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(August 18, 2023)

Are there still colonies? Are there still colonial empires in the 3rd millennium as in the 19th or 20th century? Does the Union Jack or the French tricolor still flying everywhere in the world, as in the times of Queen Victoria or the Third Republic?

The answer is no, because those empires ended in the 60s when Africa, Asia and Caribbean got there independence.

However, on our globe there are still some “overseas territories”: mostly small strips of land, French, English or American…, located in areas far from the motherland which, depending on the different legal systems, are either an integral part of the state that owns them or are in a kind of limbo, endowed with a certain degree of internal autonomy, but unable to get full sovereignty.
The United Nations currently identifies 17 “Non-Self-Governing Territories” [1] belonging mostly to the United Kingdom, France, the United States, but there is also Western Sahara, which in 1975 ceased to be a Spanish possession for almost immediately become the property of Morocco.

There is also the Falkland-Malvinas Islands which were the subject of a short war between Britain and Argentina (April-June 1982).

Territories such as French Guiana (South America), Martinique and Guadeloupe (Antilles) which France considers its overseas provinces, are not listed.

It is not our intention here to make a list of the numerous colonial possessions scattered around the planet, but we want to dwell on some situations that seem interesting or simply curious to us.



Among the overseas territories that would like independence, but are unable to get it, we have Western Sahara, which we will discuss in a separate article given the complexity of the story, French Polynesia and New Caledonia.



Located in the Pacific Ocean, it occupies an area of 4,167 sq km and hosts a population of 275,918 people (2020).

It’s made up of a group of five archipelagos, for a total of 118 islands, of which 67 are unpopulated: the Society Islands (Windward Islands and Leeward Islands), Austral Islands, Marquesas Islands, Gambier Islands and Tuamotu Islands. The community also includes the vast adjacent maritime spaces: it is 6,000 kilometers from Australia and 17,000 from France.

Capital: Papeete (26,017 people);
currency: CFP franc (1 euro ≈ 119.3317 CFP francs);
Languages: French (official) and several local languages.

In Mururoa and Fangataufa from 1966 to 1996, for thirty years, barring a moratorium between 1992 and 1995, hundreds of nuclear tests were carried out, both in the atmosphere and underground: this caused protests throughout the Pacific and the emerge, according to the researchers who conducted surveys, an increase in cases of brain tumors and other pathologies among the population.

All this has favored the growth of the independence movement which just recently won the elections for the territorial assembly.

Indeed, on 30 April 2023, a coalition of six pro-independence parties won 44.29% of the votes and elected 38 out of 57 MPs: on 12 May, 53-year-old Moetai Brotherson became president of the local government.

Brotherson is, according to Le Monde, in favor of a “sweet transition” towards independence: however, so far Paris has always refused to start negotiations for the territory’s independence.



Something similar has happened so far with New Caledonia, another Pacific island under French administration.

Here too the independence claims are quite lively, there have been several referendums in which the population has been asked if it wants to separate from Paris, but for one reason or another, Noumea remains tied to the “hexagon”.



However, there are cases of colonies that have refused independence.



It’s in the Antilles a “British overseas territory” endowed with a certain autonomy, but subject to the UK: it occupies an area of 96 sq km and is populated by about 16,000 people.

After a brief spell as part of the West Indies Federation (1958-62), it joined a federation with St. Kitts and Nevis, but Anguillans felt discriminated against by their neighbors.

On May 30, 1967, popular anger exploded against a contingent of policemen from the neighboring island: at the instigation of some nationalist leaders, a declaration of independence from the federation was published, an ephemeral republic was born with Ronald Webster, one of the leaders of the movement as president.

the objective of the rebels is not national sovereignty, but the restoration of the government of her Majesty: London tries, through an envoy, to settle the conflicts, but the Anguillans with another plebiscite reiterate their no to St. Kitts.

Thus, in March ’69, 300 British soldiers intervened on the island, dissolved the republic and restored the administration of Her Majesty.

Two years later (July 1971) Westminster passed the Anguilla Act and ten years later the divorce between the islands was consummated:

• St. Kitts, united with Nevis, became independent in 1983;
• Anguilla returns to a British governor appointed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Since then, the island of the Antilles has experienced strong growth in its GDP thanks to tourism and its role as a “tax haven”.



Among the overseas territories that are in a kind of limbo is Puerto Rico, a “state freely associated with the U.S.”, according to the definition given by Washington to the legal status of the archipelago located south of Cuba.

Conquered by the United States after the war against Spain (1898), Puerto Rico has its own autonomous administration: a governor, elected every four years, a local parliament, courts, but depends for defense and foreign affairs on the central government.

The citizens elect a non-voting Representative; moreover, they can’t participate in the election of the US President.

All attempts to transform Puerto Rico into the 51st state of the Union have clashed against the veto of the Senate which has always opposed them.

In 2014, the San Juan administration defaulted because it was unable to repay the enormous public debt it had accumulated; in 2017 the island was hit by hurricane María which caused serious damage to the economy and infrastructure: Donald J. Trump, who was in the White House at the time, refused to send relief supplies to Puerto Rico which was abandoned on its destiny.



Among the colonies there are some whose possession is claimed by neighboring countries which consider them integral parts of their national territory.

We have already mentioned the case of the Falkland Islands, which the Argentines call Malvinas, but there are other areas that are the subject of international disputes.

