Sunday, February 28

Who says history never repeats?

Here in the UK the Falkland Islands have been making headlines. This month, Ocean Guardian, a small British energy company began exploratory oil drilling in waters north of the islands. Its actions have provoked a storm of protest from Argentina, which claims sovereignty over this remote, wind-swept archipelago in the South Atlantic. Currently, Britain administers the Falklands, having reestablished its sovereignty in 1833 when newly independant Argentine nationals attempted to establish a settlement.

Sovereignty of the Falkland Islands is hotly contested issued. Since their discovery in the 1600s they've been claimed by France, Britain, Spain and Argentina at various times. Of course, the most recent and possibly most dramatic, of these disputes is The Falklands War. This conflict began on Friday, 2 April 1982 with an invasion and occupation of the islands and neighbouring South Georgia by Argentine forces.

Britain subsequently battled for 74 days battled to reclaim the islands, before Argentine forces finally surrendered on 14 June 1982. The death toll on both sides was surprisingly high; 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers, sailors, and airmen, and three civilian Falklanders lost their lives. At the time, less than 2,500 people lived on the islands, alongside 600,000 sheep.

In the decades since, the British have built an airbase, upgraded much of the island's infrastructure and spend £70 million defending them. However, at last count 125 uncleared minefields remain intact. Clearing them has only recently begun. The islanders have also been integrated into the modern world courtesy of a weekly Chilean flight from Santiago and twice weekly, 20-hour flights from the UK by the Ministry of Defense. Ironically, the weekly Chilean flight is popular with Argentines visiting the graves of soliders killed in 1982. More than 4,000 make the trip each year. A supply ship arrives from Chile every two weeks loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables, while the UK sends its own supply ship every six weeks.

As oil exploration commences, the stakes have been raised. By some estimates, more than 60 million barrels of oil lie beneath the seabed. If true, these deposits equal those of the declining North Sea oilfields. Given such dramatic sums, Argentina's current outcry suddenly makes sense. Who says history never repeats?

No comments: