Far south of the South American continent and east of Argentina and Chile is an archipelago known as the Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas in Spanish. With a thriving economy and unparalleled natural views and sea life, what some consider inhospitable land is actually home to hundreds of families who live in one of the safest and most beautiful regions of the world.
Unfortunately, the islands are not primarily known for their natural beauty or safety. Instead, the islands evoke animosity between Britain and Argentina. Disagreement over control of the islands erupted in war in 1982, causing hundreds of deaths. The situation continues to be emotionally charged for the islands’ 3,000 inhabitants.
In response to the continued international disagreement, local elected officials called for a referendum to determine the islands’ political status. The referendum question voted on March 10 and 11 asked: “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?"
Extensive preparations took place ahead of the vote. Local authorities held town hall meetings to determine the wording of the referendum question, and passed a number of referendum codes designed to ensure the vote meets internationally accepted standards of transparency and efficiency. In this light, international observers were invited to supervise the vote. Brad Smith of California and I led the international observation team made up of political and civil society leaders and technical experts from all over Latin America. Observers from as far as New Zealand joined Mexico, Uruguay, Chile, Canada, and the U.S. for the vote.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Venezuela announces new presidential elections; Falkland Islands/Malvinas inhabitants vote on political status; Signatories of the American Convention on Human Rights meet to discuss IACHR reforms; the papal conclave begins Tuesday; Lima Mayor Susana Villarán faces a recall vote on Sunday.
Venezuelan Elections to be Held on April 14: Venezuela’s Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) announced on Saturday that elections will be held on April 14 to elect the successor of the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Venezuela’s interim president, Nicolás Maduro, was sworn in on Friday and will run against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who announced his candidacy Sunday night. Capriles lost last October’s presidential elections to Chávez by 11 percentage points, and he was about 10 percentage points behind Maduro in polls conducted just prior to Chávez’ death.
Voters in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) Vote on Political Status: The 1,672 registered voters of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) went to the polls on Sunday and Monday to vote on the disputed political status of their islands. In a yes-or-no referendum, they are responding to the question: "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?" The islanders are expected to overwhelmingly support political affiliation with Britain, which has led Argentine lawmakers to call for an extraordinary session of the senate to reject the referendum. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has said that that Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) is a territorial issue that should not be subject to a popular referendum.
States Discuss IACHR Reforms in Guayaquil: Representatives from 23 states that have ratified the American Convention of Human Rights are meeting in Guayaquil, Ecuador today to discuss proposed reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador has led a group of Latin American countries, including Venezuela and Nicaragua, in calling for changes to the Inter-American human rights system, but critics say the reforms could dramatically reduce the power of the IACHR to address human rights violations as they arise. The meeting in Guayaquil, originally scheduled for March 8, was postponed after news of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ death last week. The OAS will convene an Extraordinary Session on March 22 to vote on the proposed reforms. Read more about the IACHR Reforms here.
Papal Conclave to Begin on Tuesday: One hundred and fifteen Catholic cardinals will vote to elect the next pope when the papal conclave begins this Tuesday in the Sistine Chapel. The new pope must be selected with a two-thirds majority vote, and if no one is chosen on the first day of the conclave, another four rounds of ballot-submission may take place on Wednesday and every day following that. The current favorite to succeed Pope Benedict XVI is Italian Cardinal Angelo Scola, according to betting companies, though candidates from Ghana, Brazil and Argentina are reportedly in the mix.
Lima’s Susana Villarán Faces Recall: Lima polling company CPI found that 49.6 percent of voters polled plan to vote in favor of recalling Lima Mayor Susana Villarán, while 41 percent of voters indicated that they would vote against recalling the mayor. The recall vote is scheduled for next Sunday, March 17. Villarán was elected in October 2010 and is Lima’s first-ever female mayor, but she has faced serious popular criticism after enacting major reforms to Lima’s transportation system and its informal economy. Villarán urged supporters to vote “no” to the referendum, while Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, who is leading the recall campaign, was criticized for telling voters, “women love to say no, so they can later say ‘yes.’”
The Falkland Islands government (referred to as the Malvinas Islands in much of Latin America) announced Tuesday that it is planning a referendum next year to decide its political future. In early 2013, some 1,500 registered islanders will decide whether to remain a British Overseas Territory or become Argentine land. The announcement comes during a period of high tension between Argentina and the United Kingdom, due in part to the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Falklands War on Thursday.
Government officials from the Falkland Island and UK seemed confident that voters—all of whom are British citizens—will choose to maintain being part of the United Kingdom. “I have no doubt that the people of the Falklands wish for the islands to remain a self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom," said Gavin Short, chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly. British Prime Minister David Cameron said that the UK would support the result of the referendum and accused Argentina of obstructing “islanders' ability to speak for themselves.”
Given the pro-UK sentiment that pervades the Falklands, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is pursuing alternative mechanisms to challenge Britain sovereignty. Last week, the Argentine government launched criminal proceedings against five UK oil firms that are operating off the Falkland's coastline on the basis that they were operating illegally. Kirchner is also scheduled to attend a meeting of the UN Special Committee on Decolonization in New York on Thursday to bolster support for Argentina’s claim to the islands.