In November 2010, journalist Peter Preston set out his opinions on the future of the Falkland Islands. He urged Her Majesty’s Government to “Ditch The Falklands” and to start discussing the possibility of shared sovereignty with Argentina. Twenty nine years ago this June, British Forces liberated the Falkland Islands from Argentine invasion. Since that time, there has been much discussion and conjecture over the future of the Islands; however, in public debate at least, seldom have the views of the Falkland Islanders themselves been sought.
With impending Argentine presidential elections, oil and gas exploration, and the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands Conflict, next year, all likely to attract global interest, the issue of the Falkland Islands and their future will continue to be debated in newspaper columns in the UK and elsewhere. But what do the people that live there actually want?
One area that the people of the Islands are all agreed on is their right to self-determination. This value is protected and promoted by democratic powers the World over; the Falkland Islands are no different.
Falkland Islanders are often described as being ‘more British than the British’. This assumed stereotype fails to take into account the varied backgrounds and culture of the residents, including a sizeable Chilean population as well asAmericans, Canadians and Russians.
There is often criticism from some commentators that in this age of austerity, the Falkland Islands is a financial white elephant. This is something of a misconception. Given that the defence of the Islands falls under the control of Her Majesty’s Government, there is the cost of maintaining the British Forces Garrrison, which is borne by the UK Government. Outside of this, the Islands are 100 percent economically self-sufficient, with a highly successful fishing industry, a developing tourism sector and oil and gas exploration being undertaken in Falkland Islands waters. To dismiss the Falkland Islands’ place in the family of UK Overseas Territories on financial grounds alone does not make sense.
On 23 October this year, Argentina goes to the polls. President Fernandez-Kirchner is likely to seek a second term in ‘La Casa Rosada’ and is likely to reach for a comforting and well-used political crutch in the run up to polling day to help rally support for her re-election - the ‘Malvinas’ question.
Falkland Islanders are accustomed to political rhetoric emanating from Buenos Aires, but recent moves by the current Argentine Government are conspiring to make every day life difficult for Islanders. Rising food import prices and non-cooperation over fisheries management are just some of the areas in which Buenos Aires have looked to increase tension. Despite these moves, the people of the Islands remain resolute in their desire to not only determine their own future, but to trade with South America and seek normal relations with the Argentine Government for mutual, practical benefit. It is a source of great regret within the Falkland Islands Government that relations with Argentina have deteriorated since the 1990s, when significant progress on cooperation was made.
Once again Falkland Islanders are preparing to find themselves in the world’s spotlight, but this time we hope that at least our wishes are clearly understood; we are Falkland Islanders first and foremost, but also wish to remain an integral part of the British Overseas Territories community.
The Honourable Emma Edwards MLA is a member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly