Falklanders hope to send a message with referendum
LONDON (AFP) – 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, 400 kilometres (250 miles) away, has branded the referendum “illegal” because, it claims, the islanders are “implanted” and thus do not have the right to self-determination.
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, told AFP.
London will not discuss sovereignty issues with Buenos Aires unless the islanders expressly wish it.
On April 2, 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.