Asked at a press conference on Wednesday why the Argentine Government had appeared to be against his appointment to the Falkland Islands, while also attempting to vilify him as someone who had previously opposed the right to self-determination of the inhabitants of another small island community, the newly-arrived governor, Mr Colin Roberts CVO, said that he was mystified by the logic and “would welcome illumination”.
Mr Roberts, who is a former Director of Overseas Territories at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that it had been suggested to him that perhaps the Argentine Government regretted not having been able to exercise the same powers as the British half a century ago, when they had evacuated a population in a manner which for many years they had accepted was wrong.
The Argentine Government has made frequent accusations that the attitude of the British Government in supporting the right to self-determination of the Falkland Islanders was contradictory, given the evacuation against their wishes of the indigenous (Chagos) inhabitants of Diego Garcia and other British overseas territories in the Indian Ocean.
Mr Roberts said that the situation in the Falkland Islands today was completely different and it was important to remember both that the events in the Indian Ocean happened fifty years ago and that recent British governments acknowledged that what was done then was entirely wrong.
In an oblique reference to further criticism from the Argentine President that the British Government was applying a double standard in according significance to the Falklands referendum in which an overwhelming majority opted to retain the status of British Overseas Territory, while refusing to accept the legitimacy of a recent referendum in the Crimea, Mr Roberts was quite blunt and illustrative.
“We have heard and we will continue to hear comparisons to the referendum; you know we are having a referendum in Scotland later this year: there's been a referendum in Ukraine and there will be many other referenda around the world and there will always be people who make comparisons and normally they will be people who want to make comparisons to undermine in some way the validity of the referendum here. There is no merit in that argument at all. The Falklands referendum was an excellent and impeccably run referendum and we should be absolutely clear about that and not allow it to be muddied. We know who would have an interest in trying to suggest that there was something wrong with that referendum.”
Praising the recent efforts by the Falkland Islands Government to counter Argentina's propaganda by going out into the world to put the Islanders' case, the new Governor said that it was important to remember that although Argentina's attitude was extremely annoying and carried with it some practical consequences, by and large while it has been going on Falkland Islanders had been, “doing their stuff, developing their economy, being very successful and attracting massive international investors into the hydrocarbon sector.”
It was important, said Mr Roberts, to be clear about how effective, or rather how ineffective, Argentine efforts had been.
Mr Roberts and his wife Camilla arrived in the Falklands on Monday and have since had a very full program of activities ranging from the formality of the official swearing in ceremony and a well-attended parade to the relatively informal atmosphere of a reception at Government House. While keenly awaiting the arrival in the Falklands of their two sons, their dog and their luggage, the Governor said on Tuesday afternoon that he and his wife already felt “enormously and warmly welcomed.”
By John Fowler - Stanley