“Give peace a chance,” said Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina, earlier this month when she announced that her government would be lodging a formal complaint to the UN regarding the ‘militarisation’ of the Falkland Islands. For the people of the Islands, the desire for peace has been a constant. This latest rhetoric, supposedly to extend an olive branch, appears somewhat insincere given Argentina’s continued moves aimed at economically strangling and politically isolating the Islands.
Global interest in the Islands in recent months follows more than a year of increasingly aggressive actions from Argentina in the form of economic sanctions and trade blockades. The Argentine-led moves by Mercosur members to close their ports to Falkland-flagged vessels is just one example of the continual litany of bullying tactics deployed by Argentina.
While we in the Islands have grown well accustomed to political rhetoric from Buenos Aires over the years, these latest moves have seen everyday life made that bit harder, with the selection of food on the shelves changing, and becoming more expensive, as we have had to find new suppliers for everyday goods. But, we Falkland Islanders are resourceful people and will not be defeated by political and economic bullying. We remain resolute in our desire to maintain neighbourly relations with all our South American neighbours, including Argentina, for mutual benefit. During the 1990s, significant progress had been made in our relationship with Argentina, agreements had been reached on conservation of fish stocks and on oil exploration but Argentina unilaterally withdrew from these, something we deeply regret.
With the eyes of the world on the South Atlantic in recent weeks, one unified message continues to come from those that live in the Islands; that is our right to self-determination. The people of the Falkland Islands remain a British Overseas Territory by choice. It is our constitutional right and a fundamental freedom enshrined in the UN Charter. This right to self-determination is a value that is protected and promoted by democratic powers the world over; the Falkland Islands are no different. We are happy to talk, but our sovereignty remains non-negotiable.
Despite adversity, we are upbeat about our future, drawing on the strength of nine generations of Islanders, and those who have chosen to make the Falkland Islands their home. The Falkland Islands economy is diverse, prosperous, and is self-sufficient in all areas other than defence, for which it receives a relatively small contribution from the UK - less than 0.5% of the total UK defence budget. The Islands are home to a thriving community, one of the world’s best managed fisheries - with fishing activity generating approximately 60% of the Islands revenues - and an ever developing tourism sector which sees some 60,000 visitors to our Islands each year.
As the thirtieth anniversary of the 1982 conflict approaches, the people of the Falklands are focusing on looking forward to a positive and prosperous future - one that is driven and shaped by the Islanders themselves.
Dr Barry Elsby is a member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands