STANLEY, Falkland Islands – Falkland Islanders are praising plans for a referendum on their future, saying Wednesday it will show the world that they have no desire to be ruled by Argentina.
Plans for the vote were announced as islanders celebrate the British military action that freed them from their South American neighbor 30 years ago. Festivities include a formal "Liberation Ball" Wednesday night and a march on Thursday to the town's Liberation Monument, along with speeches by visiting British dignitaries and local leaders honoring the troops who forced Argentina's military to surrender on June 14, 1982.
Islanders hope it will all send a message to the United Nations, where Argentine President Cristina Fernandez is expected to argue before the de-colonization committee on Thursday that the "Islas Malvinas" remain an integral part of the Argentine nation, despite being colonized by Britain and held since 1833.
The Argentine government has complained for years that Britain ignores U.N. resolutions urging talks on the islands' sovereignty, but rarely mentions the fate of the 3,000 or so residents of the islands, some of whose families have lived there continuously for nine generations.
"It's about time" islanders hold the vote, said Norma Edwards, who lives on a remote West Falkland farm after serving as lawmaker in the islands' government for nearly 20 years. Argentina "might not take too much notice of the result," but the U.N.'s decolonization committee should listen, she said, and predicted that the outcome would be a resounding "yes" to remaining British.
After the 1982 war with Argentina, the islands became a self-governing British overseas territory, with a directly elected legislative assembly that oversees the local Falkland Islands Government. Islanders still have British passports and benefit from a sizeable British defense force, and a visiting British governor still has veto power over local decisions, but islanders say he's never used it.
The government hasn't determined yet how to phrase the referendum — for example, whether it will ask for a "Yes" or "No" on maintaining the islands' current political structure. Some islanders have suggested that only full independence from Britain will persuade the world that they are no longer "under the yoke" of imperial forces, as Argentina often says.
Many suspect they'll never persuade Argentines to change their views.
"If it will really do any good then I am all for it, however I do not believe this will convince Argentina that we want to remain British," said Brenda Berntsen, 54, a grandmother of five who lives in town.
But other islanders say the referendum is a good move nonetheless.
"Obviously we have to stay under Britain's umbrella for the time being," said Joyce Allan, 78, a great-grandmother whose ancestors were among the first settlers in the islands. "I see it as sending a message to the wider public to scotch the Argentine administration's absurd claim that we are being held here as hostages by Britain. This will tell the world in a loud and clear manner that we are Falkland Islanders and want to stay that way and that we want to determine our own future - with Britain."
Islanders are hosting a large contingent of British military veterans and diplomats this week, led by Jeremy Browne, the United Kingdom's top diplomat for Latin America. On Wednesday, Browne participated in somber ceremonies at the British and Argentine battlefield cemeteries, laying a wreath of white poppies to honor the Argentines who lost their lives.