December 22, 2013
Chronicle of a vote foretold
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior
The referendum on the Malvinas islands today and tomorrow is unlikely to be an electoral moment of truth which shapes national destinies forever and perhaps even changes the course of world history. Neither the size of the electorate (1,672) nor the foregone conclusion of a positive answer to the single question on the ballot: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?” seem to justify the attention bestowed on this vote — nor does it offer any real options because a negative vote could lend itself to more than one interpretation (aspiration to independence or fuller autonomy as much as agreement with Argentine sovereignty claims). If the island newspaper scornfully suggested that islanders were more concerned about their health, the weather and vegetable prices than “the outbursts of Argentina’s unpredictable President,” the same could almost be said about thus stating the obvious — it will be interesting to see how high the final turnout is.
Despite the evident aim to display British loyalties to the world via self-determination in action, this whole exercise almost does the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration a bigger favour than Whitehall because it gives a new lease of life to the 30th anniversary of the 1982 South Atlantic war and the 180th anniversary of permanent British presence some 10 weeks after both were over. While Britain could also use a distraction from domestic economic problems, the fact remains that the South Atlantic War ceased to be Britain’s most recent conflict over two decades ago so that the whole issue does not carry nearly as much emotional punch there as here.
Among all the Argentine rhetoric against today’s vote, one inaccuracy is worth highlighting because the detail is perhaps not trivial. Argentine Ambassador to London Alicia Castro dismissed the referendum “as “called by the British in which only British citizens can vote to decide whether the territory they inhabit is to be British.” This is not strictly true — the voting requirement is seven years’ residence so that recent British arrivals are disenfranchised while various Chileans (or even the odd Argentine) can vote. Behind this vote to be British is thus the reality of a population which increasingly is not so much “implanted” as globalized and being a British overseas territory might well be a transitional phase towards finding its own place in the world. The smart reaction would thus be to try and make Argentina part of that future rather than stuck in the anti-colonial fixations of the past.