Don's Diary

May 16, 1997

Monday

Land in Punta Arenas, the southernmost city of Chile. This city represents the penultimate leg of my long journey to the Falklands. Having already had some meetings with British officials in Santiago, I am advised to look out the Honorary Consul in Punta Arenas, John Rees. We talk about Anglo-Chilean relations and agree that this is an important dimension in Britain's handling of the Falklands question. My visit to the Falklands Islands (Islas Malvinas) in the South Atlantic is being funded by the British Academy in London and is concerned with the changing socioeconomic and political circumstances of the islands. It is a preliminary visit rather than an extended stay.

Tuesday

Arrive at Punta Arenas airport early in the morning. After much negotiation, I am taken to the plane - a Twin Otter. Apparently I am the only passenger and there is some debate as to whether we are actually going to leave for Stanley. But eventually we do. The flight is brilliant, with clear skies enabling me to distinguish clearly the two large and many of the 200 or so smaller islands of the Falklands group, including the South Sandwich islands, Shag Rocks and Clerke Rocks. Tell myself at the Mount Pleasant airport, with its runway built since the war, to remember not to refer to the Islas Malvinas. Arrive at the hotel - the rather appropriately named Malvina House. On entering the Beagle Bar, I stumble across a whole range of European reporters anxious to discover local opinion about the future of the islands in the run-up to the transfer of Hong Kong to the Chinese authorities. The Falklands, together with Gibraltar, will be one of the few remaining British crown colonies after the handover of Hong Kong. Take my first stroll through Stanley and am immediately reminded of the 1982 Falklands war as I notice Liberation Monument. It is a striking place of commemoration, dominated by a statue with the figure of Britannia looking out over Stanley harbour. Behind the statue are the names of the 255 people who died in the conflict. I notice that the intelligence corps has been left out of the list of participating sectors of the armed forces. Next to the monument is Thatcher Drive. It seems that Mrs T, the Iron Lady, is still considered a heroine down here.

Wednesday

Pick up a copy of the local newspaper, Penguin News. On the front page is a story about Labour and the general election. Apparently the Argentine defence minister thinks that a Blair government will be more accommodating to Argentine claims over the islands than was the previous Conservative administration. Tony Blair's office, however, according to the story, disagrees. One thing I recall about the 1982 war in the Falklands is that the Labour front bench was very supportive of Margaret Thatcher's decision to launch a task force to defend the islanders' right to remain British. Tony Blair was not even an MP when the Argentinian military invaded in April of that year. The Penguin News story is important because the sovereignty of the Falklands is being discussed again in the decolonisation committee of the United Nations this year. Most people living in Stanley believe that a Labour Government is as committed as the Tories were to upholding British sovereignty. The 2,000 islanders are, however, keen to be completely self-sufficient, financially speaking. That would mean, for example, paying the defence bill of the islands. At present external affairs and defence are the responsibility of the British government, which chooses civil and military commissioners. Internal affairs are, however, governed by executive and legislative councils.

Thursday

Have a series of meetings with various councillors. I speak to the head of education who tells me that Falkland islanders who wish to study at institutes of higher education are fully funded and this includes a bursary of Pounds 6,000 per year. However, as only three or four of the islanders graduate each year this is not really considered an excessive economic burden to bear. Most graduates here on the islands have attended British universities. Spend the evening carrying out important research in the Beagle Bar. End up drinking too much beer and rum.

Friday

I am off to have an interview with the Governor of the Falklands. But, as we are five hours behind London, I am afraid that is a story for another time.

Dr Klaus Dodds teaches geography at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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