On 10-11th March 2013 a referendum on whether the Falkland Islands should remain as an Overseas Territory of the UK, or not, will be held.
The history of the Falkland Islands between the UK and Argentina has long been complicated. A long-standing disagreement over the political status of the Falkland Islands culminated in the Falklands War in 1982, which lasted for 74 days. The war ended on 14th June 1982, with the Argentine surrender, resulting in the islands being returned to British control. However, Argentina has never relinquished their claim that the Falkland Islands are Argentinian territory and, in 1994, the claim was added to the Argentine constitution. This meant that Argentina viewed the Falklands War as re-occupation of their own territory, whereas the British government viewed this as an invasion. With the dispute still in full-force 31 years after the Falklands War, it has now been decided that the islanders themselves should decide whether they wish to remain a British territory or not.
On 12th June 2012, the decision of the Falkland Islands Government to hold a referendum over their political status, was announced by Gavin Short, a Member of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly. He said that the Islanders wished to hold the referendum “to eliminate any possible doubt about our wishes”. The referendum has received full support from the British government and the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has said his Government would “respect and defend” the outcome of the referendum.
“We have to respect the interests of the people living in the area but not the wishes.”Mr TimermanArgentine Foreign Minister
However, the Argentine government has issued a rather more negative response. Daniel Filmus, chairman of the Argentine Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, claims the referendum will “not change at all the Argentine position”. This implies the Argentine government are willing to disregard the wishes of the Falkland people themselves, as they do not believe they have a right to self-determination.
Further to this, Argentina apparently launched a campaign to “undermine the legitimacy” of the referendum. For example, the Falkland Islands Government will be inviting observers to independently and fairly verify the result of the referendum: however, the Argentine government has apparently sent diplomats to the Caribbean and Africa to persuade governments against sending observers, stressing the “inconvenience” of the trip. Argentina’s reaction to the referendum has led William Hague, British Foreign Secretary, to accuse Argentina of “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” towards the Islands.
Despite Argentina’s aversion to the referendum as a solution to the long-standing issue of the island’s political status, the referendum is still planned to go ahead. The question which will be posed to the islanders is this:
“Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom? YES or NO”
The predictions for the outcome of the referendum are currently for a tremendous “yes”, in favour of remaining an overseas territory of the UK. Should the outcome of the referendum be “no”, a second referendum on potential alternatives will be held.
As William Hague said, “It is, and must always be, for them to decide their own future.”