The remarkable transformation of the Falkland Islands into the democratic, prosperous, hardworking community of today was applauded by hundreds of supporters gathered in London for the annual reception in London marking the liberation of the Islands from Argentine invasion and occupation in 1982.
They were delighted and impressed by the positive, dynamic, hard-working community described by one of its Legislative Assembly members, Mr Dick Sawle, in an upbeat assessment of the way it is overcoming the challenges of building a new oil industry, safeguarding and strengthening its democratic principles and its relationship with the United Kingdom, and challenging Argentina’s rejection of Falklands’ democratic rights.
These rights were overwhelmingly reaffirmed by the nationwide Falklands referendum earlier this year. “This”, Mr Sawle declared, “was the exercise of self-determination, and the result was incontrovertible proof of our desire to remain British …an overseas territory of the United Kingdom with our own democratically-elected Government, our own rights under a modern Constitution that reflects the modern day relationship between the United Kingdom and the Falkland Islands…a relationship that is not based on old colonial principles, but one based on mutual respect and forward-thinking democratic ideals”.
This message, since the Referendum, has been taken far and wide by legislators and young Islanders to governments in South America, Central America, the USA, Canada, the Caribbean and Europe, as well as the United Nations.
Mr Sawle said it is hard to disagree with this message, which has forced many people to rethink their standard lines and realise that this is not a dispute between Britain and Argentina but a fundamental dispute over the rights of the Falkland Island people to choose their own system of government.
“Argentina has yet to respect those rights to self-determination. We will continue with our task of getting our voices heard. We hope that this will help us to counter claims by Argentina that our referendum was ‘illegal’ and that we have no rights. We hope that this will ensure that those countries that either support Argentina or maintain a neutral position will at least be in no doubt that we have exercised out right to self-determination and clearly expressed out wishes”.
Mr Sawle praised “excellent” research by two British academics, Peter Pepper and Graham Pascoe, which has “effectively disproved the myth” that an Argentine population was expelled from the Islands by the British in 1833.
Mr Sawle paid tribute to former Governor, Sir Rex Hunt, and Lady Thatcher, both of whom have died since last year’s reception. Sir Rex Hunt, whose “cheerful smiling face underneath the plume of feathers” (of his Governor’s hat) was an image he would always remember, was “an iconic figure whose stoic attitude before the invaders is an attitude that is still reflected, admired and respected in our society”.
Lady Thatcher, or “Lady T” as she will always be known in the Falkland Islands, “was, like Sir Rex, one of our heroes and will never be forgotten. Her tenacity, strength and clarity of purpose and force of will saved us from becoming an expelled population with a country drained of wealth, people and hope….
“The fundamental freedoms we fight for and seek support for today are what Lady T, Sir Rex, and the veterans fought for. I know full well that all of you and all of our supporters will join with us in ensuring that those freedoms continue into the future”.
Mr Sawle thanked all the Islands’ supporters, among whom he listed the Falkland Islands Association, the All-Party Parliamentary Group, Falklands Conservation, the UK Falkland Islands Trust and Shackleton Scholarship Fund, the Falkland Families Association, the South Atlantic Medal Association, the Falklands Veterans’ Association, the Falkland Islands Philatelic Study Group, the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel Trust and the newly-formed Friends of the Museum and Archives. Many members of these organisations were among the audience.
Mr Sawle said the Islands are a place all held dear for “the strong sense of community, strength of purpose born from living with an aggressive neighbour … a strong yet small country defined by democracy and firm moral principles”. It is a place of fascination for its clear blue skies and abundant wildlife and its constantly changing economy and society.
The greatest challenge over the past year had been oil exploration and the changes this new resource brings. Many private companies have taken up the challenge, trained a skilled workforce, found finance and partnerships, made investments, and worked hard. He voiced gratitude to the Falklands government and civil servants who had worked long and hard and with flexibility to meet the country’s requirements including port infrastructure, telecommunications, housing, budgeting, updating laws, construction, media work and myriads of other things.
Mr Swale’s comprehensive e progress report was enthusiastically applauded as was an exchange of messages with the Queen read out by former Governor and Chairman of the Falkland Islands Association, Mr Alan Huckle. In reply to a loyal greeting marking the anniversary of liberation and the Queen’s sixtieth anniversary of her reign, she sent warmest wishes to the Falkland Islands and their supporters.
Mr Huckle pointed out that as he spoke the Falklands flag was flying in Parliament Square along with the flags of the other British Overseas Territories.
The reception was entertained by the Central Band of the Royal Air Force, prevented by rain from carrying out the tradition march past.
Harold Briley, London.