Visiting the United States, with its bustling streets in Washington, D.C., and Manhattan, is always exciting for a Falkland Islander.
Our beautiful islands in the South Atlantic are almost the same size as Connecticut, but with just more than 3,000 inhabitants. You have skyscrapers and high rises, whereas farmland covers more than 90 percent of our islands.
Still, despite these superficial differences, we share some of the most important traits, such as a shared ancestry, a common language and — most of all — strong democratic values.
Those who have heard of the Falkland Islands are most likely to know us from when Argentine forces invaded our islands 30 years ago.
We were saved by the heroic efforts of Britain’s armed forces and remain grateful for their sacrifices. In fact, we celebrate Liberation Day today.
However, Argentina, by virtue of its proximity to our islands, still believes it has a right to our land and homes. We not only find ourselves today the target of Argentine aggression through illegal economic measures, but also the target of myths fabricated by the Argentine government to delegitimize the rights of the Falkland Islands people to determine our future.
One of the most repeated pernicious untruths refers to the supposed expulsion of an Argentine civilian population by Britain in 1833. This is fundamentally and historically incorrect; no civilian population was ever expelled. In fact, Britain had claimed the islands in 1765 — long before Argentina even existed as a country.
Despite Argentina’s poorly disguised attempts to claim to our islands and undermine our economy, the Falkland Islands government has always sought neighborly relations with Argentina, as we do with all our South American neighbors. As a people with our own democratically elected government — one of the smallest in the world — we have chosen to maintain our relationship with the United Kingdom and have absolutely no desire to be ruled by Buenos Aires.
We have thought carefully about how to convey a strong message to the outside world that expresses the views of the Falklands people in a clear, democratic and incontestable way.
That is why we announce today that the Falklands will hold a referendum on our political status to eliminate any possible doubt about our wishes — and to put an end to Argentina’s invalid assertions that we have no strong views on self-determination.
The opposite is true. We are proud to be peaceful, hard-working and resilient Falkland Islanders.
Our society is thriving and forward-looking. More than 60 nations are represented in our community; we are truly a vibrant “melting pot,” much like the United States. Furthermore, we are financially self-sufficient, self-governing in all areas except for defense, with a constitutional right to choose how we govern our own affairs.
Today, we will appear before a special United Nations committee to lobby for our most fundamental human right, the right to self-determination.
Last week, we met with Members of Congress to ask for them to back our desire for that same right, which your Founding Fathers called the “consent of the governed.”
And today, we call on the world’s most powerful democracy to support us and our right to be masters of our own future.
Roger Edwards and Mike Summers are members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.