FIRS THROWS THE SPOTLIGHT ON MIKE SUMMERS
A Report for FIRS by Samantha Addison and Radio New Zealand
MLA Mike Summers recently visited Australia and new Zealand to highlight the Falkland Islands and the message of self-determination. Whilst in both countries he conducted a number of interviews on the programme today you will be hearing an interview he conducted on Radio New Zealand. The interview began with MLA Summers discussing last years referendum.
MS: the people of the Falkland islands decided we are better off having a relationship with the united Kingdom than we are with anybody else. Thats the right to self-determination thats the right to choose. Its certainly arguable that if Argentina had adopted a very different attitude towards the Falklands and the people of the Falklands the vote might have been rather different. But they have chosen to be aggressive and unpleasant and have tried to undermine our economy so its hardly surprising that the people react against that.
RNZ: With the invasion in 1982 how did the relationship with the Islands with Argentina go?
MS: In the 90s we certainly had improved relationships with Argentina. We were talking with them. We got over the war and they had a democratic government and we were talking with them about issues of practical co-operation and moving forward.
The Kirchner Administration in the early 2000s, in 2003 when Nestor Kirchner was first elected decided that Argentine policy would be better served by unkind and unpleasant to the people of the Falkland Islands and they pursued that for the past 10 years.
This meant that there have been trade restrictions restrictions on flights in and out of the Falklands, attempts to blockade the Falklands and undermine the economy. Its had limited success I have to say but its made even younger generations of Falkland Islanders very much opposed to any kind of association or arrangement with Argentina.
RNZ: This is because Argentina is requiring negotiations with the UK over sovereignty. They are pursuing that quite actively. And they also refuse to acknowledge the right of self-determination of the Falkland islanders.
MS: thats the crux of the problem that we face that we are a people in our own right as I have explained. We have been in the Falklands a long time much longer than many people have been in many of the other new world territories including this (New Zealand). So we have a right to determine our own future. You are right when you say that Argentina doesnt recognise the people of the Falkland Islands that we dont exist. And it insists that it should be able to negotiate bilaterally with the United Kingdom over the sovereignty of our country. The fundament6al principle set down in the United Nations Charter is that all people should have the right to determine their own future a concept of self-determination and our argument the argument we are putting before the New Zealand Government while I visit here is that the principle, this fundamental basic human right of self-determination should sit above other considerations in our friendship with the United Kingdom or with Argentina. And the wish not to offend either of those is entirely understandable but the fundamental principle of the right to self-determination for the people of the Falklands should be at the forefront of any consideration.
RNZ: The Falkland Islands are a democratic, self-governing Overseas Territory and economically self-sufficient apart from Defence and Foreign Policy, right?
MS: That is entirely correct. There is no doubt we were a colony of the United Kingdom. We have negotiated a position over the years of no longer being a colony by creating a constitutional arrangement with which we are satisfied. Since the war we have diversified our economy from sheep farming for wool into a very successful deep sea fishing industry and quite a successful tourism industry and are exploring for hydrocarbons and had a major find in the North of the Falklands. We have a strong economy and are economically self-sufficient. We dont pay any taxes to the UK. Thats not part of the constitutional arrangement. We also do not receive any economic assistance from the UK over the cost of defence.
RNZ: And you are Falkland islanders before you are British?
MS: Yes. Thats the case. If you go around the Falklands and ask a person if he is British or is he or she a Falkland islander, these people will give you both answers. For me, I am a Falkland Islander first and British second. But that doesnt imply any kind of disrespect to Britain or any lack of appreciation for what Britain did in 1982. It is simply you have an allegiance to your own country first and that nationality second. Its not inconsistent with other parts of the UK either. People are Welsh before they are British. People are Scots before they are British so its not an uncommon position.
RNZ: You mentioned the UN and rights to self-determination and a 1964 UN Resolution urged Britain and Argentina to hold talks over sovereignty and I understand that such talks low-key talks were going on a couple of decades before the Argentine invasion and you have Britain saying they will not talk to Argentina. I am wondering if Britain should be there to say lets talk and see if we can take the strain away take the tension away.
MS: it is not entirely correct to say that Britain wont talk to Argentina. Britain has offered to talk to Argentina on any number of occasions. Indeed the Falkland Islands Government has offered to talk to Argentina on any number of occasions. The problem is that the Argentines say that Falkland islanders dont exist and therefore they wont talk to them. When the UK offers to talk to Argentina they say that the right to self-determination is the paramount principle and they should be guiding us in any of these discussions. And if there were going to be discussions, there should be people from the Falkland Islands present to represent their government and their people. And Argentina wont talk on that basis. So the reality, despite Argentine rhetoric is that Argentina wont enter negotiations because they wont speak to us. And I think the concept of self-determination is one which they feel profoundly uncomfortable because they cant justify their position in the light of it.
