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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Are you telling me that some countries still have colonies? Shame!

Links: A. Territories Under the Jurisdiction of Other Countries.
           B. Where on the Globe are the Remaining Colonies?

Were you aware that two cities on the north Mediterranean coast of Morocco are actually part of Spain?  Ceuta and Melilla are leftover remnants of the days when Europe almost went to war over Morocco just prior to the first World War.  I highly recommend visiting these cities, which truly are neither Spanish or Moroccan, but an exotic, spice-filled hybrid of both.  And since you are going to be in the neighborhood, why not take a little tour of Morocco itself?  You won't be sorry.  Historically, Morocco existed as part of the French colonial empire, and the stories of Ceuta and Melilla, and of Spanish General Francisco Franco and his northern-Morocco based army of Falangists crossing the Straits of Gibraltar to begin the Spanish Civil War, are fascinating on their own.  In the early 1960's, when two million Frenchmen called Algeria home, many people don't realize that somewhere between two-hundred and three-hundred thousand French citizens were living in Morocco.  Does France have any colonies left in Africa?  Does anyone have any African colonies still on the books, so to speak? And Asia, are any European nations still getting free rubber and petroleum from the Far East?  I love maps and Geography, with History coming a close second, so I was able to make a close guess before examining the two links that I have provided.  For the sake of keeping this post simple and fun, lets follow the established definition of "colony", and let's start right at home, with the United States.

With consideration to populated areas only (the United States has research facilities at various small island clusters, including Palmyra Atoll, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef and Midway, Wake, Baker, Jarvis and Howland Islands), the United States administers the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the territory of American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Territory of the United States Virgin Islands, and the Territory of Guam.  When I was in High School and originally discovered that the United States administered so many far-flung areas around the world, I was amazed.  And to think that the U.S. overseas empire once included Cuba, Haiti, and the Philippines!  Most of the territories listed above were Pacific Ocean nation-states that had been occupied by the Japanese and liberated by the U.S. during World War Two.  Over the decades, the relationships have occasionally been contentious, but as of 2015, everyone seems to be satisfied, at least for the moment.  The U.S. taxpayer dishes out quite a bit to keep these naturally unbalanced (fish, bird shit, and more fish) economies afloat, but these communities have and continue to provide the United States with a number of invaluable benefits, for research and military purposes.  The United States conducted weapons testing near some of these areas, and an elaborate effort has been underway for some time to clean up the mess that was created.  The one wild-card in the mix is Puerto Rico, which on occasion has flirted with both becoming the fifty-first state and also with becoming an independent nation.  Something to note: with the exception of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, all of the overseas U.S. possessions are in the Pacific Ocean.

Canada has no colonies, unless you consider the Province of Nunavut to be an occupied nation, as many of the indigenous peoples do.  We can pass over Mexico and South and Central America, as Ecuador's claim on the Galapagos Islands and Chile's on Easter Island are considered directly connected to the mainland.  Very few European nations continue to administer foreign lands.  Portugal, once one of the world's greatest colonial powers, now counts the Azores as its last remaining foreign dependency (it is considered an autonomous region of Portugal and its inhabitants are Portuguese citizens).  Spain has cast off all of its former possessions, as has Italy, Belgium and Germany.  The Netherlands continue to administer the Caribbean Islands of Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles, an arrangement totally acceptable (and beneficial) to the local population.  I find Denmark to be a fascinating country.  This relatively small, Baltic state has authority over the North Sea-located Faroe Islands (a very modern European population of roughly fifty-thousand, that collects revenue from fishing), and also Greenland, or Kaalallit Nunaat, which is jointly administered by both Copenhagen and Nuuk.  Denmark has been both deliberate and patient with the slow integration of the native peoples into self-government.  In fact, it appears as if the native population (a small Danish minority exists) are finding the current arrangement to be most beneficial. 

The United Kingdom and France appear to have more overseas "dependencies" than anyone else. The U.K. continues to effect some authority over the Caribbean communities of the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos.  All of these states have self-rule, with an appointed British governor to represent the best interests of the English Queen (Elizabeth II, not Elton John).  The British occupy two distant regions that have been the cause of some controversy: the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar.  For a century, the British administered the Falklands, without a word of complaint from Argentina, the nearest country as-the-crow-flies.  The Falklands aren't the most hospitable islands, as the climate is cold and blustery, and the land won't grow much of use. But the Falklands are located in a bit of a strategic location.  In the 1980's, in an effort to encourage a wave of national pride, a military junta in charge of the Argentinian government invaded the Falklands, changing the name to Las Malvinas. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister at the time, so suffice to say that the Falklands were back in British control within six-months to a year.  The issue still rankles some Argentineans, although I don't see the argument.  I find the continued British presence in Northern Ireland to be much more debatable, but much more complicated for this post.  The British also continue to occupy Gibraltar, which is part of mainland Spain (as Ulster is part of mainland Ireland).  The Spanish have made countless requests for the return of Gibraltar, and on occasion have implemented temporary blockades.  But Gibraltar has proven to be a priceless possession over the centuries, especially during the two World Wars, and the British have no intention of giving it up.  The Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey, and Isle of Man may all be closer to mainland France than the U.K., but they are thoroughly British, to the point that the French would never consider asking for them back.

France has a very complicated, sometimes tragic history involving its colonies.  In most instances (not all), France attempted to introduce the populations of its colonies to France as an ideal to be replicated.  Cities were built in the French pattern (Hanoi, Saigon, Brazzaville, Algiers, Tunis, Abidjan, Damascus), the French language was widely instituted, and French history, literature and art became staples of education.  In most places, the transition was gradual, and the French footprint is still quite visible today.  In fact, a number of potential independent nations have elected to stay part of France, including Guadalupe, Martinique, Reunion, Mayotte, and French Guiana.  During the past fifty years, French occupation of New Caledonia and French Polynesia has at times been contentious.  In both instances, France poured more money into the local economy and legislated expanded home rule.  New Caledonia is a difficult situation because the French who trace their heritage to the mainland constitute almost as large a percentage of the population as the indigenous peoples.  New Caledonia is an undiscovered jewel in the South Pacific, just northeast of New Zealand.  Probably because of distance, it has only become popular with French tourists, even though it is home to arguable the most tropical landscapes and beaches in the Pacific. French Polynesia is occasionally criticized for the urbanization of the capital city Pape'ete on Tahiti.  Well, if you don't care for lots of people in your tropical vacation, then just hop the ferry to Moorea or Bora Bora; you can't lose.  France has always been dedicated to bringing economic success to its foreign dependencies.  French Guiana benefits tremendously from the French Ariane Space Center that is located in Kourou.  When France abandoned its claim to Indochina (Vietnam), the French government relocated a number of Hmong tribesmen to Guiana, where they have thrived.

I consider Bouvet Island, Jan Meyer, and Svalbard to be integral to the geography of Norway, just as I consider Christmas Island, Norfolk Island, Keeling, Coral Sea Islands, and a few other small islands to be directly connected to Australia.  New Zealand does administer the Cook Islands, but only as a welcome support for the small indigenous population.  I did not include Gaza or the West Bank in this discussion because it was not appropriate.  For all intents and purposes, Gaza is occupied and administered by Hamas and the West Bank by the Palestinian Authority.  If they would take a little of the foreign donations that end up lining people's pockets (or in the case of Hamas, buying weapons), and focus on infrastructure, job creation and community development, we would all be better off.  But destroying Israel remains the end goal of all endeavors, and until that changes, then Israel will be obliged to treat the West Bank and Gaza as occasional occupied territories.  Jeez how I hate war.


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