Described as ‘fantastic’ despite the bad weather over 300 vehicles plus motorbikes, quads, old tractors and horse riders flying Falklands flags and Union Jacks turned out on Sunday in Stanley for a march along the sea front and the Liberation Monument in support of the two-day referendum on the Islands future.
Mostly made up of 4x4 wheel-drive (the Falklands have the greatest number of these vehicles per capita in the world), motorbikes and keeping with tradition horse riders with sheep skins over saddles, they rallied early afternoon at Moody Brook, along the track form the Two Sisters mounts that ‘watch’ on Stanley from the west, to begin a proud and festive parade that crossed the Falklands’ capital.
“Just back from watching the vehicle rally come past the '82 (Liberation) memorial, what can I say? Just fantastic, absolutely fantastic” said Gavin Short member of the Falklands elected Legislative Assembly on Sunday afternoon.
“I was told someone counted them and reckoned there to be over 300 or so, the truth is I have never seen so many vehicles in one go here in the Falklands - I thought they were never going to stop coming past”, added MLA Short.
The Falkland Islands are holding Sunday and Monday a referendum on their political status and future hoping to show the world they are entitled to exercise their right to self-determination, enshrined in the US charter, and make the message known internationally, contrary to the Argentine sovereignty pretension over the Islands and ignoring the existence of the local population, as has been repeatedly stated by the Argentine Foreign minister Hector Timerman.
“A fantastic visual expression of what the Falkland Islanders feel and want and all done in good humour, real festival” said MLA Short who congratulated the organizers and especially to all who took part, “fantastic”.
MLA Short also mentioned that early Sunday everything was ready in Stanley for the residents to begin casting their vote on the political future of the Falklands, but admitted that “in the Camp (rural Falklands) the folks will start voting a bit before us lazy old townies; however let the people speak!!!”
“A real exercise in democracy and human rights; whatever your views please remember that we Falklanders are a tolerant society, we are a democracy with democratically elected representatives, and being democratic means you can have different views, so lets respect that”, wrote MLA Short in Facebook.
And emphasized: “more than that, lets make this a real celebration of our country and us as a people send a clear message to Cristina and Mr. Timerman that yes, we do exist”.
“We hope the undecided, or the un-informed, or those countries that might otherwise be prepared to give the nod to Argentina's sovereignty claim might have pause for thought after the referendum, said John Fowler, Deputy Editor of the islands' weekly newspaper, the Penguin News.
This is an attempt to say 'hang on a minute, there's another side to the story'.
People queued to vote at the Town Hall in Stanley, where referendum posters bearing the slogan Our Islands, Our Choice adorned front windows. The post office produced a line of official stamps to mark the occasion.
Fiery remarks by Argentine President Cristina Fernández and Minister, Héctor Timerman, have galvanized patriotic sentiment on the Falklands. Tensions have also risen with the discovery of commercially viable oil and gas resources in the north Falkland basin and by Cristina Fernandez persistent demands for Britain to hold sovereignty talks over the islands.
London says it will only agree to negotiations if the Islanders want them, which they show no sign of doing.
Timerman said last month the referendum had the spirit of a public-relations campaign and most recently accused Britain of pursuing irresponsible initiatives in bad faith.
Since the 1982 conflict when Argentina invaded the Falklands and surrendered to a British Task force 74 days later, the Islands have undergone a dramatic change. The economy based on sheep farming turned into fishing, tourism and lately most encouraging oil and gas prospects.
Oil production is planned to start in 2017, and despite Argentine threats companies from UK, US and the European Union are directly involved in exploration. Besides leading world banks and investment funds hold stock of the promising companies.
Our best-case scenario is for them (Argentina) to drop their claim and realize that we are a people, we are a country and we do exist, said MLA Short. Asked if he thought that might happen, he said: Not in my lifetime.”
According to the 2010 census, the Falklands resident population is 2.563 of which 2121 live in the capital Stanley with 351 living in Camp (areas outside of Stanley). The per capita income is estimated above that of Norway.
The census also showed that 59% of residents consider their national identity to be ‘Falkland Islander’; 29%, British; 9.8% St Helenians, and 5.4% Chilean.