OP-ED BY GAVIN SHORT, MEMBER OF THE LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY OF THE FALKLAND ISLANDS
This morning my fellow Falkland Islanders and I woke up to a new future. Last night, our country made its voice heard.
Let me be clear that thirty years after the brutal invasion of our home, the people of the Falklands want nothing more than neighbourly relations with Argentina based on shared interests and mutual respect.
We have offered to sit down and discuss our differences, as twenty-first century nations should. But the Government of Argentina prefers not to engage with us, dismissing our people as colonial settlers or pretending – as their Foreign Minister said in London recently – that we do not exist. Our referendum this week, which has put an international spotlight on the Falkland Islands people, is our direct response to President Kirchner’s policy of dismissal and disdain.
The referendum sends a clear message to the international community – a resounding ‘yes’ to our desire to remain as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom. This is the will of the people, a decision that has been expressed freely and unequivocally. It is also our fundamental democratic right, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, and which no amount of pressure from the government of Argentina will change.
We have moved far beyond our colonial past. Our relationship with the UK is a modern relationship, based on democratic values, and it is constantly evolving. So are we. Like Argentina, our society is made up of European settlers. But, like Argentina, we are an open and increasingly cosmopolitan society. Argentina’s Ambassador in London, Alicia Castro, dismisses our referendum as “Brits voting to be British”. How little of our Islands she understands! Over twenty nationalities voted in the referendum – including Argentines, Chileans, Americans, Russians and Britons: but all of them Falkland Islanders.
So let us be clear: we do not exist under the yoke of a colonial power. We are not held here against our wishes. We are not an implanted population, illegally supplanting an original indigenous population. These Islands have been our home for nearly one hundred and eighty years. Some of us have family ties going back nine generations – longer than some of those Argentines who accuse us of being foreign implants. We are a proud, flourishing community. And we are a people who have rights.
The Government of Argentina says they will respect our interests, but you will forgive us if we ask: who will define our interests? Surely only we can do so. The free and democratically expressed will of the people cannot be disregarded by Buenos Aires as an inconvenient truth. Indeed it is absurd to think that an entire society can be “disappeared” in this way. It represents the very worst form of a C19th colonial mentality that Argentina purportedly criticises.
We have now opened a new chapter in that history, one that looks to the future rather than the past, and focuses on building our home for future generations. We will focus on growing our economy through the sustainable management of fisheries, tourism and agriculture, and we will strive to develop our oil industry in an environmentally responsible manner. We will continue to place the highest value on health and education, and helping our young people to reach their full potential.
There are opportunities for Argentina in this future. By working together, as we used to do, we can both be more successful and more prosperous. Yet instead of looking to build bridges, Argentina throws up barriers. The government of Argentina has sought to restrict our communications with the rest of the world, to damage our industries, and intimidate our people. But all this has achieved is to make our resolve stronger. Our freedom cannot be stolen; our human rights will not be sacrificed.
So this week the Falkland Islands people have had their say. It is time for other nations around the world, who respect democracy and political freedoms, to stand up and lend us their support. As a people we have spoken; my heartfelt hope is that you will listen.