Tuesday, 16 April 2013

A view from the Falklands on Margaret Thatcher's legacy

The reports on the reaction in the United Kingdom to the death of Baroness Thatcher have shown a clear contrast between those who approved of her policies and those that did not. This is understandable and is no doubt true of any prime minister. However, here in the Falkland Islands there is very little difference of opinion. Margaret Thatcher is held in high regard and with deep affection by Islanders, for she is someone to whom we owe much.

Following the Argentine invasion in 1982, Islanders were not sure what the reaction of the British government might be. We heard Thatcher say in the House of Commons on April 3rd 1982: “They are few in number but they have the right to live in peace, to choose their own way of life and to determine their own allegiance.”

She made clear, perhaps before many had ever had cause to consider it, that the people of the Falkland Islands have the right to self-determination. This right is enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the International Covenant in Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Never has this right been so strongly defended than in Lady Thatcher's prompt decision to send a task force to liberate the Islands from Argentine occupation. Because of her courage and the skill, bravery and sacrifice of Britain's armed forces – our liberty and our future were secured.
 Maggie during her first visit the the Falklands
In 1983, she was the first person to be granted the freedom of the Falkland Islands, a fitting tribute to the woman who secured us that very right. She remains the only person to have ever been afforded that honour. But Lady Thatcher's legacy in our Islands goes much further than our liberation. She made the UK's position very clear; there would be no negotiation over the Falkland Islands unless the Islanders wished it. This has ensured that subsequent British governments, regardless of political affiliation, have publicly reaffirmed the right of Falkland Islanders to determine their own future. 

More than 30 years on, the support of the current British administration could not be stronger.
The 1983 British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act is another important part of her legacy for the Falkland Islands community. It granted full British citizenship to Falkland Islanders, who were previously classed as British dependent territories' citizens. This reinforced our link with the UK, giving us full rights as British Nationals.

Subsequent to the liberation of the Falklands, Lady Thatcher's relationship with the Islands became a very personal one. Here she was able to show a human side that she perhaps could not show at home or elsewhere. During her two visits to the Islands, she was greeted as a friend with spontaneous embraces. She delivered inspirational speeches, aimed at motivating the population to develop not only the Islands but also to strive for their personal aspirations. She was successful in both areas – together we have created an economy and a society that many could never have even conceived 30 years ago.

Lady Thatcher took a particular interest in the future of our young people. For over two decades students at the Community School have competed for the Margaret Thatcher Trophy, awarded for services to the school. Lady Thatcher personally donated the trophy, saying that it would serve as a reminder “that we, who have been given so much by those who fought for us, have to give something back”. Our strong sense of community is, perhaps, an example of how we hold to that ideal.

January 10 every year is marked as Margaret Thatcher Day here in the Islands, commemorating her second visit in 1992. The road that runs in front of our main government administration building and the sheltered housing for our elderly is named Thatcher Drive. But perhaps the greatest memorial to her is the very act of our community going about their daily lives and having the freedom to do so. 

Today's modern Falkland Islands is forward looking, internally self-governing and financially self-sufficient. There is perhaps no greater legacy to her than what she allowed us to become.

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