By MLA Jan Cheek - I was in The Hague in April on the last stop of my four capital trip planned to spread information about our decisive referendum. After London, a colleague and I visited Brussels before heading off to separate destinations. I visited Dublin and then returned to London to attend the funeral of Baroness Thatcher.
She is remembered with gratitude and affection in the Falkland Islands for her role in the decision to liberate the Islands when they were invaded and occupied and for her subsequent continued support for our right to self determination. Attempts to achieve a diplomatic settlement at the time would have taken no account of the wishes of the people of the Islands so she finally rejected the proposal.
To have acceded to Argentine demands would have allowed armed aggression to prevail.
Members of the eight-strong Legislative Assembly have traveled to capitals in North and South America and the Caribbean to brief officials and politicians on the result of the referendum held in March to determine to whether voters wish to retain our status as an Overseas Territory of the UK.
We took advice from electoral experts and experienced observers to ensure that the question was fair and that the entire process would pass independent scrutiny. The turnout was excellent at 92% of voters and the 99.8% ‘yes’ vote surprised even the most optimistic of us.
Many have asked what we hoped to achieve by the referendum. Clearly we wanted the world to know that we have no wish to become a colony of Argentina. While we do not expect the result to change the views of the present Argentine government we do hope that enlightened and open minded people worldwide took note.
We appreciated the prompt acknowledgement of the result by the Netherlands and other countries.
The Falkland Islands were uninhabited when discovered in 1592 by British seafarer John Davis and although several countries had settlements in the Islands for brief periods the British claim was never given up. The Islands have now been peacefully settled by for 180 years, but for the short lived occupation in 1982.
The first settlers were seafarers, whalers and sealers and they were followed by adventurous people looking for better lives for themselves and their families. These waves of settlers were very similar to those who settled New Zealand and much of the Americas. The suggestion that we are somehow an ‘implanted’ population is as offensive as it is untrue.
If nothing else the referendum has given us an incentive to travel and refute this and other elements of the Argentine campaign of false propaganda. At the same time we can inform people of their attempts to hinder shipping and stifle the Islands economic development.
Their decree 256 purports to give them the right to stop Falklands and British flagged ships. They have banned tourist charter flights from over-flying their airspace and they threaten oil companies operating in the Falklands with sanctions and prosecution. They ceased co-operation on the conservation of sustainable fish stocks in the SW Atlantic some years ago and actively promote over-fishing of straddling stocks.
Despite all this negative activity the people of the Islands enjoy a good quality of life in beautiful surroundings and we work around the obstructive activities of our nearest neighbor.
Our economy is healthy with the prospect of an oil industry in a few years and allows us to invest heavily in the education of our young people. There is something in the character of Islands people that allows us to overcome small hardships and relative isolation and make a success of our economy and enjoy a special way of life.
Our wish would be to have a normal neighborly relationship with all our South American neighbors.