The Future of the Falkland Islands and Its People/Comment On Dr. Ivanov’s Paper: A Caribbean Perspective

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Comment On Dr. Ivanov’s Paper: A Caribbean Perspective

Howard A. Fergus KBE PhD

Professor of East Caribbean Studies

University of the West Indies (Montserrat)

Apart from the inherent value of Dr. Ivanov’s study of the Falklands Islands, it provides timely illumination for comparative studies in British Overseas Territories (BOTs) in the Caribbean. At the behest of the British Government, constitutional commissions have been established in the Caribbean; and the United Nations Decolonisation Committee has planned a regional conference in Anguilla for 20-22 May, 2003.

The data which Ivanov presents on the Falkland Islands are valuable in clearing up the kind of uncritically copied misconceptions and downright errors which pass for truth about small states. A notorious example in Montserrat’s case is found in a Helen Hintjen’s book where after a defamatory fashion, she categorically states that ‘the former Prime Minister, John Osborne, was found guilty of corrupt dealings in offshore banking’. Osborne was neither Prime Minister nor was he ‘found guilty’ of corruption or of anything. Hintjen’s cited S. Winchester as her authority in the negative inbreeding process (Hintjen 1995:42). The revealing details which Ivanov supplies on the economic potential of the Falkland Islands, are typical of the painstaking and comprehensive approach which he brings to the paper. In the context of self-determination, it is important to establish the EEZ of the Falklands, the prospect of finding oil, the opportunities in agriculture and fisheries and indeed the size of the territory. Remoteness and seeming smallness (he explodes this myth too) do not equate to poverty and powerlessness. One size does not fit all in ‘small’ overseas territories.

It is supposedly academically correct to see constitutional advancement and self-determination as natural goals for overseas territories. The author of the paper eschews such stereotypical-thinking. He admits of a nexus between constitutional advancement and economic prosperity in a causal sense, but he sees prosperity as only one condition for constitutional advancement. For instance, appropriate infrastructure including human resources is a pre-condition for full sovereignty. One of the negative legacies of colonialism is the prevalence of British officials in the territories and the perpetuation of British tutelage which tends to stifle the spirit of independence.

Ivanov rightly identifies a cluster of factors and concerns that impact on the self-governing process. These include national security, vulnerability for whatever reason, demographic profile, geo-political situation, historical legacies and of course, economy. Even when we ascribe preponderant weight to the state of economy it has to be realized that there is no one-dimensional correlation between the state of the economy and aspirations to sovereignty. With a per capita income of US$30,120 (1998), the Cayman Islands have perhaps the highest standard of living in the British Caribbean (with the exception of Bermuda which is not really Caribbean) and certainly does among the BOTs. And yet it has resisted independence most vehemently, largely because the colonial status is perceived as a guarantee of political stability. The British provides that stability which the Caymanians perceive as indispensable to their continuing economic bonanza which is based on offshore financial services and tourism. But Caymanian conservatism runs deep, being consonant with their culture of dependence. It was never a classical plantation colony and therefore never experienced the oppression which spawned trade unionism and political parties as is generally the case in the British Caribbean. Even though its original seafaring economy generated individualism and self-reliance, constitutionally it was a colony of a colony. From its cession to the British by Spain in 1670, it was substantially administered by Jamaica until 1960 when that country became independent. At that point she exercised a measure of self-determination by opting to remain a British dependant territory.

The Caymanian culture and psyche of conservatism has to be negotiated on the road to independence while exploiting their vein of self-reliance on the other hand. It is therefore not just about economic performance which is itself dependent on the United States of America. One cannot, however, escape the irony of Caymanian understandable concern about the flight of investors’ money from a country which is portrayed as the vaunted bastion and international policing agent of democracy.

Montserrat in the Eastern Caribbean presents an interesting contrast to the Cayman Islands. Its economy collapsed following a volcanic eruption in 1995 which is still ongoing, and it is dependent on British budgetary aid almost to the point of mendicancy. However, the idea of independence is not abhorred as it is in the Cayman Islands. It is not that there is a groundswell for independence, but at least one Chief Minister, John Osborne is on record as being desirous of independence. He came out most strongly in favour of the advanced status in 1983 due to disgruntlement when his desire to participate in the American invasion of Grenada along with other Caribbean states, was thwarted by the British who took the view that the colony’s involvement necessarily implicated the metropolis. Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher would have none of this. Disgruntlement linked with inability to exercise sovereignty may not seem a sound rationale for proceeding to independence but coupled with other factors, it can be catalytic. The John Osborne’s case is a good example of what Thorndike alludes to as ‘frustration at the restrictions imposed on political decision-making in the external sphere by British reserved powers’ (1989:125).

Ivanov’s Falkland Islands case study amply illustrates the multiple issues that can be encountered in the transition from dependence to sovereignty. Fortunately none of the Caribbean BOTs is saddled with a boundary dispute as obtains with the Falklands, although there are Caribbean examples.

The Falkland study is also valuable for Ivanov’s near exhaustive references to other overseas territories and their multifarious relationships with the sovereign country. The search for models needs not be confined to British experiences. American, French, Dutch, Danish and Swedish experiences are all available for study as the Paper demonstrates. Even when a model is selected whether it is Free Association or some form of Integration, several modifications may be necessary and an eclectic approach may be desirable. Dr. Ivanov’s recommendation of an elected prime minister, while without precedent in British colonial history, may well be suitable for self-sustaining BOTs like Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands, along with the Falklands.

Current developments in Gibraltar as cited in the paper are also of general interest. Their preferred version of Integration, Devolved Integration, approaches the maximum level of internal self-government where independence is not the immediate option. It is tantamount to contracting out foreign affairs, defence, citizenship and currency to the UK government. (Caribbean BOTs already belong to a stable currency authority). As in Gibraltar a number of Montserratians are calling for representation at the Westminster parliament. A conference of all the BOTs could well uncover several commonalities in their constitutional aspirations.

Finally, the author places a premium on people’s ownership of the constitution and therefore on the importance of canvassing wide support for the position taken. It may be through an opinion poll as in Gibraltar or through ‘Stanley public meetings’ as in the Falklands. While the scope and pace of constitutional evolution have to be set by the Falklanders themselves, they have to be educated on the various options and variants of options available and be seized of the comparative advantages and disadvantages. The Montserrat Chief Minister is anxious to have responsibility for the police and the public service which belong to the Governor’s portfolio. He however, faces an uphill task as long as the majority of Montserratians hold the view articulated by one interviewee: ‘I believe that there is almost universal consensus in Montserrat that this responsibility should not form part of a Government minister’s portfolio as the temptation to victimise some civil servants would be almost irresistible’ (Fergus et. al. 2002:39)

The onus is on leaders to educate their people if they want to bridge the gap between their own views and the people’s perceptions. In the process, their constituents should be exposed to comprehensive and authentic information. Dr. Ivanov’s paper is worth including in the educational agenda on any side of the dependant world. The UN Decolonisation Committee should also find this material valuable in their own work even when it contains an element of critique of that work.


Fergus, Howard et al (2002) Montserrat: Report of the Constitutional Commissioners 2002. Plymouth Montserrat. Government of Montserrat.

Hintjens, Helen (1985) Alternatives to Independence Explorations in Post-Colonial Relations, Aldershot, Dartmouth Publishing Company.

Thorndike, Tony (1989) ‘The Future of the British Caribbean Dependencies,’ Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 31 No. 3 Autumn, pp.117-140.