“Is a monthly stopover in Argentina too high a price to pay for a direct weekly flight to Sao Paulo, the biggest flight hub in South America,” is the question we all have to ask ourselves, said lawmaker MLA Mike Summers this week as he set out the situation and options available to progress and develop the Falkland Islands’ economy.
MLA Summers explained that an opportunity had now arisen to put such a flight in place, but to do so required the agreement of the Brazilian Government, and the confidence of the successful airline that they would not be punished in some way for flying to the Falklands.
“This will only come from explicit Argentine agreement not to obstruct the flight. Simply flying around Argentine airspace, as some have suggested, is unlikely to achieve this, though we will continue those lines of discussion. At this early stage Argentina has indicated that in return for advising the Brazilian Government that it does not object, they would like the flight to stop over once a month in Argentina. At this current time no more, no less.”
MLA Summers said the task for the Falkland Islands was to find ways of moving forward that do not compromise or put at risk, hard won political, social and economic development. “That underpins all of our discussions with UK Government Ministers, and is not in question. The UK Government (or the dreaded Foreign Office as one correspondent put it) have left the improvement agenda to FIG and have not tried to push any particular line, or to force FIG to agree to anything which appears unwise,” he said.
The Penguin News letters page last week included some lengthy considerations of the merit of the recent Joint Statement between Argentina and Britain which if implemented would mean as well as an extra flight, getting rid of restrictive sanctions and increase the north south flight availability.
Much of what was said in the letters to PN centered on whether Argentina could be trusted, and experiences of the past. “That is entirely understandable,” said MLA Summers.
But, he said, since the flight comes at the Falklands Government’s option, it could be stopped at any point. People have to be able to get here to contribute to economic growth whether it is tourism, fishing or hydrocarbons, or the still essential development of new industries, “and we need to get to markets.”
Looking at the current connection of Punta Arenas, which has been the only commercial option for many years, he said it was expensive, not well connected to major destinations, and for most very much out of the way.
“The air-bridge is OK for the UK in limited numbers, but it is clear that we will always be restricted for capacity as it fulfills its military role. An alternative north to south air-link through a major hub has long been a necessity, and has been discussed in various guises since the mid 90s. no they can’t. Can the Argentine Government insist it continues or change the rules without our agreement – no they can’t. So the current FIG judgment is that the flight does not present a security risk,” said MLA Summers.
The overwhelming response from a survey of businesses was that an additional flight would present new opportunities.
“The potential for tourism is obvious, and the vastly improved connectivity (and regularity) for other businesses generates activity that is currently suppressed - many people simply won’t come here for a week,” said MLA Summers.
In essence the joint statement proposes to a) get rid of the sanctions regime; b) enable further north to south flights without interference; and c) press on with the DNA identification process.
MLA Summers said it was difficult to see why anybody would want the sanctions regime to stay in place.
“It is not in our interest, and inhibits the necessary economic growth to secure our future. Whilst one correspondent argues we have enough and should be content with what we have, life at the sharp end provides clear and regular evidence that Falkland Islanders do indeed want to move on, and continue to strengthen our economy. Future generations would not thank us for not trying to do better when the opportunity arises.”
Discussions with constituents have to date revealed no fundamental opposition to the DNA identification process of Argentine soldiers buried at Darwin, provided the necessary safeguards are put in place.
“We were pleased that the joint statement recorded that the wishes of the families are paramount in this project, which is strictly humanitarian. This opens the opportunity for families to request the return of their loved ones remains for reburial nearer home if they wish, free of political interference,” said MLA Summers.
“Of course we could, as suggested by one correspondent, sit and wait for the Argentines to drop their claim before we do anything, but that is likely to be a very long time. It wasn’t necessary for setting up the Fishery, it wasn’t necessary to commence hydrocarbons exploration, and it is not necessary now. Whilst there is an opportunity to do more we should push forward, and take the opportunity to grow and expand for future generations.”
The Falkland Islands can and will be successful, MLA Summers said, adding, “If we allow ourselves to be held back through fear of the Argentines or fear of plots by devious politicians we will still be in the same place in 20 years’ time – an economy on which we can survive, but with no further chance to develop, and no new or improved services.” (PN)