Falkland Islanders vote with an eye on Argentina
Stanley (Falkland Islands): Britain is hoping this weekend's referendum on the political status of the Falkland Islands will push the United States and other neutral governments off the fence in its territorial dispute with Argentina over the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
The local Falkland Islands Government has mobilised a major effort to get as many of its 1,650 registered voters as possible to cast their secret ballots tomorrow and Monday, preparing to send off-road vehicles, boats and seaplanes to remote sheep farms across the lightly populated islands.
Elections observers from Canada, Mexico, 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 favour 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. Britain wants the US in particular to recognise the islanders' rights, but Secretary of State John Kerry refused to budge during his recent visit to London.
"I'm not going to comment, nor is the president, on a referendum that has yet to take place," Kerry said, punting the question until after the results are announced Monday night.
"Our position on the Falklands has not changed. The United States recognizes de facto UK administration of the islands, but takes no position on the question of the parties' sovereignty claims."
"Sovereignty" is a term that focuses on a territory more than its people, and it's the word Argentina often invokes while asserting its claim to the islands. Late yesterday, Argentina's foreign ministry repeated its assertion that the islanders are an "implanted" people and that UN resolutions require Britain to resolve the dispute bilaterally, "taking into account the 'interests' (not the 'desires') of the inhabitants of the islands."
Britain prefers to refer to "self-determination," which focuses more on the people than the land they live on.
The US strongly endorsed self-determination for the people of South Sudan ahead of their 2011 referendum, which showed 99 per cent wanted independence from their northern neighbour.
President Barack Obama said during the Arab Spring uprisings that "the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination" for people in Egypt and Tunisia.
The Palestinians and the Puerto Ricans have gained similar support for self-determination rights, and Obama even came out in favor of a UN declaration supporting self-determination for Native Americans.