Is the Falkland Islands’ Referendum a Farce or a Landmark Moment?

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MARCOS BRINDICCI / REUTERS

Coast of Stanley in Falkland Islands, March 11, 2013.

When asked about her identity, Laura Jayne Minto Ceballos, a 19-year-old Falkland Islander studying in the U.K., has a less than straightforward answer. Her father’s family hails from Scotland and her Chilean mother was born in Argentina. “But when it comes to talking about the Falklands,” she says, “I am definitely British.” It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed by her fellow islanders in the March 10-11 referendum that asked them a simple question: whether they wish to remain an overseas territory of the U.K.

It was never in doubt how the islanders would respond – bookmakers in Britain referred to it as “the biggest certainty in political betting history”—but like the Falklands conflict in 1982, when Argentina and the U.K. went to war over the archipelago, the outcome of the referendum won’t settle a bitter sovereignty dispute between London and Buenos Aires. For Ceballos and many of her compatriots, that perhaps misses a wider point: “I think we are finally getting our voices heard and finally making a momentous stand for ourselves.”

Geopolitical tensions flared up last year—the 30th anniversary of the 1982 conflict—when politicians in both the U.K. and Argentina rehashed the same arguments about who is the rightful owner of the islands, which the Argentinians call Las Malvinas. In a bid to settle the matter, the U.K. proposed a referendum to ask the 1,672 individuals eligible to vote (there are fewer than 3,000 people on the archipelago) whether they would like to remain British. Argentina dismissed it outright as a rigged ballot, arguing that the vote essentially asks a group of British settlers if they wish to remain British.

(PHOTOS: British Photographer Jon Tonks searches for Empire)

So far in the dispute, the Falkland Islanders themselves have played a minor role. The U.K. is responsible for the territory’s foreign policy and defense, and Argentina refuses in any case to deal directly with them, a state of affairs that has caused great frustration among the islanders. “You could say we feel like the duck in the basket in the traditional gaucho game of ‘pato’,” wrote John Fowler, deputy editor of the Penguin News, in a column for the archipelago’s weekly paper last year. “This poor creature used to end up belonging to one side or the other, but was likely to be battered to death in the process.”

Outnumbered by sheep, the islands’ population comprises descendants of settlers and immigrants–from Britain mainly, but also a mix of South Americans and itinerant workers from as far as Russia. In the latest census conducted in 2012, 59% of residents identified themselves as Falkland Islanders and 29% as British, though 70% are descended from British Isles. The discovery of offshore oil fields, which could add billions of dollars of wealth, is bound to attract more migrant workers.

In an editorial in the run up to the referendum, the English-language Buenos Aires Herald observed how the voting requirements, which disenfranchised some British arrivals over Chilean and even Argentinean residents, are a telling sign of how the identity-politics of the islands could shift:

Behind this vote to be British is thus the reality of a population which increasingly is not so much “implanted” as globalized and being a British overseas territory might well be a transitional phase towards finding its own place in the world.

(MORE: John Kerry Sails into a New Falklands Conflict in London)

Arguably, the Falkland Islanders increasingly see themselves as part of an autonomous nation. Ceballos, like many islanders in her age group who wish to pursue further studies, had her education in the U.K. paid for by the Falkland Islands government, which is self-financing. There is no requirement that they repay their country by returning to work in the remote South Atlantic—indeed, they actively encourage their young people to work abroad, says Jan Cheek, a member of the Falkland Islands legislative assembly.

It appears to be an investment that is paying off, or at least engendering a sense of loyalty among young people. Sonia Arkhipkina, another Falkland Islander studying Medicine at the University of Leeds, believes her generation does owe a debt: “I believe I have a sense of duty to return and one day give back to the Falkland Islands what they have given me – hopefully as a doctor,” she says.

Another issue for the islands to contend with is an increasingly aging population—the number of residents aged over 65 rose 14% in the last six years—which could force the government to reconsider its strict immigration policies.

In the immediate future, the Falkland Islanders can take small comfort in the fact that their right to self-determination has been settled. For both Prime Minister David Cameron and Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner—who faces mid-term congressional elections in October—the diplomatic dispute serves as a useful distraction from their own domestic troubles. What is certain though is that once offshore oil production commences in 2017 and the stakes for control are higher, the debate is likely to take an uglier turn.

