Wednesday, 13 February 2013

In the air on the way from the Falklands to Ascension (Feb. 12, Frithjof)

I am writing these lines in mid-air between the Falklands and Ascension Island (at about the latitude of Montevideo, heading NE). Aldo and I were picked up by Adrian from Kay’s this morning, together with Jacob (the Spanish ornithologist from Barcelona, who had studied microbial pathogens in penguins) and headed to RAF Mount Pleasant under a beautiful sunrise. We had an emotional farewell from Kay, who had now for the 3rd time given us a nice home in the Falklands, and we pledged to come back. Also Aldo was very nostalgic, he kept saying over the last few days that this was probably his last big trip down south (but he already told us this 2 years ago). At Mt. Pleasant, I briefly met and said farewell to Sarah Browning (Lee).
This is probably the moment to thank my great team members and those who have supported this expedition – especially (but not only) Kay McCallum, Paul Brickle, Paul Brewin, Sarah and Simon Browning, Stevie Cartwright, Graeme on Sea Lion Island. Matt Benwell and Jacob Gonzalez were great company over the last 10 days at SAERI. And special thanks to Dawn, Fiona, Ursula, John (x 2) and my other colleagues at Aberdeen for keeping things going during my absence, and to the School of Biological Sciences for letting me go in the middle of the teaching term which is something one can’t take for granted.
Indeed, leaving the Falklands behind and returning to the real world is not easy. The islands are among those places that I would consider paradise on Earth – a natural paradise, a largely intact, pristine environment, especially in the sea, and a small human population with a very high quality of life. In the rest of the world, the islands are mostly associated with the 1982 conflict, but it really should be said that since then, their inhabitants have turned them into a small model country. As a UK Overseas Territory with far-reaching autonomy, they are self-governing and self-reliant for almost everything except defence (which, for very obvious reasons, has to be provided by the UK). There is no unemployment in the islands, no crime, no drugs, no government debt, housing quality is good and very affordable, the economy has been buoyant for many years and will get even stronger. The community is small and very tight-knit, free of significant conflict or social issues, which makes this a very safe and pleasant place to live.
The only political statement that I am going to make in this blog is that I profoundly wish that the Falklands will be able to retain their freedom, sovereignty and self-determination as they are, and that they may never ever get annexed by Argentina. I feel that I have to make such a strong statement considering that the islands remain in the headlines throughout the world and the subject of considerable debate and controversy – but also, considering how few people will ever be able to visit the Falklands due to their remoteness and, thus, considerable difficulty and cost of getting there.
The Argentine claim is very far-fetched and unfounded indeed. I would consider it being driven entirely by nationalist, expansionist motives. Argentine governments have repeatedly used the Falklands “issue” whenever they needed to distract and deflect public attention from more serious, domestic issues. In recent years, the Argentine government – in particular under Nestor and Cristina Kirchner - has taken an increasingly aggressive approach to the Falklands once more, imposing trade and traffic embargoes, calling them a “colony” and lately even denying the existence of the Falkland Islanders - calling them “implanted colonists” (thus refusing to acknowledge that most Falkland Islanders have had 5 or more generations of ancestors living in the islands, which is as many or more than most residents of Argentina). The Argentine government repeatedly brings the case of the Falklands to the UN Committee for Decolonization in New York – refusing to acknowledge the right to self-determination of the islands’ inhabitants (a fundamental human right!) and even to discuss with their elected representatives. If anybody should decide the destiny of these islands, it is the Falkland Islanders. One might ask, what would actually be better if the islands were to be annexed by Argentina? Probably nothing, I would argue, but a lot of things would become worse. Certainly the situation of the Falkland Islanders would not improve, especially in terms of the quality of life or the economy in the islands. It is very unclear who would benefit from this, and likely the circumstances would be very unfair and uncontrollable by the islands’ residents.. Argentina is a country with serious problems in terms of its democratic culture (or rather, the lack of it), its bumpy economy, government debt and bankruptcy, organized crime, corruption, human rights record (the same dictatorship that invaded the Falklands in 1982, sacrificing many mostly young lives, is responsible for the disappearance of around 44,000 Argentine citizens) and still others. In the Falklands, these issues do not exist, and it is unthinkable that they ever would as long as the islands can retain their current political status. De facto, as they are, I would consider the Falklands being very close to an ideal world.
It also has to be remarked that there are no Argentine owners of land or other property in the Falklands, no Argentines were ever evicted, the Falklands have never been used as a basis for aggression against anybody, and there is no ethnic minority that would wish union with Argentina. An annexation by Argentina would force an alien sovereignty and identity upon a population that strongly rejects and despises such a move, de facto making them aliens in their home of several generations. In just a little over a month from now, the Falkland Islanders will have the opportunity to express their wishes on sovereignty in a referendum. This should send a clear message to the world community to accept the Falkland Islanders’ fundamental human right to freedom and self-determination without any further doubt. I wish the Falkland Islanders well in their endeavours, may the islands continue to flourish. And I also wish that at least some of our readers may be able to visit and experience this wonderful place themselves.

  Leaving Stanley at sunrise 


Above the tropical S Atlantic on the way from the FI to Ascension

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