Saturday, March 9, 2013

Global Impact: This Weekend's Referendum in the Falklands Expected to Favor Islanders

According to The Associated Press, Great Britain is hoping that this weekend's referendum on the political status of the Falkland Islands may nudge a number of foreign countries that heretofore have taken a neutral position on the long-standing turf dispute  dispute between the UK and Argentina that led Buenos Aires and London to go to war against each other in 1982.

The local Falkland Islands Government has mobilized a major effort to get as many of its 1,650 registered voters as possible to cast their secret ballots Sunday and Monday, preparing to send off-road vehicles, boats and seaplanes to remote sheep farms across the sparsely- populated islands.

Elections observers from Canada, México, the US, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and New Zealand also will be watching as islanders answer a simple yes-or-no question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"

Islanders expect the answer to be overwhelmingly in favor of British governance and protection, a result they hope will put their own self-determination at the center of any debate about their future in the face of Argentine claims to the islands. 

COMMENT: Britain wants the US in particular to recognize the islanders' rights, yet US Secretary of State John Kerry refused to budge during his recent visit to London, although it is noteworthy to point out that during the Falklands War, the US militarily supported the UK. 

Nevertheless, in today's world of the Obama Administration, Washington seemingly does not want to offend anyone, other than one of its strongest allies [UK].

It is clear that it will be difficult for Kerry to "sit on the fence" after the results of the referendum are announced, particularly considering Argentina's protectionist stance in the last couple of years, where it has nationalized foreign companies, Spain in particular, to the preference of those countries that make up the South American trade-bloc, MERCOSUR.

The Falkland Islands Government is a direct democracy and largely self-governing, although Britain handles its defense and foreign affairs, and the Queen's representative has veto power over its decisions. So far, islanders have decided to keep their permanent population very small, making it very hard to obtain formal "islander status."

Excluding the British military and civilian contractors, the islands' population was 2,563 in last year's census, and only 1,973 of them had islander status. The referendum rules exclude anyone who lacks a British passport and hasn't lived in the islands for the last 12 months.

Immediately following the vote, Falkland Islands lawmakers Sharon Halford and Mike Summers plan to arrive in Washington to lobby administration officials and Members of Congress.

It is regretful that Argentina and the UK did not resolve their territorial dispute in 1989, when they resumed diplomatic relations between each other, yet that apparently was not a political priority at the time, as it was in their respective interests to resume relations driven largely by economic considerations.