79 comments
Nahtsiuq
Nahtsiuq

There are a lot of territorial disputes all over the world. Most of them are seldom heard of. This one is always on the agenda. Why, really? Why are the Argentines so obsessed about the Falklands? They have a great beautiful country, which is  2 706 890 km2 (rank 8 in the world) with all types of nature, plains and mountains, large cities, and it is not overpopulated (just 14,5 inh/km2). Why do they  bother about those rugged islands (just 12 000 km2), instead of being happy with the territory they already possess? They should learn from the Germans or the Finns, dealing with loss of land. In Argentina there are lots of places such as stadiums and airports with propagandistic names, such as "Malvinas Argentinas". But in Finland there is no "Soumalainen Viipuri Airport" and in Germany no "Deutsch Schlesien Stadium". There are no signposts along the roads proclaiming "Ostpreussen ist Deutschland". Those countries have fully accepted the present borders, even if they lost territory just some 65 years ago and millions of people who had lived there for generations had to leave their homes. Argentina lost control over the "Malvinas" 180 years ago and just a few colonists were expelled.  

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

The Falklands (so-called Malvinas) do not belong to Argentina, just as Gibraltar does not belong to Spain, Belize does not belong to Guatemala, and the western part of Guyana (so-called Zona de Reclamación) does not belong to Venezuela. Spanish-speaking countries need to grow up. The west of Poland and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad used to be part of Germany, before millions of Germans were expelled in 1945, but Germany doesn't complain about that, and call the people there a 'planted population'. 

flobc
flobc

i'm gonna try and be objective here (it's a bit long but i think i might have some good points in here):

i understand the fact that Argentina would think it's not relevant that people that descent or just are British would reclaim they want to remain british in this issue in the POLITICAL sense. I can also understand that the people from the Falklands/Malvinas feels disregarded, like they don't matter...

In the conflict i belive that neither Kirchner nor Cameron are "fighting" for the islands in name of their Nations, it's not a noble move for them, it's just a way of distracting their people from each of the current National issues in both countries and rebuilding their public image. They are getting very involved because they have political AND economical interests (and most of them are individual interests, not national).

And going back in history yes, the British went to the then Malvinas (i belive it was in the 1950s) sent the Argentinian embassedor back and "reclaimed" the Falklands. During the 60s (or 70s can't remember) both countries had kind of began to say "let's sit down and talk this out". Unfortnunatley in 1976 Argentina fell into the worst Dictatorial Military Government of its history, and as we all know in 1982 the DICTATOR Galtieri (an alcoholic drunk for power -and his whisky-) decided, by himself (against proffessional advice) and argentinians didnt have a say in it. 18 year old boys were sent to a war unprepared (they went through hunger, cold and isolation) and the argentinians were kept in the dark, nobody new what was actually going on on those islands, the militars ordered the media to say "we're winning, everything is fine, THE BOYS ARE OK". The british went to war and did what they had to do, and nobody questions that. M. Thatcher did an atrocity by ordering the sink of the Belgrano.

So with that information i completly understand that for argentinians it's a sensitive spot, maybe not so much for the sake of "they are ours and we want them back", i think it's more of "we want them back so those boys who were sent there didn't die in vain". I think subconsciously it would be a way of closing that horrible time in history. Before the 1900s i'm not sure who got there first and it would be something historians should analyze.

Last i think just to keep everyone satisfied Cameron and Kirchner should sit down and talk and close the issue because it's a shame that because of their political egos they are putting 2 countries that (asside from futbol jaja) never had problems with each other, and are sturring waters that should be kept calm instead of provoking anger in their people when it's the last thing society needs these days. 


AlxMalta
AlxMalta

@rzamm vote Flaklands Referendum was as if "a bunch of squatters were to vote on whether or not to keep occupying a building illegally."

AbogSergioRios
AbogSergioRios

@TIME It' was necesary to show Kirchner the inhabitants of the Falkland exist

jmarben
jmarben

@TIME it's a farce, it's like asking texans if they want to join México again

richard_bonney
richard_bonney

It makes me laugh reading the rhetoric from Argentina referring to the People of the Islands as colonial, many of these so called colonists have been there for eight generations. The joke of it is that their argument is an oxymoron, Argentina a former colony of Spain with many European settlers...etc etc. They claim this rocky island as their own one assumes to colonise it as seemingly the natives don't want it and Argentina can't kick them. It will never be ruled by Argentina if the Brits leave they will give the country Independence, end of story and probabily the best solution!

Boovis
Boovis

Argentina, a country made up of European settlers on land stolen from the natives, claims a land inhabited by yet more people that want nothing to do with them. No surprise there.

