A group of Central American journalists recently visited the Falkland Islands for a week as guests of the Foreign Office together with Bruce Callow from the UK Costa Rica embassy. During Mr Callow wrote in his blog about the experience regarding important issues for the Falklands such as the referendum next March on the future of the Islands.
After having had the opportunity to see some of the magnificent natural attractions within the Falklands and spend some time exploring the capital Stanley we’re now into the heart of the visit. Our guests from Central America are discovering important facts about the past, present and future of the Falkland Islands.
During the meetings we have had already (with the Fisheries Department, Tourism Board, Mineral Resources Secretary and Members of the Legislative Assembly) our group has discovered that the Islanders are eager to embrace development and move forward without letting go of the basic principles that have prevailed here for centuries and that have given them the quality of life they enjoy today.
Amazingly there is only 1% unemployment here and you can sense the strong feeling of community spirit that exists and the pride the people of the Falkland Islands have for their country. We were interested to learn that some of the plans the Islanders have include the development of an oil industry by 2017 with a potential production of 350 millions of barrels.
There are several areas within the Falklands’ waters where exploration by local, British and international companies is being undertaken for oil and gas. There are also important plans to boost the tourism industry, enhance local infrastructure and improve public services. The aim is for all of this to be done in a sustainable way, without jeopardizing the natural resources and the way of life in the Islands.
It is evident to the visiting group that there is a clear prevailing message from the people on the Islands that only they should be the ones that have the right to determine their future. The Islanders are peaceful people that want to work constructively with their nearby neighbors (South America) and the rest of the world.
During the meeting with the General Governor, Mr. Nigel Haywood, the group was able to discuss the upcoming referendum, which will allow the Islanders to determine their political future. This historic event will also give the people of the Falkland Islands the opportunity to send a clear message – not just to Argentina, but to the entire international community – that the Islanders and they alone, are masters of their fate.
The British Government has already made clear that it will respect their decision, in line with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The Islanders hope that all Governments who prize democracy and human rights will do likewise.
Throughout our stay we have experienced a great deal of openness and cooperation from the people here. The Falkland Islands is a place where people from various nationalities, including communities from Chile and St Helena, have gathered in the search for opportunities and a unique way of life.
We even ran into some Argentine war veterans that traveled here to visit the Argentine war cemetery. I’m sure these types of pilgrimages help Argentine soldiers achieve some sense of closure to what must be a painful chapter in their lives.
In our travels outside Stanley there are constant reminders from the conflict in 1982. Sadly, to this day some 30 years after, several large areas are still fenced off due to the thousands of antipersonnel mines that Argentine forces placed around the country during their brief occupation. Unfortunately being made of plastic these mines are particularly difficult to detect and remove.