Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Martin Garcia: The Little Island Everyone Wanted: From Structures That Once Housed Prisoners, Presidents, and Poets to the Quarries Which Are Now Nature Preserves, This Small Island Has Played a Unique Role in the History of Argentina and Uruguay

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Martin Garcia: The Little Island Everyone Wanted: From Structures That Once Housed Prisoners, Presidents, and Poets to the Quarries Which Are Now Nature Preserves, This Small Island Has Played a Unique Role in the History of Argentina and Uruguay

Article excerpt

When sailor Juan Diaz de Solis buried the body of his ship steward Martin Garcia on a small island in February 1516 and christened the island with the man's name, he could not have imagined that, the island would become a place of many conflicts and battles in the centuries to come. Today, however, the canons that still look out over its surrounding fresh waters are silent witnesses of the island's rich and passionate history.

Martin Garcia Island is less than one square mile in size, but its strategic position between the Uruguay and Rio de la Plata rivers--about two miles from the Uruguayan coast and 29 miles from Buenos Aires--made it a point of ongoing contention between Spain and Portugal during the early colonial years between patriots and Spaniards during the wars of independence, and between Uruguay and Argentina in more recent years. Brazil, France, and England have also tried to make use of the island at various times.

In 1754, Spain and Portugal each named commissions lo put an end to the territorial disputes in the so-called America meridional (South America) and the commissions actually met on Martin Garcia Island. The dispute continued, however. wit, h the island primarily in the hands of Spain. On February 10, 1763, as a result of the Paris Treaty, Spain returned the nearby mainland town of Colonia del Sacramento to Portugal, but it did not return the island.

Later during the siege of Montevideo on July 7, 1813, thirteen soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Jose Caparroz of the Dragones de la Patria (a mounted infantry of the independence movement) launched a surprise attack on the Spanish garrison on Martin Garcia and succeeded in dispersing the soldiers there Spanish Navy Captain Jacinto de Romarate came back in November, however, and took control of the island in order to use it as a base for attacking the town of Colonia del Sacramento. which was occupied al the time by patriots. The Spanish also wanted to use the island as a quarantine station for maritime travelers.

Soon, Argentina's first Navy Admiral, Guillermo Brown, appeared on the scene of this small outcropping of archaic Macizo de Brasilia rocks. Representing the United Provinces of Rio de la Plata, he wrested control of the island from the Spanish in March of 1814. On March 11 of that year, the seven boats under Brown's command approached the island and engaged the enemy in combat. Two of the commanders of his boats were killed, but on March 14, reinforcements arrived and they were once again on the offensive. The patriots disembarked in the early hours of the following day, but once on land, they were met with a shower of bullets. As the legend goes, the soldiers under Brown's command began to sing "Saint Patrick's Day in the Morning," as they were forced to retreat. They regained their courage and eventually took control of the island, and the song became the official march of Martin Garcia.

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But this was not the only time that Brown fought for Martin Garcia. On November 4, 1825, the Governor of the Province of Buenos Aires, Gregorio de Las Heras, severed relations with Brazil, and Brazil responded by declaring a war that lasted three years. In the first days of 1826, a Brazilian expedition took over Martin Garcia and armed it with six artillery pieces. Admiral Brown attacked the town of Colonia del Sacramento, and Brazil was forced to order the evacuation of the island in order to support their soldiers on the mainland. With the withdrawal of the Brazilians, Brown took Martin Garcia for a second time.

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The French and the English also occupied the island at various times. On September 5, 1945, an English and French naval expedition with a small squadron and troops under the command of Italian Jose Garibaldi occupied the island and began the second blockade of the Rio de la Plata. The blockade ended with the signing of a peace treaty between French representative Lepredour and the governor of Buenos Aires, but the island was not returned and it remained in the hands of Uruguay and Argentina. …

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