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

A real farceThis referendum seems a masterpiece of a bad comedian,1.650 british inhabitans of a british colonial outpost in south America of a long ago gone empire(with the mother country falling in triple dip recession) asked if they want to remain british, guess what they said.At least we know now clearly how crowed and overpopulated are the Malvinas(Falklands) and that the 1.650 aging british overpopulating the islands are so narrow minded and blind about what is going on around as expected.   

rorywong654
rorywong654

I wish I can do the same as the Brit did.I am currently living in an illegally occupied empty house.I wish the city council will legalised my vote and my democracy right to stay forever

fgodoy55
fgodoy55

Btw, referendum is not recognize by Argentina, Latin America, China, US, Africa, in one word UN. Regards.

fgodoy55
fgodoy55

Farce. Islander with this referendum recognize they don`t want and can not be autonomous. They are descents of / or illegal transplanted population by an alien occupat force. Regards.

richard_bonney
richard_bonney

Democracy IS SO 20th century...I say ethnic cleansing and importation of ethnic South Americans is the order of the day. And while we are at it lets give Argentina back to the Incas!

alberth147
alberth147

@TIME it's as farcical as the Gibraltar vote a few years ago.

FogodoEon
FogodoEon

@TIME @TIMEWorld spoiled many things, including some of her chances to get the coveted rocks, smoothly and in a near future.

FogodoEon
FogodoEon

@TIME @TIMEWorld Falklands with no natives, all Americas are product of european invasion and colonization, Argentinas military invasion

FogodoEon
FogodoEon

@TIME @TIMEWorld Colonial powers sticked to it, like they remained Lords of Africa and, etc, until some major catastrophe like ...the First

mrjoco69
mrjoco69

@TIME @TIMEWorld Farce since Falklanders are just colonial settlers, in a foreign land called Argentina.

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

What is happening to the world, cant they see that the world belongs to the british, everybody should realize that Belize, Gibraltar, western Guyana, Chagos islands,Malvinas, Iraq, Afganistan, what is next?... well all are part of the british islands, except the case of Hong Kong because the Chinese are very powerful indeed if not you will see that even Hong Kong could be proud of be british and will be allowed self determination as the Chagosian.  

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

You're right and wrong at the same time,is a historical dispute.The Malvinas(Falklands)islands were ruled by Spain's Viceroyalties for centuries after 1492, when Argentina became Argentina in 1810 (declared 1816) followed the rule of this islands located in its continental shelf, then  in 1833 the Malvinas were seized for UK during the colonial expansion of britain and settlers from Argentina were replaced by the ancestors of the actual implanted population,United Nations after a detailed study is saying that is a territorial integrity problem not one  about the wishes of a handful of 1.650 implanted islanders and call both parts to settle the dispute.Sooner or later Argentina and Uk will arrive to a solution, perhaps Hong Kong style.     

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@Scotsese @TIME @TIMEWorld People with the same reasons as the 0.17 per cent of people in Eritrea's 1993 referendum who voted against independence from Ethiopia. 98.83 per cent voted for independence, in a poll with a 93.9 per cent turnout. If a similar percentage of Scots voted for independence in 2014, would that be invalid? 

Ethelreddy
Ethelreddy

@jmarben @TIME So people determining their own future through democratic means is a farce? Well goodbye democracy

fgodoy55
fgodoy55

@richard_bonneyArgentina is an independet country  since July 9 1816, Malvinas were invaded on January 3 1833. Study the issue. Regards.

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@GraciaAlbertol Are you trying to be sarcastic? Belize is independent - it could have been independent much earlier if it weren't claimed by Guatemala. Guyana is an independent country, and thankfully Venezuela has not threatened it over the Zona en Reclamación. Where did I say that these or other places were British, or should be? French Guiana is still French, but you don't hear Brazil complaining about that do you? It's only the nasty gringos who are colonialists. If you Argentines care about the Chagos Islanders so much, go to Mauritius and the Seychelles and give them jobs. 

richard_bonney
richard_bonney

@GraciaAlbertol

Please check your facts see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falkland_Islands_sovereignty_dispute#International_and_regional_views

I am an Irishman and consider myself neutral.

The Facts are there was a French then British settlement here since 1765, the islands changed hands between the different colonial powers France, UK, USA, Spain etc.... Before continuous UK rule since 1833. Nevertheless the past must be put aside and is the only way to sensibly look at this issue. 

I feel Argentina is going about this issue the completely wrong way, to think they can bully the inhabitants of the Malvinas into changing their loyalties is sheer madness...The people of the Malvinas are 'inhabitants' made up of a range of ethnic groups, just the same as the people of Argentinia are and indeed many have been calling it their home for just as long.... All people of this world have the right to SELF DETERMINATION BY DEMOCRACY, if these people want to be ruled by the UK, France, Space, Argentina whoever then so be it, they decide. 

