Everything you need to know about the Falkland Islands in five minutes

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Argentine veterans of the 1982 Falklands War
Argentine veterans of the 1982 Falklands War send a clear message: 'Ingleses go home'

I hear Argentina is causing trouble again over the Falklands, eh?

Yes. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has placed adverts in a number of national newspapers, in which she complains about the 'blatant' colonialism displayed by us British.

Actually, when you read her advert it does seem like they have a bit of a point. The Falklands are a tiny clump of islands 8,700 miles away from mainland Britain, and they're just off the coast of Argentina. So surely they belong to them?

Their geographical location doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. They are a British Overseas Territory and as such should remain British, permanently and forever. We've even fought a war over them.


Hmmm. If you say so. Weren't the Malvinas, as Kirchner and her compatriots call them, Argentinean before they were British, though?

You might think so from reading Argentina's nationalist propaganda. Especially given the date her advert refers to, January 3rd 1833, when a Royal Naval vessel turned up and turfed out the limited number of Argentineans living there. In fact the British had established a presence on the archipelago long before the 19th century.

They're not exactly a Channel Island, though, are they? There's a bit of a difference between the Isle of Wight and Port Stanley.

The point is the British got there long before the Argentines. We first appeared in 1765, and set up a settlement or two of our own. Unfortunately economic pressures meant we had to withdraw less than a decade later. But we left a plaque saying we'd got there first, so it stands to reason the Islands are ours. No further questions needed. Case closed.

The Argentines must have come into the picture eventually.

Yes. Eventually along came the South Americans – not the Argentineans but the 'United Provinces', as their fledgling nation-state was called back then in the early years of the 1800s. They barely had any kind of handhold on the archipelago. In fact they let a private individual basically take over the Islands on their behalf. But they didn't get very far. The Islands were mostly used as a refuge for whalers and other shipping in the chilly waters of the South Atlantic Ocean. Until the British turned up, and the Islands became a very useful outpost in the growing British Empire.

Then came 180 years of British rule until the present day, I suppose.

You're forgetting that brief interlude of 1982, when Argentine dictator General Galtieri and his junta decided to distract his restive population from a wobbly domestic economy with a bit of jingoism. Argentine forces invaded the Falklands in 1982.

Of course. And what a mistake it was, as Margaret Thatcher's government mounted an unexpectedly robust military attempt to retake the archipelago.

It was a tough time for the then prime minister, as papers released by the National Archive at Kew have revealed over the festive period. They show how Thatcher rebuffed Ronald Reagan's attempts to secure a peace, and how the PM feared an attack on Gibraltar by the Spanish at the same time. Most interestingly, they also reveal Thatcher was lobbied to send a 'James Bond' secret agent in to nobble a fresh batch of Exocet missiles which the French were thinking of sending to Buenos Aires. Our news story on the revelations is worth a read.

I shall certainly open it in a new window, before turning to study it once I have finished reading this fascinating dialogue. This was a tough period for everyone concerned, wasn't it?

Yes –255 British service personnel lost their lives over the Islands, and 649 members of Argentina's military. Three Falklands citizens died. But the main problem for the Islanders was economic. This was a tough time for them. Before the 1982 invasion, there had been some in Whitehall arguing they should negotiate a transferral of sovereignty.

Maybe that's for the best now. After all, these are tough economic times, too. And Argentina doesn't exactly go out of its way to make life easy for the Falkland Islands.

It is difficult right now - an economic blockade is currently underway. The South American trading bloc Mercosur has barred all ships carrying the Falklands flag. And there is now just one commercial air link between the Islands and South America, from Chile. Argentina is doing its utmost to shut Britain out from potentially lucrative trading links with the continent's emerging economies – especially Brazil. Times are tough.

Doesn't sound like the Falklands have much of a future.

That sounds suspiciously like defeatism to me. Chin up! It's not all bad. Argentina's economy is struggling once again, and its president is just trying to shore up her support with a bit of politically useful stirring.

Sounds familiar…

Yes – having a democracy instead of a dictatorship doesn't change the basic fundamental that nothing mobilises Argentinean national feeling quite like the Falklands. All the more reason why us British need to be unflinching in our commitment to the archipelago. And anyway, we have another good reason to keep up our support. Perhaps the real reason Buenos Aires is getting so worked up right now is because drilling for oil in the waters surrounding the Islands is currently underway. What has been a big drain on the British taxpayer could suddenly become very profitable if significant reserves are discovered.

What's the latest?

Actually, not such good news. Last autumn Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd's shares halved in price after announcing it had only come across some "poor quality" natural gas in its 2012 drilling The company remains "confident" that it will come up trumps sooner or later, however.

That explains why the British are so keen to defend the Islands, then.

There's a lot of jingoistic pride in there too, though. In any case, the British government has a very useful little trick up its sleeve which it is planning on playing in 2013. Namely, a referendum for the Islanders. If they want to stay as they are, they can vote to do so. The UK hopes that will be the end of the matter.

Now hold on a second. I'm all for democracy. But surely this is just a bit of theatre? The outcome isn't in doubt for a second, as all the Islanders are basically British. It seems a bit meaningless.

The principle of self-determination is very important, you know. Let those on the Islands decide. This isn't just about the British and the Argentines.

Yes, but isn't it just the diplomatic equivalent of declaring 'finders-keepers'? I know what Palestinians would think if Israeli settlers in their occupied territories were to be given a vote.

As David Cameron said in his new year message to the Islanders, it's a question of human rights.

I'm not convinced. And as it happens, I notice you left something out of your history. When British forces first 'discovered' the Falklands in 1765, there were actually French explorers already in situ on East Island.

Yes, but they didn't know about them. So they obviously don't count.

This whole explanation is completely biased, isn't it? You're just a British journalist, looking at the issue through rose-tinted glasses of imperialist, colonialist oppression.

I'm just stating the facts. About the south Atlantic archipelago known as the Falklands and definitely, definitely not the Malvinas.

That's it. I'm taking this to the UN.

Be my guest. It won't make any difference.

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