Falklanders hope referendum sends message

2013-03-08 11:08

London - The Falkland Islands will vote in a referendum on Sunday and Monday which residents hope will send a crystal-clear message to Argentina and the world about their strong desire to stay British.

In a move instigated by residents of the barren archipelago themselves, the 1 672 eligible voters are being asked specifically whether they want the Falklands to retain their status as an internally self-governing British overseas territory.

They hope the outcome will provide a slap in the face to an increasingly bellicose Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, who has been ramping up the diplomatic tension with London over Buenos Aires' long-held sovereignty claims.

The islanders also hope the referendum result will arm them with an unambiguous message to take to other capitals when pressing their case for acceptance on the international stage.

Britain has held the windswept South Atlantic Ocean islands since 1833 but Buenos Aires claims they are occupied Argentinian territory. The two countries fought a brief but bloody war over the islands in 1982.

Argentina, 400km away, has branded the referendum "illegal" because, it claims, the islanders are "implanted" and thus do not have the right to self-determination.

Sovereignty issues

An overwhelming "yes" result is not in any doubt but the islanders hope an emphatic verdict will be a clear statement of their belief in the right to self-determination.

"We would be deluding ourselves if we thought that Argentina would change overnight, but we hope it'll be a strong message to them and to others," legislative assembly member Jan Cheek, a sixth generation Falkland Islander, said.

London will not discuss sovereignty issues with Buenos Aires unless the islanders expressly wish it.

On 2 April 1982, Argentina's then-ruling junta invaded the Falklands, sparking a 74-day war with Britain which cost the lives of 649 Argentine and 255 British troops.

If the invasion hardened the minds of the staunchly pro-British islanders further, Kirchner's relentless tub-thumping has done likewise for a whole new generation.

"We are reasonable people; we are open to dialogue on a number of things," Dick Sawle, another of the islands' eight elected legislative assembly members, said.

Changing hearts and minds

"What we are not going to talk about is sovereignty because the people don't want to - and it's as simple as that."

Turning to the referendum, he said: "There are many countries where many politicians don't hear our side of the story," citing South American states.

"I would hope it would change hearts and minds."

He added: "The only people who can really decide what is in their best interests are the Falkland Islanders."

Diplomatic friction between Argentina and Britain has intensified since 2010, when London authorised oil prospecting in the waters around the islands.

But Falkland Islanders suspect Kirchner's often-emotional crusade is a ruse to divert domestic attention away from Argentina's mounting economic problems.

International observers

"As Argentina declined, so the rhetoric increased," Sawle said.

"Waving the flag of the Falklands issue is a good distracter. Argentina is in a dying state, inflation is rampant, the official figures have been questioned by the IMF [International Monetary Fund], it's in a dreadful state of affairs."

Four-fifths of the rugged islands' 2 563 residents live in the capital Stanley, with its pubs, red telephone boxes and Union Jack flags on the buildings.

However, polling stations in remote villages and even mobile voting booths will be used to make sure those in even the farthest-flung sheep farms get the chance to cast their ballots.

Several countries have sent official international observers.

"The result will demonstrate in a clear, democratic and incontestable way how the people of the Falkland Islands wish to live their lives," the Falklands' government said in a statement.

Neighbourly relationship

The referendum question reads: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom?"

The residents hope that the result will give their views a greater platform in discussions about the islands, which often get bogged down in disputed historical minutiae dating back to the 16th century, long before Argentina came into being.

Sukey Cameron, who represents the Falklands government in London, said they expect Buenos Aires to disregard the result.

However, "at least, internationally, it will bring the islanders into the forefront, rather than just an argument over land between Britain and Argentina", she told AFP.

"We can actually say this is the referendum that was done fairly and squarely: this is the result.

"We're neighbours in the South Atlantic, and we would like to have a normal neighbourly relationship.

"There is a population in the Falklands, there are people who live there. We are not just talking about empty land."

  • Esteban Hernández - 2013-03-08 14:32

    In M 10-11 British subjects will decide they want the UK to keep appointing their Governor, traditionaly a diplomat of the Foreign Office. has the power to introduce laws and take decisions contradicting the Legislative Assembly and the Excecutive Council. Both the Commander of the British Forces and the General Attorney appointed by London are members of the Legislative Assembly. The "Supreme Court" is made up by only one judge, that comes from London. Who reads British propaganda can believe the population on the islands have been living there for nine generations. For the first time in history, the 2012 census does not tell how many people were born in the islands. Instead of enquiring about the nationality of the inhabitants, it asked them what nationality they were "identified" with. 59% said "Falkland Islander". Many of these "Fakland Islanders" are British born, this includes many government officials. The only Argentines in the islands are those married with islanders. The practice - non written law - prevent Argentines from acquiring residence permits or purchasing land or property on the islands. Argentine heirs were even forced to sell their inherited properties. For 17 years, Argentines were not allowed to visit the islands. Since the British occupation in 1833, the UK has controlled immigration, preventing Argentines from "threatening" the britishness of the population.

  • Esteban Hernández - 2013-03-08 14:34

    The will of inhabitants does not always decide the future of the territory in wich they live. British propaganda states that what matters is the people and not the territories.After 1st WW, France did not recognize the will of inhabitants of Alsacia-Lorena.The sweedih population in Aland islands expressed they wanted to be part of Sweden, but only gained autonomy under Finnish sovereignty. The ICJ has decided in recent cases that certain territories were part of a State, although populated by people from another: 100.000 Nigerians, some with many generations in the Bakassi península, are under Cameroon´s sovereignty. In Canada, the Supreme Court decided that the result of a referendum would not be enough for Quebec to be independent. Quebec would have to negotiate with other provinces and the Federal Government to decide with them wether indipendence is an option or not. For the Scotish to decide on their independence, the UK requires the British Government consent. The UK is using a disortion of the principle of Self-determination to perpetuate its colonial posessions in the South Atlantic. This manouver wouldn´t have had a place last century. The UK is the colonial power that took longer to recognize the self-detemination principle as international law and only did it when most of its colonial posessions were already independent. Still, the UK kept violating it: Chagos Islands. Of course there was no referendum when retunging Hong Kong back to China.

  • Brit Bob - 2013-03-08 17:22

    The UN Universal Proclomation of Human Rights Article 15 (I) Everyone has the right to a nationality (II) No one shall arbitarily be deprived of his nationality or denied the right to chose his nationality - I guess it's okay for the Falkland Islanders to wish to remain British if they so decide. Article 19 Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. The right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference - I guess the Falklands referendum isn't illegal as some Argentine politicians have stated.

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