In June 2012 the government of the Falkland Islands decided to hold a consultative (non-binding) referendum with this reasoning: “The purpose of this referendum is to give Falkland Islanders the opportunity to clearly state, through an open and observed democratic process, what they wish the political status of the Falkland Islands to be.”
The government's announcement came shortly before the 30th anniversary of the Falkland War between the United Kingdom and Argentina. In 1982 Argentina invaded the Falklands, following their historical claims that the Malvinas (as Argentina calls the Falkland Islands) are part of their territory.
The dispute about the sovereignty of the islands roots way back in history. It already started with the question who discovered the Falklands in the 16th century: were it the Portuguese, the Spanish or the British? Today the United Kingdom as well as Argentina claim responsibility for the Falkland Islands/ the Malvinas. Britain argues that there is a continuous British administration of the islands since 1833. Argentina responds that it gained the Falkland Islands from Spain, after becoming independent in 1816. The UK, so Argentina argues, illegally occupied the islands in 1833. This conflict is reflected by recent statements of prominent politicians regarding the referendum:
In an open letter from January 3, 2013, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner writes to the British Prime Minister Cameron: “One hundred and eighty years ago on the same date, January 3rd, in a blatant exercise of 19th-century colonialism, Argentina was forcibly stripped of the Malvinas Islands, which are situated 14,000km (8700 miles) away from London. The Argentines on the Islands were expelled by the Royal Navy and the United Kingdom subsequently began a population implantation process similar to that applied to other territories under colonial rule. Since then, Britain, the colonial power, has refused to return the territories to the Argentine Republic, thus preventing it from restoring its territorial integrity.”
According to falklandnews.wordpress.com of 6 February, Argentina´s foreign minister, Hector Timerman said “The Falklands islanders do not exist. What exists is British citizens who live in the Islas Malvinas.” Argentine Ambassador Dovena at the Malvinas Forum meant “Asking the Islanders if they wish to remain British is obvious they will say yes. That is not the question, the question is that they are illegal settlers on Argentine soil”.
Government members of the Falkland Islands wrote in a letter to the Foreign Minister of Argentina:
“Falkland Islanders can trace back their heritage through nine generations. Though we value our links to the United Kingdom, we are our own community, free to determine our political future. We believe that the referendum next month will make it very clear that we do not wish to be ruled by Argentina (..)".
UK Prime Minister Cameron stated that "the world should listen to the views of the Falkland Islanders and Britain will be "resolute" in supporting their choice.” (..) "Thirty years ago they made clear that they wanted to stay British. Now the Argentine government wants to put that choice in doubt again, by shouting down the Islanders' ability to speak for themselves and punishing them for exercising their own free choice (Ref.: Huff Post, February 18, 2013).”
There is reasonable doubt that the result of the upcoming referendum will be part of the solution for the sovereign status of the people living on the Falkland Islands.
You can download the referendum information brochure provided by the Falkland Islands Government at: www.falklands.gov.fk/assets/Official-Information-Leaflet.pdf
Text by Dr. Klaus Hofmann