December 12, 2013
Yes, but to what?
By Michael Soltys
Buenos Aires Herald Senior Editor
In one of those countless British war films of the mid-20th century, James Mason is given the line: “If patriotism is a crime, then I am the worst offender” — it would seem that James Mason faces stiff competition from the Malvinas islanders after the referendum showing 99.73 percent (1,513 of 1,517 voting out of a 1,672-strong electorate) favouring continued British overseas territory status, trumping even Gibraltar’s 98.5 percent in a similar 2002 referendum. Even the paltry three dissenting votes (and far less the single spoiled ballot) cannot be assumed to be support for Argentine sovereignty claims — they might have been zealots for fuller autonomy or even total independence or perhaps they did not understand the question. Any greater enthusiasm for independence was allayed by the reflection that defence costs outstrip Malvinas wealth and by the assumption that defenceless islands would instantly be snapped up by Argentina. So even if the Iron Curtain Communist-sized percentage was not very British and nor was voting on the same days of the week as Italy just a fortnight ago instead of the traditional British Thursday (as if the islands had never heard of the Lord’s Day Act), it seems that Britannia rules at least some South Atlantic waves.
And yet this monolithic pro-British vote is far more a bloody-minded reaction to counterproductive Argentine pressure than a reflection of island reality. Indeed only 29 percent of the inhabitants actually define themselves as British — the islands are changing and will continue to change as oil industry development expands the need for mainland links and immigrant labour, further diluting the ethnic make-up. Argentina could make itself part of this future by soft-pedalling the present and accompanying these changes — instead a retrograde strategy based on anti-colonial rhetoric and United Nations resolutions simply leads to the mirror image of the islanders clinging to the imperial past. A strand of British opinion (echoed by Argentine Ambassador to London Alicia Castro) argues that Britain could win more races to dynamic Latin American markets without the Malvinas hurdle but the islanders would probably answer that argument with the T-shirt showing a South American map minus the Argentine pampas (and the rest of the country) flooded by the South Atlantic — in other words, it is Argentina (currently the most static South American economy, alongside Brazil) which rules itself out.
Now the islanders take their case to the world — the British lion rampant or the mouse that roared?s