The following column was published in The Malta Times - After her first meeting with Pope Francis, Argen¬tina’s President, Cristina Fernandez, admitted that she tried to recruit the newly-elected Argentine-born Pontiff to support her efforts to gain control of the Falkland Islands. In spite of this predictable move, the Vatican is unlikely to intervene publicly in this conflict.
The principle of self-determination may be in jeopardy if the will of the Islanders is not respected.
The Falkland Islands, a remote archipelago home to a population of 2,841, have been under direct British control since 1833. Argentina has claimed sovereignty over the islands ever since. In 1982, the Argentine military junta ordered the invasion and occupation of the Islands. The Islanders aligned themselves with the British and successfully thwarted Argentine plans.
The Nestor and Cristina Kirchner Administrations resurrected this old conflict and is pushing for negotiations on the sovereignty of the Islands. She is more aggressive in her approach and suspended all cooperation agreements on oil and fisheries. She persuaded Mercosur countries to ban access to Falkland Islands vessels.
The United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation lists the Falklands as a “non-self-governing territory”. Nonetheless, the Islanders have continuously expressed a desire to retain political ties with the United Kingdom. In a referendum held on March 10 and 11, 99.8% voted in favour of retaining the current political status as an overseas territory of the UK.
The Falkland Islands have a constitutional set up that effectively guarantees self-government, save for matters relating to foreign affairs and defence.
The Islands enjoy an elected Legislative Assembly and an independent government headed by a Chief Executive. They managed to successfully put their own mark on their political and economic institutions and assert their own peculiar form of ‘Britishness’.
The Falklands have significant strategic and economic value. They are located in the South Atlantic at a strategically significant spot, which can be used to patrol and monitor the region. A geological survey conducted in the 1970s revealed significant potential for the successful exploration of oil and gas.
National pride also plays an important role. Argentina believes the Islands are an illegally-occupied territory. The Islanders are viewed as illegal residents on Argentine soil. Many in the UK still recall the 1982 conflict with a certain sense of pride at having defeated an illegal aggressor.
The Falklands issue may put the principle of self-determination in jeopardy if the will of the Islanders is not respected.
In June 2012, Cristina Fernandez openly confronted Prime Minister David Cameron at the G20 meeting. Cameron replied to her provocations by stating: “We should believe in self-determination and act as democrats here in the G20.”
The democratic credentials of any government that fails to heed to the principle of self-determination should be seriously questioned.
Respect for the democratic process and the institutions that safeguard the rule of law are of paramount importance.
The referendum result presents a quasi-unanimous consensus among Islanders. One hopes that Argentina will respond with a willingness to engage in dialogue and a readiness to accept the wishes of a small but by no means insignificant population.