I know it is a very bitter pill for Argentina to take but i am afraid that the fact is, the 1,600+ inhabitants are there to stay. I can understand it must have been a huge humiliation to the Argentinean people when their forces surrendered in 1982 and this wound is one which has never healed.  

Unless the day comes where Argentina recognize the people of the Malvinas as the legitimate inhabitants then the issue will never be resolved. To be called colonists and pirates by Mrs  Cristina Fernández de Kirchner seems ironic seeing she is the daughter of German and Spanish immigrants. All the people of the Malvinas, are immigrants as everyone is in the USA and their forefathers have travelled there to find a better life and they should be recognized as such. Argentina should hold out the hand of friendship to the people of the Malvinas and not dismiss them as irrelevant, but that takes far more courage to do than to act the bully. 

The Organization of American States summit Canada in 2012 stated its support for the islanders right to self-determination. So long live democracy i say........

RufusTrotman
RufusTrotman

Ruling the Falkland Islands from 1492 onwards would be a bit tricky bearing in mind that no-one had actually set foot on them until 1690. How was this possible?

Also, please could you explain how the Falkland Islands were on Argentinas continental shelf in 1810, when the southern border of Argentina in 1810 was the Colorado River, about a thousand miles North of the Falkland Islands. And how Argentina could claim the continental shelf in 1810 when the treaty relating to it (the Convention on the Continental Shelf) was signed in 1958?

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@rzamm @AlxMalta Right, so what does that make the Maltese? Arabs who converted to Catholicism and mixed their language up with Italian. If you're so anti-British, adopt Italian as your official language and change to driving on the right.  

richard_bonney
richard_bonney

@fgodoy55@richard_bonney 

You forget the main issue is the people who live there do not want to be Argentinan, which is a fact. And i am afraid they are there to stay, they are have as much rights to live on those Islands as Mrs Kercher to live in Argentina or Sean Penn the USA. These Islands will never be Argentinian, if anything the British will gain them Independence. Maybe the best solution for everyone.

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@GraciaAlbertol And neither were your European ancestors innocent, taking the land of indigenous people, after committing genocide. Just because you say 'vos' instead of  'tú', doesn't mean that your 'castellano argentino' is an indigenous language like Quechua or Guarani.   

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

The position of United Nations about Malvinas, a disputed land to be decolonized, with respect for the territorial integrity of Argentina and the interest of the  implanted colonist population, colonist by the way that went to live there knowing that it was a disputed land, they are not innocent.

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@GraciaAlbertolThe so-called world club is a joke. It's not an elected parliament, let alone a government. Quebec is a province of Canada, but that's only because two referendums on independence have failed, not because the federal government tried to stop it. China got Hong Kong and Macau removed from the list of non-self-governing territories because it argued that they were not colonies, but parts of its national territory under British and Portuguese occupation.  


GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

Richard,You sound very british not neutral or an Irishman but I respect your point of view but your facts are not correct,please see my reply to Rufus Trotman because is the same reply to this comment about the history, but best, see the United Nations resolutions and what they said and why the World said that, is the world club speaking. Also they explain clearly why this is a territorial integrity problem and why self determination applies to nations not to a handful of people,remember the Chagosian people,Hong Kong ,even in the Quebec issue How many groups of 1650 people can you form declaring independence from Uk rule?

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

Dont tell anyone else but Argentina put the Malvinas in the continental shelf of  South America  in 1810 just to annoy the British, please try to get a brain. 

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@GraciaAlbertol Argentina didn't exist millions of years ago, and if you're going to go back that far, Africa and South America were part of the same land mass. 

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

Rufus, I'am pleased to answer you, first I said AFTER 1492 not SINCE 1492, puting it easy seeing the foggy comment I was replying,the oldest reference about the zone is the Tordesillas treaty(june of 1494).The first registered map is from Sebald de weert in 1600 from the Netherlands,but still under Spanish rule for the Tordesillas treaty, to be concise 1764 Bouganville(France), 1766 Ruiz Puente(Gobernacion de Malvinas), Nutka convention,1810 Argentina with southern border in Usuhaia Tierra del Fuego, etc etc.The Malvinas are in the continentel shelf of Argentina since millons of years is a geografical fact not an international law.

WestmorelandKen
WestmorelandKen

@GraciaAlbertol Go back to Spain or Italy, and give the land where you live back to the indigenous people of South America. Oh, sorry, I forgot, you killed them all off!

GraciaAlbertol
GraciaAlbertol

The Islanders implanted in Malvinas went to live there Knowing that it was a disputed land ,the referendum is a farce as stated in the title of Time