A Falkland Islands delegation concluded this week a very successful visit to Colombia where they not only met with local authorities and lawmakers but also addressed the Lower House of Congress and were able to express loud and clear the Islanders’ message born out of the recent referendum in which they overwhelmingly voted to remain a British Overseas Territory.
Dr Barry Elsby, an elected member of the Falkland Island Legislative Assembly accompanied by Falklands’ post-graduate student Krysteen Ormond first visited the northern islands department of San Andres, Providencia and Santa Catalina and later Bogotá where they participated in a debate at a prestigious university on the results of the March 10/11 referendum that also included an Argentine counterpart.
At the invitation of San Andres and Providencia Congressman Jack Housni Haller the Falklands delegation toured the beautiful islands, which have tourism and fishing as their main industries but also an ongoing sovereignty dispute with neighbouring Nicaragua regarding surrounding waters that reached the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The disputed archipelago and keys are also in an area with potential oil and gas deposits.
Whilst in San Andrés Dr Elsby addressed the legislative assembly and Krysteen met with young entrepreneurs plus discussing matters important to the two Islands communities namely fishing, tourism and environmental issues.
It is hoped that links between the Falkland Islands and San Andres in relation to these matters might grow providing sustainable development opportunities for both communities.
In Bogotá Dr. Elsby and Ms Krysteen took part in a three hour debate at the Externado University, considered the top Colombian academic centre where most of the country’s political, professional and business elite have been educated.
The debate under the heading of “Referendum Malvinas/Falklands: political impact and regional consequences in Latinamerica” took place on April 2, the 31st anniversary of the beginning of the South Atlantic conflict when Argentine military invaded the Falklands.
In his lecture Dr Elsby reviewed the history of the Falklands but concentrated on how much the Islands have developed both economically and politically since the 1982 conflict.
The Falklands based on fisheries, tourism and agriculture has become a self sufficient very prosperous and dynamic community and equally significant are now self-governing in all matters apart from defence and foreign affairs.
Dr. Elsby also underlined the significance of 2017 when Falklands’ oil production begins and the first shipments are scheduled.
“A resource that belongs to the Falkland Islanders with no intervention of British interests”, underlined Dr. Elsby.
The audience of over 300 students, lecturers and professors were very interested to learn about the recent Falklands’ referendum with its overwhelming turnout as well as the political future of the Islands and the Islanders exercise of their right to self determination.
The discussion centred on the juridical value of the referendum, the reactions from Argentina and the UK to the results of the ballot and if Latinamerica is politically prepared to accept this electoral dynamics based on peoples’ right to self determination.
Ms Krysteen gave the audience a flavour of life in the Falklands and emphasised how the Islands investment in Education was producing a generation of highly skilled professionals rapidly replacing overseas contracted staff.
The Argentine position was well represented by two visiting professors Glenda Ecker and Rodolfo Colalongo currently lecturing at Externado. The debate was followed by an enthusiastic question and answer session from the audience and via Twitter. Jairo Libreros a political scientist professor from Externado was the moderator.
“We were looking for a enriching exchange of ideas and visions on the Malvinas referendum, but more specifically to establish close links between academic communities interested in finding solutions which can help a political way out for the Malvinas/Falklands dispute and for us here in Colombia, in Externado to have a clear picture of the political reality of the Islands”, said Professor Libreros in his closing words of the event.
Among other appointments the Falklands’ delegation had an excellent meeting with the President of the Colombian Congress and was invited to make a formal address to the whole House.
In his address Dr Elsby told Congress about the modern Falkland Islands, of the recent referendum and the wish of the Falklands to have good relations with all countries in South and Central America, including Argentina despite that country’s aggressive attitude which has rejected the referendum and does not consider the Falklanders as a ‘people’ exist.
“This attitude makes it virtually impossible for discussions to take place on matters of mutual interest, (fisheries, maritime issues and oil) as had happened in the 1990`s”, said Dr. Elsby.
“We can live without Argentina and the more pressure the Argentine government exercises in its attempt to strangle our economy and our overseas links, the greater the resolve of the Falklands to the challenge”.
Nevertheless “the Falklands people would like to have a civilized good neighbours’ relation with the Argentine people”.