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Did the Falklands referendum vindicate Britain?
The overwhelming vote certainly didn't convince Argentina to renounce its claim to the islands off its shores in the south Atlantic
 
Protesters in favor of U.K. sovereignty, Feb. 5.
Protesters in favor of U.K. sovereignty, Feb. 5. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Falkland islanders voted overwhelmingly — almost unanimously, actually — to remain under British rule. The U.K.'s prime minister, David Cameron, said the Tuesday vote count, with 1,513 of the 1,517 votes cast in favor of maintaining ties with Britain, proved once and for all that the islands were "British through and through." Argentina's president, Cristina Kirchner, said that the islands, known as the Malvinas in her country, called the referendum a "parody," labeling the pro-U.K. voters a "consortium of squatters" transported to islands off her South American nation's shores. Will the vote settle anything?

Some say the turf dispute, which came to a head in a 1982 war that cost 900 lives, should now be closed. Yes, the islands are nearly 8,000 miles from Britain and just 300 miles from Argentina in the south Atlantic. But "the people of the Falkland Islands have spoken," says Britain's Telegraph in an editorial, "and they have said that they want to remain British." Argentina's "demagogic" president obviously won't be swayed by this "exercise in democracy," mostly because she's using her "entirely mythical claim over the Falklands to whip up nationalist sentiment... to distract her people from the terrible way she runs her country." She's wrong, and now the world — specifically Washington, which has tried to stay out of this fight — knows it.

Now that British control of the territory has been endorsed in a democratic referendum, the U.S. could take the opportunity of standing by its old ally and denouncing Kirchner's fantasy claims on the Falkland Islands. After all, this week's vote was a victory for the principle of democratic self-determination, a principle for which British soldiers bravely fought and died in the 1982 war. In the eyes of all sensible people, the issue is settled. [Telegraph]

Still, Kirchner isn't alone in calling the vote by the pro-U.K. "Kelpers," as the islanders are called, a farce. "The poll was a foregone conclusion," says Seumas Milne at Britain's Guardian. "What other result could conceivably be expected if the future of the islands is put in the hands of the tiny British settler population, most of whom weren't born there but are subsidized to the tune of £44,856 ($69,000) a head to keep them in the Rhodesian retro style to which they are accustomed?"

The reality, says Adrian Salbuchi at RT.com, is that the U.K. is no champion of self-determination here. You don't have to dig too deep into Britain's colonialist history to see that for the British government to "play the 'champion of the right to self-determination' role — even if only of a very tiny group of less than 3000 inhabitants in some far-away windswept islands — is grotesque and hypocritical to say the least." This is not about democracy.

The real reasons for this mock referendum are otherwise: Britain and its second-rate local Kelper puppets need to justify to global public opinion that the Falklands are "British" — even if only with this thin layer of "referendum legality" — because full-fledged oil exploitation is about to commence with U.S. and British oil companies getting ready to gobble up trillions in profits.

Recent estimates indicate that oil reserves in the shallow Argentine continental shelf in the South Atlantic are over 60 billion barrels.  This seems to have caught Britain's (and the U.S.'s) eye in the Falklands in recent years, especially after other primary oil sources have become geo-strategic hot spots — notably the Middle East and Venezuela — as a consequence of gross geopolitical mismanagement on the part of the U.S. and Britain... Yes, once again, it's all about oil. [RT.com]

Whatever the motivation, though, some observers say a free and democratic vote ought to put the matter to rest. "But it won't," says Jonathan Manthorpe in The Vancouver Sun. Kirchner insists, as have her predecessors, that the islands' sovereignty depends on where they are, not who has been shipped there since 1833, when Argentina's administrators left after British gunboats arrived and their government established "the islands as a sheep-rearing outpost and supply base for ships rounding Cape Horn."

Maybe it's time for Argentina's government to try a different approach, says Michael Soltys in the Buenos Aires Herald. Only 29 percent of the Malvinas' inhabitants consider themselves British — they're probably just afraid they'll get gobbled up by Argentina's government if the British leave. "The islands are changing and will continue to change as oil industry development expands the need for mainland links and immigrant labor," and "Argentina could make itself part of this future" abandoning the combative, anti-colonial rhetoric that has left "islanders clinging to the imperial past."

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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