In 1776, a group of American patriots wrote a letter to their king informing him they were unhappy with their political status and had plans to change it. Americans know this story well. That letter, the Declaration of Independence, formed the United States' profound belief that we all have "certain unalienable rights," including "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Thousands of miles from U.S. shores, 3,000 Falkland Islanders, including me, are being denied those same rights. Like those brave patriots, we wish to choose our political status and how we are governed. However, the lifestyle our ancestors established for us nine generations ago is being threatened by a country that seeks to redefine our islands and our history. Under its constitution, Argentina will accept nothing other than full sovereignty and control of our homeland, rejecting our inalienable rights to determine our political, economic and cultural future.
This week, one of my fellow Falkland Islanders and I are meeting with members of Congress to share our story. Last week, we were in New York for the annual meeting of the United Nations Committee on De-Colonization, which is charged with assisting territories that are not self-governing with achieving a political status that is acceptable to them. It is not the purpose of the committee to have an opinion on the sovereignty of a territory. Yet sadly, every year the committee engages in a distracting argument over sovereignty based on deliberate distortions spread by the Argentine government, rather than a discussion about our right to self-determination.
In March, we held a referendum on our political status. We sent a clear message to the world — with a 92 percent turnout, 99.8 percent of voters chose to retain our status as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. For the first time in our long history, there can be no misinterpretation as to how we feel about our relationship with Britain. It is a relationship that has evolved over centuries, and one that we are proud to maintain. Ours is a modern relationship, based on mutual respect and democratic values.
We did not hold the referendum because we had any doubts about who we are or what future we desire. We held it to show the world just how very certain we are about our wishes. The Argentine government dismissed our referendum before a single vote was cast, and it continues to do so. It repeatedly calls for dialogue, but is not prepared to speak with the democratic representatives of the Falkland Islands. The Argentine foreign minister made very clear his government's disrespect toward our people and our rights when he stated plainly that the Falkland Islands people do not exist. All we desire is normal neighborly relations with Argentina, as with all nations.
We Falkland Islanders have opened a new chapter in our history, one that looks to the future and focuses on building our home for future generations. We will continue to focus on growing our economy through the sustainable management of fisheries, tourism and agriculture, and we will strive to develop our oil industry in an environmentally responsible manner. We will continue to place the highest value on health and education and helping our young people to reach their full potential. In an uncertain world, this is, sadly, not a future we are currently able to realize freely and without threat.
It is time for those nations around the world who respect human rights and democracy, and who are not afraid to stand up for justice and freedom, to lend us their support, too. In the spirit of the Fourth of July, we Falkland Islanders demand the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
Mike Summers is one of eight democratically elected members of the Falkland Islands Legislative Assembly. He is a sixth-generation Falkland Islander and has two eighth-generation grandchildren.