A visit to the Falklands

On my recent visit to the Falkland Islands it occurred to me that the words Falkland and remote must be synonymous. Yet this other British Overseas Territory, consisting of two main Islands lying side by side, each larger than Grand Cayman, all have a total population of 2,900 people.

This sister territory to the Cayman Islands, has a chequered and interesting history. Most people around the world had heard little of these Islands until they were attacked and captured by the Argentineans in 1982.

To this day there is an uneasy truce, as Argentine still believe that the Islands, which they called The Maldives, belong to them.

It was on April 1, 1982 that the people of the Falklands were informed that the Governor would be making an important announcement on the local radio that evening. At the appointed hour they sat around their radios and were shocked to hear that a contingent of soldiers had already left Buenos Aires and was heading for the Islands. They were advised to be calm, but few slept that night.

By noon the following day the Argentineans entered Stanley the capital, and took control of the territory. The people were advised to go on living as usual, that their way of life was not to be disturbed and that the Islands had only been restored to their natural owners.

The antagonistic attitude of the people was evident and the Argentineans were surprised that they had not been welcomed with open arms. Things became even worse when the Islanders were ordered to drive on the right side of the road.

Seven thousand miles away in Britain the Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, had no intention of allowing the Argentineans to capture those British Islands. It was not long before a British contingent, backed up by a number of warships, landed outside Stanley and the battle for the Falklands commenced.

This has become known as the 72 days war as by the 12 July that year the Argentineans surrendered and Britain recaptured the Islands. Over 700 Argentinean soldiers had died in battle, some sixty Britons and one local who was reported to have died of a heart attack.

The cause of this struggle between the two countries began centuries ago. Britain discovered the Islands and occupied them in 1569. Then some twenty years later along came the French and laid claim to the Islands. The French then sold the Islands to Spain, and in 1771 all of South America was given to Spain by the then Pope.

In 1773 the English landed and claimed the Island, not recognising that the French had already sold them. Then overwhelmed by larger forces England surrendered the Islands to Spain. In 1806 the Islands were abandoned and became a haven for buccaneers.

In 1826 Argentina, which had become independent from Spain in 1810, took possession of the Islands, but in 1832 the English returned and took possession, and Lord Stanley, for whom the capital was named, then colonized them.

Today the people of the Falklands are mostly descendants of Britons. They mainly farm sheep and fish. For entertainment there is a small racetrack and nine pubs, much like those in England, and well stocked with British ale on tap. Large areas of the main Island are fenced off with signs, which read ‘Danger, mines,’ as every effort to remove the mines, which the Argentineans had laid, failed, as the soil is extremely peaty causing them to sink when disturbed, but soon they return to their original position.

Constitutionally the Islands are similar to Cayman; there is a British Governor, and a number of the senior officers including the Attorney General are British. In this way Cayman is a step ahead of those Islands.

The position regarding the granting of status is similar except that they have maintained a tight grip on this privilege. As it is in a number of Overseas Territories the Governor is driven around in what appears to be a London taxi, but my past experience of such vehicles is that their seats are of the finest leather and they are not only air-conditioned but also equipped with certain creature comforts.

It was not long ago that there was only one doctor on the Island, and he was stationed at Stanley. People in the other Islands, or out in the rural areas who took sick would radio in their complaints to the doctor, and receive advice from him. It was then a popular form of entertainment for the folks to listen in on the radio and hear who was ill, and what ailed them.

Naturally such information became a common subject of gossip. Now those days are gone, but the radio is still used to inform the population of the time of flights to the other Islands, and elsewhere. Not only the time of the flight is announced but also the names of the passengers, so again everyone can keep tag on the movements of their neighbours.