Amid the sheep and battlefields of the Falklands, the diversity is a surpriseby Jennifer Coombs / April 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
The Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic offer a starkly beautiful but treeless landscape of mountains, moorland and rivers. Britain has ruled the Falklands for the best part of two centuries, but scarcely knew it until the Argentinian invasion in 1982.
We flew into Mount Pleasant Airport from Santiago in Chile on the once weekly service from mainland South America. An alternative is to fly with the RAF from Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on one of the twice-weekly flights (20 civilian seats available, subject to cancellations.) There is only one proper hotel and a handful of guest houses. Change is always in the offing, although it is difficult to build new infrastructure because the Argentinians refuse to allow more flights over their airspace. And the British won’t allow flights from Argentina at all unless the Argentinians once and for all give up their claim to what they still call the Islas Malvinas.
Since 1982, the military presence based at Mount Pleasant Airport and Mare Harbour has transformed the cultural fabric of the archipelago. After all, the presence of over 2,000 military personnel increases the overall population by well over half. Keeping them there costs around £60m annually. This behemoth is augmented by the Falkland Islands Defence Force. Its budget, funded by the Falklands’ own government, is just £400,000. It is a light infantry company manned entirely by the local population. They meet once a week for training.
There are 2,400 people living in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. The rest of the population, which numbers only a few hundred, is thinly scattered across the farms of the mainland and outer islands. Surprisingly, it is a multi-racial society, with 60 nationalities, including ninth generation islanders. Under the 2009 Constitution the islands are self-governed, though the UK remains responsible for foreign affairs. Through traditional sheep farming, commercial fisheries, oil exploration and nascent tourism, this community has achieved self-sufficiency—but only if you disallow the extraordinary cost of the defence.
We visited the military sites with Nobby and Carrot, fifth generation islanders with West Country accents. We drove to San Carlos over the rugged terrain populated by sheep, upland geese and the odd raptor. A short walk away from the San Carlos Water is the small museum containing photos and relics of the battle that was fought…