On several occasions, Spain has made it clear that Gibraltar, a British colony south of the Iberian Peninsula, is about time to return under its sovereignty, but the inhabitants, questioned twice in a referendum, answered “no” with 99% of the votes.

The Chagos Islands, 62 coral atolls, located in the southern Indian Ocean, are claimed by Mauritius, an island state located east of Madagascar.



«”The object of the operation is to occupy a few stones that will remain ours… there must be no natives apart from the seagulls”, wrote Paul Gore-Booth, senior official of the British Foreign office when, in 1966, the project of expel the two thousand inhabitants of the Chagos Islands from their homes. “On this we must absolutely not compromise”.
And so it was. Six years later people of the Chagos (Ilois, as they call themselves) were rounded up, loaded onto ships and unloaded on the seafront of Port Louis, in the Mauritius archipelago, where most of them lived in absolute poverty until today», tells Gwynne Dyer[2].

In 1966, when Mauritius was about to become independent, the United States made it clear to London that those islands would be very useful to build a base from which to take off the B52 bound for Vietnam.

“The United States did not like the idea of having an important strategic base in an independent African country, so something had to be done”, Dyer writes again [3].

The solution, of course, is to separate the Chagos Islands from Mauritius and declare them a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

£3 million is being offered to the Maurtian Government, in compensation for the loss suffered, At the same time he is told that if he refuses the money it’ll not have independence.

Port Louis, ob torto collo, accept.

For all these years the “ilois” were not allowed to be back, but in 2000 their descendants got a sentence which establishes that the deportation carried out in 1972 is illegal and London must allow the Chagosians to get home.

However, on 11 September 2001 the Twin Towers were pulled down in New York and Washington promoted the war on terrorism first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq.

Consequently, the air-naval base of Diego Garcia on the Chagos becomes strategic again: the B52s leave from there and the captured “terrorists” arrive there and are sent to the various prisons set up everywhere to be interrogated or eliminated.

We have to wait until January 2021 for a new sentence in favor of Mauritius and the Chagosians to arrive: intervening on a border dispute between Mauritius and the Maldive Islands, which have been arguing for years on their maritime borders, the United Nations International Tribunal for the Law of Sea, stipulates that the United Kingdom has no sovereignty over the Chagos and that they are to be returned to Port Louis.

Obviously, the head of the Mauritian government rejoices:

“The judgment is clear and unequivocal, my country has sovereignty over the Chagos”, but a Foreign Office spokesman replies icily:

“The United Kingdom has no doubts about its sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, which has remained under continuous British control from 1814 to the present. Mauritius has never had sovereignty over these islands and our country does not accept the request to cede them.”

Question closed? Perhaps not because Port Louis in the meantime has opened up the possibility that even after the islands have been returned to its administration, the base of Diego Garcia, which is so dear to the Americans and the British, may remain.

The fact is that the Chagos are still strategic for London and Washington because they fear Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific and these islands can still play a role in protecting Western interests in the region, near East Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.



The colonial empires, as we studied them in school, no longer exist: the pink colored cards that marked where the Union Jack swung are obsolete, but imperialism is still alive and well and is expressed in various forms.

The United States have very clear what their areas of more or less direct influence are, France and Britain try not to completely lose contact with former colonies, Russia and China do everything to demonstrate that they are o they’ll be superpowers.

In their small way, other countries do too
behave more or less in the same way: Israel wants at all costs to dominate the territories occupied with the six-day war (1967) and Saudi Arabia wants to establish itself as the regional power of the Persian Gulf.

Turkey, in addition to illegally occupying Northern Cyprus, dreams of at least partially restoring the splendor of the Ottoman Empire, as well as being a point of reference for the Turkish-speaking countries of Central Asia;

Australia feels like a regional power for Pacific and Southeast Asia;

And we’d continue whith other examples: in fact the ways of expressing the will to power change, sometimes supported by a nationalist ideology and rhetoric, but man’s desire to dominate other men don’t diminish as demonstrated by the dozens of wars in act, starting with the one underway in eastern Ukraine, a typical imperialist conflict, carried on by a country, Russia, which don’t accept to be a “paper tiger” or “giant with feet of clay”.

Salvatore Quasimodo is right when in a famous poem by him he writes:

“You are still the one with the stone and the sling,
man of my time.
You were in the cockpit, with evil wings, sundials of death, I saw you – inside the chariot of fire, at the gallows, at the wheels of torture.

I saw you: it was you, with your exact science persuaded to extermination, without love, without Christ.

You killed again, as always, as the fathers killed, as they killed the animals that saw you for the first time.

And this blood smells like day
When the brother said to the other brother:
“Let’s go to the fields.”

And that cold, tenacious echo has reached you, within your day.

Forget, children, the clouds of blood
Rise from the earth, forget your fathers:
their graves sink into the ashes,
the black birds, the wind, cover their heart.[4]




[1] To read the complete list of the 17 colonies identified by the United Nations see
[2] G. Dyer, The Chagos Islands victims of a half-century-long crime,, February 25, 2022;
[3] G. Dyer, The Chagos Islands victims of a half-century-long crime, cit.;
[4] S. Quasimodo, man of my time, famous/97-poesia-di-quasimodo-uomo-del-mio-tempo.php

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