Falklanders Find Postwar Boom
Ten years after the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, islanders have achieved a new squid-based prosperity. But they are still wary of Argentine intentions.
PORT STANLEY, FALKLAND ISLANDS — A CONCRETE memorial stands at the edge of Port Stanley, overlooking the town and the icy cold waters of Stanley Harbor. The names of nearly 300 British servicemen are engraved on a wall nearby with the inscription: "To those who liberated us."
Ten years ago this month, Falkland Islanders woke up to find an Argentine invasion force of 14,000 on their shores.
"Islanders joke that when we were invaded the rest of the world rushed out to buy maps to see exactly where the Falklands are. Even most Britons had not even heard of us," said Eve Pool, a resident of Port Stanley.
Lying 8,000 miles from Britain but only 300 off the Argentine coast, the archipelago has been a British colony since 1833. The Argentines claim the group of 200 islands, which they call the Malvinas, and say they were expelled by the British colonizers in the early 1800s.
The ill-equipped Argentine Army sent to reclaim the islands on April 2, 1982, was soundly defeated after a 10-week war. Nearly 1,000 servicemen lost their lives, most of them young Argentine conscripts.
But the past decade has brought momentous changes to the lives of most Falklanders, who until 1982 relied on aid from London and a declining wool industry for their financial survival.
The narrow streets of Port Stanley, where 1,650 of the Falklands 2,050 people live, are now lined with new cars and motorbikes. New houses are springing up around the capital, and shops are crammed with goods from England and South America. Wages have risen from $5,000 a year during pre-conflict times to nearly $19,000.
"The whole place is booming. People have much more money and are enjoying a great standard of living," says local businessman Mike Rendell.
The boom is thanks to the squid inhabiting the waters around the islands. In 1986, the Falkland government, looking to establish financial independence from London, began charging a fee on trawlers fishing in its waters.
The annual income of the government has increased from $6.5 million in 1982 to nearly $90 million today. The area is so popular with Far Eastern fleets fishing for squid that this year alone the Falklands expect to earn $70 million from fishing. The islands are now self-sufficient.
"If it weren't for the squid we would have been bankrupt by now. The money has, for the time being, guaranteed the future of the islands and dozens of farmers," says sheep farmer Tony Heathman. Sheep, which still graze in the center of Port Stanley, outnumber humans 350 to 1.
A 10-year road-building program is under way, and Port Stanley has a new school and swimming pool that cost $17 million. Electricity, water, and telephone systems have all been improved, and the government has subsidized sheep farms, which have been suffering from a fall in international wool prices.
"We are investing in the future of the islands and locals are much more confident that the islands will prosper," said Harold Rowlands, a Falklands Islands government councillor.
Despite the new-found wealth, progress has not radically altered Falklanders' tranquil existence.
Many Falklanders are apprehensive about how long the economic boom will last. The most popular and profitable squid, known as Ilex, are nomadic creatures and could one day leave the waters around the islands. Stocks are being overfished and the Fisheries Department is finding it difficult to monitor catches.
"We are not confident about guaranteed income from fishing. It could all disappear one day and we could be back to a pre-1982 situation of being dependent on aid from London," says John Barton, director of Fisheries.
Doubts are also being raised about the way the Falklands government has been lavishly spending the money earned from fishing. "We need to be careful about how we spend this money. Things need to be improved in the islands, but we should also be saving," says Mr. Rendell.
Many Falklanders are banking on the existence of oil in waters around the islands to guarantee continued prosperity. The Falklands government has already passed legislation to allow seismic surveys to go ahead and these are scheduled to begin next year. Although no concrete data exists to prove the existence of oil, surveys carried out in the early 1970s suggest substantial offshore oil reserves.
The social impact of an oil industry concerns islanders. "Squid money has already changed life here. People are more greedy and less friendly. Oil could mean that our whole way of life will change and could lead to all sorts of social problems," says Phyllis Rendell, director of Education on the Falklands.
Oil could also mean involvement with Argentina, something most Falklanders are anxious to avoid. Some oil reserves are thought to straddle both Argentine and Falklands jurisdiction, and talks have already been held between Britain and Argentina over the possibility of joint seismic surveys in the south Atlantic.
"We want nothing to do with the Argentines. If there is oil then we must decide for ourselves how to develop it. We don't trust the Argentines," says Mrs. Rendell, who represented the Falklands during the talks between Britain and Argentina.
While the islands are now self-sufficient and virtually self-governing, London still controls defense and foreign policy, and a garrison of 3,000 British troops is permanently stationed on the islands. Argentina still claims sovereignty over the islands.
Still, Falklanders say the 10 years since the war have had unexpected rewards.
"Out of something terrible, something good has come," Mr. Rowlands says. "Before the conflict we were ignored by Britain and nobody was confident about the future. The invasion gave us the kick-start we needed and now we are looking ahead and seeking to build on our success."