the seas. Since 2001, the Nauru Regional Processing Center has been hosting around 650 refugees at a time in unsanitary barracks. “In addition to the unnecessary and excessive processing period for asylum seekers, the camp has been singled out as substandard and inhumane by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees” which corroborates with the numerous cases of violence and rape which have become public.

Although it does not come close to the revenues once generated by phosphate, supporting ‘Solution Pacific’ is what Nauru has found to get some revenues. Who knows what will happen when the UNHCR will finally act and close those camps and Australia addresses their refugee crisis…

More about Nauru

I recently finished reading a novel taking place in Nauru titled “J’ai entraîné mon peuple dans cette aventure” (I led my people in this adventure) by Aymeric Patricot. Based on the history of the island, the story shows through the eyes of the main character how he experienced the changes the island was confronted to, how the local life evolved and how the local authorities, Australian than Nauruans exploited the phosphate and led the country to its loss. Although romanticized, the book appears to give a clear image of what happened in Nauru and how the local population who were eager to have access to more led their country to their doom.

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France's Forgotten Territories, Uncategorized

France’s forgotten territories: Clipperton & Floréana

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. The topic of the conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets. Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

This week, we will explore two islands located in the Pacific: Clipperton and Floréana. The first case is more of a classic one as it is claimed by France. The second one is a little bit quirkier as it official belongs to Ecuador, even if a French village claims their sovereignty over the island.

Clipperton 

Clipperton, lost in the Pacific Ocean

Clipperton, lost in the Pacific Ocean – Source: Marine Nationale

Located 1,300km off the coast of Mexico and 6,000 km away from Tahiti, from which it is administered, the atoll of Clipperton is the most isolated territory in the world. Clipperton spread over 6km² of land, in the middle of which a lagoon has formed. Clipperton gives France an exclusive economic zone of 425220 km² (more than that of metropolitan France), an important number considering the size of the territory, as well as in light of the local wildlife. The waters around Clipperton have been deemed rich in fish, and especially in tuna, which has allowed France to join the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (I.A.T.T.C.). An automatic meteorological station has been in place there since 1980.

Previously called Ile de la Passion, or Passion Island, the islet was allegedly discovered by Magellan at the beginning of the 18th century. France, however, did not claim ownership before 1859. The name of Clipperton comes from the name of the British pirate Clippington, better known as Clipperton, who was left on the island by the privateer William Dampier in 1704. The islet was the object of a territorial dispute between the United States and Mexico as both wanted to exploit the guano the seabirds left there. Guano was of particular importance for the farming industry as it was used as a fertilizer. In 1897, despite being a French possession, the Mexicans set a settlement on Clipperton. In order to settle the dispute, the responsibility to decide was given by the International Court to Italy. In 1931, amidst the rise of Mussolini in Italy, the king Vittorio Emanuele III awarded the possession to France, in an effort to make a gesture and bring the two countries closer together as the Second World War was preparing.  Clipperton was then used as a military base for the US Navy during World War Two.

Due to its geographic isolation, France has been unable to keep a close eye on the islet. Illegal and unregulated fishing has thus always been practiced, especially by Mexican fishermen. Today, France sends a military mission there every year in order to renew France’s sovereignty over Clipperton. This sovereignty is, however, not consecrated in the French constitution.

There have been many projects to set a scientific base, just like in the TAAF on Clipperton, in an effort to observe and study the local wildlife, as well as to assess the impact of pollution on this isolated island. As explained in the video below, the islet has been strongly impacted by maritime pollution, and Clipperton continues to be invaded by plastic wastes brought by the waves.

FloréanaFloréana

Named after the first president of Ecuador, Juan José Flores, the island of Floréana is located off the coast of Ecuador, in the archipelago of the Galapagos, in the Pacific Ocean.

In 1844, under Louis Philippe, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, François Guizot received a letter from a rich Frenchman offering the French government to acquire parts of the Galapagos islands as Flores wished to get rid of them in return for some money of which he was in dire need. This Frenchman, Léon Uthurburu, foresaw the strategic importance of those islands if a canal were to be built to cut through central America. The interest would be great for France as a canal would enable the Antilles and Tahiti to be connected much easier. The French government refused as the digging of what would become the Panama Canal was, at the time, unimaginable for them. Léon Uthurburu still acquired one of the island of the Galapagos, Floréana, for his own account. Single and childless, he left all his possessions to the village he came from, Barcus, in the French Basque country. Since then, the village has claimed ownership of the island, even though France recognized in 1887 that Ecuador was the true owner of Floréana. It must be noted that France timidly tried to support Barcus’s claim as soon as the Panama Canal was dug, without success.