RNZ: Thats where its stuck, isnt it? As long as Argentina wont recognise your right to self-determination we are pretty stuck.
MS: Its stuck for the present time. Just looking back a few years we used to have a decent working relationship with the Argentine government. We were co-operating on hydrocarbons issues, we were co-operating on fisheries issues particularly ensuring we are protecting the fish stocks in the South-West Atlantic for future generations. So its not impossible for us to talk without conceding to the outside on sovereignty. You can have these discussions and have done so in the past. The problem lies with the current Argentine administration that doesnt recognise the right to self-determination for Falkland islanders and thats what holds up the issue.
RNZ: And that administration has just appointed its own Malvinas Secretary, Daniel Filmus, which is another sign its not going to go away with this demand.
MS: Well, its not going to go away with this government. The Kirchner regime will end towards the back end of 2015. It will be the end of her second term. Nobody has any idea who the next Argentine Government will be formed by. It may well be that by that time there will be some more mature thinking emerging amongst Argentine politicians about how to approach their Falklands issue. Daniel Filmus got this job shortly after he lost his seat in a Buenos Aires election. He is a Kirchnerite. He will do what he is told by Mrs Kirchner, I guess. We havent seen any changes in substance to the Argentine position since his appointment. There has been a quantitative change in that he is saying something almost every day but very little of it is new. But there is an argument that says that this is largely to do with Argentine internal politics.
We saw this in the 1940s when the Falklands claim was raised for the first time in 90 years. We saw it in the 50s with Peron, we saw it in the 80s with Gultieri, we see it now. But of course, interestingly, Filmus ignores the fact that in 1850 the United Kingdom and Argentina signed a treaty of friendship in which all remaining outstanding difficulties between the two countries were resolved. They created what was called a perfect friendship. So we think Argentina gave up its claim in 1850 and there was nothing about the Falklands until 1940 when it became an internal political issue for a government that was in trouble. And you recognise that in the current round, I think.
RNZ: Of course you mentioned a couple of times now that you have vast natural resources you have a lot of oil in Falkland waters, which I expect both Argentina and the UK will want to benefit from. That must be upping the anti and causing more problems.
MS: I think Argentina might like to benefit from it because they have this colonial attitude. The UK is not in a position to benefit from it directly because the Falklands Constitution says that the natural resources of the Falkland Islands belong to the Government and the people of the Falkland Islands not to the United Kingdom. We are not a colony anymore and we cant be raked and pillaged for our resources and money. What Argentina would like to do is colonise the Falklands so it can use our natural resources for itself. So whilst I think it is self-evident that the advent of hydrocarbons will up the anti a bit, the important principle behind it is to understand the difference between a country thats prepared to accept us as an overseas territory and some kind of free association and one that simply wants to colonise us and take our land and resources.
RNZ: its really interesting that you use that word, colonisation in terms of Argentinas desire to take them over. I understand that Argentina has a lot of friends in Latin America who are unhappy at the British presence in the South Atlantic and see Britain as a colonising presence in the Falkland Islands. It makes them nervous in that Britain has over 1,000 troops in the Falklands still? There have been war ships and war planes and a military service making them a bit twitchy as well.
MS: I will deal with the defence issue first and come back to the issue of colonies and colonisation. On the defence issue, Argentina illegally invaded the Falkland Islands in 1982. It was a bit of a wake-up call for the United Kingdom in many ways. They encouraged it to look at its overseas territories and make sure it was taking care of them and providing proper defence facilities. The UK responded as we all know and after the war it had a commitment in the Falklands which it still has. And that defence commitment is proportionate to the perceived threat from Argentina. Its not something that the UK put there of its own volition. It was a response to an illegal invasion by Argentina. If Argentina werent still threatening the Falklands it wouldnt be there but interestingly enough, the Defence Minister of Argentina, relatively recently complained that if the British didnt have all these aircraft and a war ship there, they could go and take over the Falklands. Its clearly in the Argentine psyche that they want to take over the Falklands.
RNZ: But the President is saying not by military means. She is saying through diplomacy, through dialogue.
MS: Absolutely. And thats what it says in their constitution. That didnt seem to prevent the Defence Minister from saying that if it wasnt for our military presence then Argentina would be in the Falklands.
To talk a little bit about colonies, its taken us many decades to decolonise from the UK. In effect to build the economy in such a way to be economically self-sufficient and to look after our own affairs has taken us into a post-colonial position. If you look around Latin America there is a colony in Latin America not the Falklands its French Guyana. There is a piece of EU Territory on the northern coast of South America that is owned by France. It is a piece of French Territory and it is the most colonial possession in the whole of Latin America. Do you hear Argentina or anyone else in Latin America complaining about that? You dont. So theres not a fundamentally held principle that colonialism is wrong and all that stuff. Its a bit of rhetoric to cover up ambitions of their own.
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