The population of the Falkland Islands has been going to the polls in a referendum on whether to remain a British overseas territory. Hopes for a surprise result should be tempered: it is likely that the 1,600 British citizens will vote for the status quo. But whatever the outcome, it is clear this referendum will not end the dispute.
The dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of the Falklands/Malvinas will remain as unresolved as it has been ever since a Royal Navy warship took by force the islands 180 years ago . It’s important to note that the referendum will have no real effect from the perspective of international law: unlike other cases of decolonisation, it was never called for nor supervised by the United Nations.
Only British citizens participate in elections on the Malvinas Islands, and only British citizens will participate in this referendum. It is a referendum organised by British people, for British people, with the purpose of asserting that the territory has to be British. In case any locals still hadn’t made up their minds by the weekend, local news outlets ran last-minute stories warning that any share of the no vote will “strengthen the Argentinian position”.
But what is the Argentinian position? To call for dialogue. This call is consistent with United Nations resolutions, which define the Malvinas/Falkland question as a “special colonial situation” involving a sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom that must be settled through negotiations between both parties, taking into consideration the interests of the inhabitants of the islands. The British inhabitants of the Malvinas unquestionably enjoy civil and political rights, but they do not have the right to decide this dispute.
We want to make it clear that we are wholly and unconditionally committed to respecting the identity and way of life of the inhabitants of the Malvinas, as we do with the 250,000 British descendants living in mainland Argentina. They are British, but the territory where they live belongs to Argentina.
Argentina is not in a minority in this view. All countries in the region recognise the Malvinas as an integral part of Argentinian national territory and strongly reject the existence of a colonial enclave. Likewise, the region rejects unilateral British activities exploring and exploiting natural resources on the Argentinian continental shelf, as well as the British military presence.
The UK has to realise that the world has changed. All through Latin America there are well established democratic governments that act in unison. We are a community and a market of 600 million people with some of the world’s fastest growing economies, while much of Europe is in economic stagnation. It simply isn’t in Britain’s interest to be seen as intransigent, and to alienate itself from this increasingly powerful and dynamic economic bloc.
Many international bodies, including the UN, have called for dialogue or ended up siding with my country on the Malvinas situation: recently 54 African countries recognised the case for Argentinian sovereignty over the islands at a summit in Equatorial Guinea. The UK, by contrast, is isolated. There is no support in the world for its refusal to engage in dialogue. The UK and Argentina have a historic opportunity to set an example to the world by resolving this dispute by peaceful and diplomatic means, as called for by as many as 40 UN resolutions since 1965.
What we seek is simple: a dialogue of two sovereign states. Above all, we have a responsibility not to leave this conflict unresolved for future generations.
Alicia Castro is the Argentinian ambassador to the United Kingdom.