Floréana is a volcanic island, uninhabited by humans but full of giant turtles and iguanas.

This is the last article of the series. France possesses more territories around the world, but those I have mentioned are the most important. I could have mentioned the various churches France owns in Rome, or the cave in Jerusalem, and many more. But for now, that is it.

With this world tour, we have travelled around the globe and explored France’s grandeur. France is much more than the metropole and goes far beyond Europe. Indeed, France is not a European power, but a world power as there are more French land and water outside of European than in. France remains an international power.

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Decolonization, History and Culture

France’s forgotten territories: Saint Helena, Guernsey and Oberhausen

A few weeks ago, I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. The topic of the conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets. Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

Last week, I told you about the pieces of land France owns in Europe; Ile Julia and Ile des Faisans, two territories with very distinct but quirky stories. In this article, I will touch upon French possessions which relate to famous figures in French history. On foreign soil, France owns houses and memorials to perpetrate the glory of several French heroes.

Saint Helena and Napoléon

Longwood, Napoleon's quarters on Saint Helena

Longwood, Napoleon’s quarters on Saint Helena

Napoléon is still today one of France’s biggest pride; the name of the emperor comes with the idea of greatness, grandeur, reforms and modernity as some of Napoléon’s creation are still in place today, such as the Code Civile, even beyond France. Going back to the topic of this article, we must go to Saint Helena where the Emperor died in exile in May 1825. The house and area where the Emperor died still belongs to France today, in memory of the national figure Napoleon was and still remains. There is therefore a French enclave on British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean; it is Longwood, Napoleon’s last residence, as well as the small pavilion Briars and the Valley of the Tomb where Napoleon was first buried. The isolation of Saint Helena makes visiting the island very difficult (this is what made it so interesting for exiling Napoleon) as only one ship accesses the territory every three weeks. The construction of an airport due to open in 2016 might change everything. We can expect hoards of tourists rushing to Saint Helena to follow Napoleon’s last steps. But think that tourist shops will probably be set up. If they are within the French enclaves, tourists will have to pay in Euros will being surrounding by British territories were the British Pound is used. It might get confusing for many.

Guernsey and Victor Hugo 

Victor Hugo's House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port. http://www.visitguernsey.com/

Victor Hugo’s House, Hauteville House, St Peter Port. http://www.visitguernsey.com/

This case is actually quite similar to the previous one: there is a piece of land on a British island which used to belong to a famous Frenchman which now belongs to France. This time, we are talking about Victor Hugo’s house on the island of Guernsey located between France and the UK, in the middle of the Channel. An again, just like Napoleon, Hugo was in exile (from 1856 tp 1870). Victor Hugo had already been in exile in Guernsey for five years for opposing the coup d’état staged by Napoléon III and had been banished from Brussels and Jersey successively . With the proceeds from sales of the anthology Les Contemplations, published in 1856, he purchased an estate comprising a five-storey house, garden and belvedere overlooking Havelet bay, in Saint Peter Port.”. It is the sale of Les Contemplations which enabled him to put a roof on his head, namely that of the Hauteville House, on the British island. It is the famous writer who decorated the interior of the house. “Hauteville House remained in the family until 1927, when Jeanne Nègreponte, Victor Hugo’s grand-daughter and the children of his grandson Georges Hugo donated it to the City of Paris on the occasion of the celebrations marking one hundred years of Romanticism.” Today, the City of Paris still administers Hauteville House.

La Tour d’Auvergne in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Latour Memorial in Oberhausen, Bavaria

Théophile Malo de La Tour d’Auvergne-Corret was a French soldier and musketeer, who throughout his life, has been recognized as brave. He also took an active part in the French Revolution. Refusing many promotions under the Ancien Régime despite his central role in several wars, notably against Spain at the end of the 18th century, he finally received the title of “Premier grenadier de de la République” from Napoléon Bonaparte. He died at war in Oberhausen, Bavaria in June 1880. His superior; General Moreau, in honour of his death, acquired a piece of land where La Tour d’Auvergne died to bury him there (see picture). This piece of land still belongs to France today, even though the remain of La Tour d’Auvergne were moved to the Panthéon in Paris for the 100th anniversary of the Revolution of 1789.

