International Papers

The Squid That Saved the Falkland Islands

Two weeks before the 20th anniversary of the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands, British papers are revisiting the scene of what the Observer described as “Britain’s last colonial war.” (For more historical background to the conflict, see the final section of this travel piece from the Independent.) Judging from reports of the boom that followed, the Argentine offensive of 1982 was the best thing that ever happened to the islands. According to the Observer, “The Falklands have been catapulted from a farming community with a feudal system where no one can own any land to a modern business economy—and from a colonial dictatorship to a democracy.” After the British task force “liberated” the islands, the government turned over control of the Falklands’ territorial waters to the islanders. The proceeds from the sale of squid fishing licenses—the millions of squid swarming in the South Atlantic “are to the Falklands what oil is to Kuwait”—have since revolutionized the islands’ economy. The Observer reported that “[o]n average, the islanders are a third richer than UK citizens.” The Falkland Islands government has accumulated national savings of more than $114 million, subsidizes foreign vacations for each of the 2,300 residents, and covers the accommodation and tuition costs of studying abroad. The islands are now economically independent—except for the annual $100 million cost of keeping 2,000 British soldiers on the islands, “towards which the island makes no contribution.”

It’s not just calamari. An article in the Times travel section reported that the Falklands’ capital, Port Stanley, has become a stop for many of the cruise ships on South American or Antarctic routes—more than 40,000 tourists per year alight to see the islands’ “Old MacDonald’s Farm of wildlife.” Among the fauna are gentoo penguins—”the Buddhists of the penguin world. Unlike other species that congregate in noisy throngs, gentoos are free spirits that wander off on their own, exploring the world and meditating on its wonders.”

The survivors of the Falklands conflict take a less sunny view of the events of 20 years ago. According to the Financial Times, the British government’s decision to send just one junior minister to the April 2 anniversary commemoration “threatens to fuel a sense of betrayal among some veterans of the war.” Two hundred and fifty-five Britons died in the three-month war, and in January the Independent reported that a support group claims more Falklands veterans have committed suicide since 1982 than were killed in action. More than 650 Argentines perished in the conflict, and after 20 years there’ll soon be a memorial to the Argentine dead on the islands. In 1999, officials from London and Buenos Aires agreed that Argentina should be permitted to construct a cenotaph in the Darwin cemetery, but according to Clarín of Argentina, the kelpers (Falkland Islanders) systematically objected to the construction project before finally giving their assent March 7. “The kelpers achieved their main objective: The monument to honor the fallen Argentines won’t be ready for the 20th anniversary.”