Falklanders Defy Argentina, Vote to Remain British

Residents of the Falkland Islands near Argentina vote in a referendum to remain a British territory.

Government House in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, January 13, 2011
Government House in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, January 13, 2011 (Liam Quinn)

Residents of the Falkland Islands voted overwhelmingly to remain an overseas dependency of the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sunday and Monday, defying increasingly aggressive Argentinian claims of sovereignty over the islands which are situated some five hundred kilometers off the Patagonian coast.

The vast majority of Falkland Islanders, numbering less than 3,000, is of British descent and content with their present political status which gives them a high degree of autonomy while remaining nominally part of the United Kingdom.

Neighboring Argentina has long claimed possession of the islands. While it failed to take them by force in 1982, the country, coping with lackluster economic growth, rampant public spending and high inflation, insists that the Malvinas, as the islands are known in Spanish, are Argentinian territory.

“Malvinas is not an Argentine cause, it is a global cause, because in the Malvinas they are taking our oil and fishing resources,” President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner told a summit of Latin American leaders in Montevideo in late 2011. Earlier, she had called Britain a “crude colonial power in decline” and vowed to “reclaim” the Falklands.

An opinion poll conducted by YouGov for Sky News found that only 15 percent of Argentinians believe that the Falklanders ought to have a say in their own future. The government in Buenos Aires has dismissed the referendum as “irrelevant.”

An opinion poll in Britain, by contrast, found that 77 percent of voters there agree that the future of the Falklands should be decided by its inhabitants.

Britain’s prime minister David Cameron told lawmakers in July 2011, “As long as the Falkland Islands want to be sovereign British territory, they should remain sovereign British territory. Full stop, end of story.”

Roger Edwards, a former Royal Marine who served in the Falklands War and is now a member of the islands’ Legislative Assembly, told news media before the vote that he hoped the referendum would send “a very clear message to the world that the Falkland Islanders wish to remain as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom with the right to determine their own future.” He added, “We were settled here before Argentina was even a state.”

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