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Decolonization, History and Culture

France’s forgotten territories: Ile des Faisans and Ile Julia

Bruno Fulgini at the ANAJ IHEDN conference in Paris on 29.10.15

Bruno Fuligni at the ANAJ IHEDN conference in Paris on 29.10.15

Yesterday evening I attended a conference in Paris, in the prestigious Ecole Militaire. On top of taking place in an amazing location (you get a close up view onto the Eiffel Tower from there), this is also an important location for whoever is interested by questions of defence. A special organisation was created to address those questions. For the ANAJ IHEDN, defence means more than what you would first assume. Defence is cultural, intellectual, military and so much more.

The topic of yesterday’s conference was the French forgotten territories, those pieces of land scattered around the globe which few people know about. On this blog, I have previously talked about Mayotte and some former French colonies such as Madagascar, but I have not yet touched upon the inhabited territories that France possesses. Based on his book “tour du monde des terres françaises oubliées”, Bruno Fuligni presented the enclaves, islands, rocks, houses and memorials which continue to make France an empire on which the sun never sets.

Many believe that France is now a small country, as it is only a fraction of what it used to be. This is, however, only partly true. France may have lost its African, American and Asian possessions to decolonization, but some corners of the world were spared by this process.

In this article, I will not refer to the DROM and COM, the inhabited overseas territories that everybody knows about – Martinique, Guadeloupe, Wallis et Futuna, Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Mayotte, French Guyana, etc. In this article I will only touch upon some of the examples which were discussed yesterday as the list of those French forgotten territories is long. I will start with the French possessions which are located in Europe. On top of the French enclaves in Germany, which I will not discussed as they are inhabited and not so uncommon, many islands, rocks, archipelago, houses, enclaves, etc. still belong to France; in my opinion, those places are worth knowing about.

The pheasants

Ile des Faisans

Ile des Faisans

In the south-west of France, a river called Bidassoa marks the border with Spain. In the middle of this river, the tiny “ile des Faisans” (3000 m2) is a historical curiosity and landmark. Most people believe that this island was named after the birds when it is actually referring to the use of this piece of land, which the nickname of the island, “the island of the Conference” gives us a hint. Indeed, the island has been widely used for diplomatic purposes. “Faisans” is in fact a reference to the “doers” or the diplomats and not to the birds. The island was indeed used several times to settle dispute between France and Spain. It was on the Bidassoa that Francois I was returned to France in exchange for his sons. It was also there that, in 1659, the marriage of Louis XIV and Marie Therese of Austria, daughter of Philip IV of Spain was settled, as agreed in the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Since the treaty, the island is a French and Spanish condominium, meaning that, although the island is not inhabited, the police administering the territory changes every six months. Next February, France will then have to pass on the keys to Spain until next August. Although fastidious, this system has avoided many confrontations between the two neighbour countries which have used this island as a safe haven to decide on the destiny of the two nations. Only diplomats could have imagined this administrative arrangement..

Julia

A volcanic eruption created Ile Julia (or Fernandea)

A volcanic eruption created Ile Julia (or Fernandea)

The other example which is worth mentioning is actually quite a funny story as France is the owner of a ghost island in the Mediterranean, between Sicily and Malta.  Ile Julia (or Ferdinandea for the Italians and Graham for the Brits) is particularly worth dwelling on as it no longer exists but might reappear. In 1831 an island appeared as a result of a submarine volcano eruption. The Italians rushed to claim ownership by throwing a row on this hot piece of land. The row burned, thus destroying the Italian sovereignty. The Brits then sent the navy, but the ship was too big to get close enough to put a flag. The French then sent a scientific mission to conquer the land and study the mysterious island. A few months later, the French government sent another mission to reinforce their settlement. The island was, however, no longer there. Turns out the island was only made of volcanic dust which had been washed away by the waves. So technically, France is the owner of a ghost island.

Maybe, someday, Julia Island will reappear. And due to its key strategic location, and despite France’s official sovereignty rights on Julia,  there might be some opposition to France’s sovereignty claim. When the island reappears, it will be crucial to reassert the claim against the competitors… it must be remembered that the competition will be tough, especially considering that Italy placed a waterproof flag on the volcano after Mr. Fuligni joked in one of his article that France should do it….

There are many more examples I need to tell you about; they all have their own stories and their own quirks.

Next time, read about the special and tiny places France owns across the globe and which report to its national history, and more precisely to some very important figures.

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