Falkland Islanders prepare to assert independence from Argentina in referendum vote

Sitting in a cafe overlooking the harbour at the Falklands’ tiny capital, Stanley, I was first struck by the vibrant summer colours. Sparkling blue waters framed by rolling green mountains.

Whereas the images from 1982 - still vivid in my mind - were of a pale, colourless landscape in a particularly harsh winter.

So visually there is a stark contrast between then and now. And yet this decades-old dispute, which spilled over into war thirty years ago when I was only just beginning to take an interest in the wider world, is still unresolved.

A new gold rush in the South Atlantic has not helped. Companies have made promising discoveries of oil in the sea beds around the Falklands. They could generate billions of pounds in taxes for the islands’ economy.

And yet, just across the water, Argentina can’t produce enough of its own power to supply homes and businesses.

Last year the government there nationalised an oil company which was majority-owned by a Spanish company. The worry is that if the Falklands became Argentinian the black gold here would also be seized.

The Liberation Monument in Stanley, Falkland Islands Credit: Press Association

But it’s about more than oil. Children in Argentina are taught from an early age that Las Malvinas, as they call the islands, are part of the motherland. “People at home feel that their country has been mutilated,” said one Argentinian journalist to me recently, talking about the dispute.

The referendum on Sunday and Monday will see ballot boxes flown and driven all across these islands, which are bigger than most people imagine - roughly half the size of Wales. The question: do you want the islands to remain an Overseas Territory of the UK?

Union Jacks are everywhere. “British to the Core” read some of the placards put up. The population is no longer like that which you might you associate with 1950s Britain. It’s surprisingly multicultural.

There are Chileans here, people from Africa and the Philippines - all working in business, shops or the mine-clearing which is still going on from the war. But if anybody disagrees with the vocal support for the Falklands staying British then they are not shouting about it.

I listened to a debate on the islands’ radio service. Discussion, yes. Disagreement, not really.

The result will almost certainly be an overwhelming yes. Is it a foregone conclusion, I asked the Governor, who’s a British diplomat? The last time he saw the bookies’ odds, he told me, it was 500 to 1 on.

Falkland Islands flag flies alongside Union Jack on Victory Green in Stanley, Falkland Islands.
Falkland Islands flag flies alongside Union Jack on Victory Green in Stanley, Falkland Islands. Credit: Press Association

This is one reason why Buenos Aires dismisses the referendum as a meaningless publicity stunt. But the Falklanders insist it’s Argentinian publicity and propaganda which makes the vote necessary.

To show the international community that people on these islands exist (Argentina does not even recognize them) and should be able to determine their own future.