Most people who know of the Falkland Islands may have linked the name to the Falkland War, which occurred in 1982. The truth is most people don’t know much of the tiny nation struggling to establish its identity and are only aware that the war was ignited by Argentina’s claim over Falkland territory.
Ian Hansen, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands recently visited Belize and spoke to the Reporter about its ongoing sovereignty issues with Argentina.
The Falkland Islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean and have always been a British overseas territory. They fall under the jurisdiction and sovereignty of the United Kingdom, but are self-governing. Like Belize, the Falklands are the subject of an active sovereignty dispute with its neighbor, which recently elected a new president last December.
According to Hansen, after Mauricio Macri took office, the Argentine government has taken a more diplomatic approach to its claim over the Falklands, as both countries continue to appeal to the wider diplomatic community for support.
In 1982, the dispute escalated when Argentina invaded the islands, resulting in the Falklands war. Since then, Argentina has engaged in muscle-flexing exercises aimed at intimidating the smaller island nation, by limiting trade relations with the Falklands and restricting airline travel through Argentine airspace. Even the Argentine constitution has been altered to try to legitimize Argentina’s claim on the islands.
It is a point which Argentina’s Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra reiterated last December, when she stated that the conflict with the United Kingdom over the Falklands, is “a constitutional issue, not military,” and described the position of the former Cristina Fernandez administration on the matter as “too tough.”
According to Hansen, the Argentine position seems to have been “softened” but is still a real, tangible concern – one that the Falklands and United Kingdom governments intend to continue addressing, until a resolution is found.
Since 2013, the tiny island nation has made significant strides on several fronts. Despite Argentina’s best efforts to thwart oil exploration in the Falklands, the territory has been able to convince oil companies to explore for oil, which resulted in “viable finds.” Hansen declared the results as “promising” as Falklanders await commercial drilling with anticipation. But commercial drilling will take some three to seven years to come to fruition, as environmental studies and logistics must be taken into account before structures are put in place for drilling.
To accommodate the 1.3 percent population growth, the Falklands are working on their infrastructure, with plans in place for a new retirement care facility and junior school. The growth rate may seem slow, but with a population of 3,000, an increment of 50 people a year is significant, and has resulted in a new suburb for Stanley, the capital. The population growth has shone light on power issues and Hansen explained that the wind turbines which currently harness power for the people of Stanley is outdated, prompting the local government to invest in a newer, more modern power station.
As with all population spurts, problems have arisen for Falklanders as the workforce is not as robust for all the infrastructural projects being planned at this time. To tackle this problem, Hansen explained that for the first time, the Falklands have had to hire workers from other countries, such as America, the United Kingdom and the Phillipines. “We have had to hire a road gang from the Phillipines – as they have the experience in converting gravel roads into tarmac roads.”
Of great importance to the Falklands is its fishing industry which accounts for its robust GDP of $164 million. Originally a sheep farming community, the islands zeroed in on its fishing industry in the 80s, creating an Exclusive Economic Zone. The Zone is essentially a designated area over which the state has special rights, regarding the exploitation and use of marine resources. In the Falklands this area is a prized possession and islanders will be celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.
This is Hansen’s second trip to Belize. His trips to Belize and other countries concentrate on raising awareness of the sovereignty claim against the Falklands. Countries like Belize, which face similar threats and endure similar tensions, are considered friends of the island nation.