The Falklands/Malvinas Islands Referendum: A Pyrrhic Victory
The Falkland Islands/Las Malvinas referendum, which ended as expected confirming the wish of the population to stay British, in reality does not solve the question.
If in the minds of David Cameron, and other British diplomats, this signs the end of the dispute, on the other Argentina’s Government reject the vote and declared that nothing really changed on the Malvinas.
The referendum result was not set for surprises, seen the composition of the population in the islands and to many it seems that this vote open even more questions than give answers to the existing ones.
The Falklands/Malvinas residents have obviously all the rights to express their wishes and make their voice heard in this long standing dispute. However, the form of the referendum is flawed and for the reasons below:
- Do not address the real territorial dispute and its historic consequences.
- Does not reflect a vote on a political proposal or negotiation between Great Britain and Argentina to resolve the dispute
- The unilateral character can be used as a blueprint for other territorial claims in other parts of the world. (No Argentine live in the islands)
One of the key point, is that the referendum stressed more on the continuation of the status quo, by asking a banal and obvious question to a population that has always declared itself British. The vote did not addressed the historic claims by Argentina on request of sovereignty, as well as not offering the possibility to express themselves on a real political proposal.
The vote, in its unilateralism, make little sense to Argentinians, who are not living in the islands, and examples can be drawn from everywhere in the world: If you have a referendum in the Palestine territories occupied by Israel, the 100% Jewish population will back an Israeli sovereignty; in Pakistani or Indian Kashmir, you will have same results based on ethnic composition; etc. The governments who have sovereignty at the moment will use the plebiscite to justify occupation, but will this solve the disputes?
Obviously no, but just to clarify why the form of the referendum is right but the substance is wrong, let’s not go too far from Britain and look at the Northern Ireland issue. If you apply this same principle and reduce all the matter to a question whether remaining British in protestant strongholds, you will have 100% backing, but what if the question is based on political proposals to either achieve independence, accept British rule or Annexation to Ireland?
In the Falklands/Malvinas case no proposal has been advanced to the population and requests to open a negotiation by Argentina have been slammed by the British Government.
Britain appear in a strong position, but in reality is the main responsible for the deadlock and although accuses Argentina of colonialism, appear clear that arrogance and militarization of the area are symptoms of an absence of policy and political will to resolve the issue.
Britain accuses Argentina to prepare for war when, of the two contenders, only one was engaged in Iraq is still operating in Afghanistan, participated in the destruction of Libya, and is now pushing to send more weapons to Syria in an attempt to stop a civil war by arming everyone on the ground.
Argentina, on the other side, is accused to exploit Las Malvinas issue for nationalistic and political purposes in order to distract people from economic decline and crisis. Although this accusation is not unfounded, las Malvinas are one of those subjects that cut across the political spectrum and represents a true political goal for every citizen in the country.
Argentina does not want to eradicate the population, or wage war, recognize that after 180 years of British rule, and colonization of the island, you cannot expect to change the will or the national sentiment of the population. However, the territorial claim is still open and Argentina will always consider Las Malvinas part of its state.
So what will happen now?
Solutions could be on the table if Britain decide to open a negotiation: grant independence? Or an Argentinian territorial sovereignty with British citizenship maintained, demilitarization of the area with joint control over economic resources? And so on, with anything can be better than the present situation.
Whatever will be the answer, or the possible negotiation, it appear that the economic variable will be the key to unlock the dispute. In a moment where Argentina is worse off than Britain in the current economic climate, the islanders have clearly all interest to keep their ties in Europe. But with the current economic decline in Europe, and the British economy that is not living the best of its years, it can be argued what will happen if Argentina will assist to an economic boom in the next decades. Will British diplomats be confident enough that the islanders will back again a British rule?
Many will argue that you cannot sell national pride for economic value, but the dispute is also around the possible oil reserves and opens new scenarios where the exterior nationalist rhetoric hide inside a policy of “depredation” to help a struggling economy to survive. Also, of the two contender, Britain is the country where there is the lowest interest in the mainland for the dispute, seen by many a remnant of a glorious but lost empire.
The referendum, seen in Britain as a “yes” to keep the status quo and a closure to the issue, in Argentina as a “no” and keep open the dispute, leave the islanders in fact in the same situation giving them an illusory victory that no one really believe will settle the dispute.