There can be few places in the world where
the Union Flag files more proudly, or more defiantly, than on the
Falkland Islands. Outside the Legislative Building in Port Stanley,
the flag quivers in a wind that blows direct from the Antarctic,
whipping up white horses across the harbour.
As the 20th anniversary of the Falklands
war draws near, everyone believes it was the best thing ever to
have happened to the islands. 'It was horrible that people had to
lose their lives,' says councillor Jan Cheek, 'but there's no doubt
it was a blessing in disguise.' Councillor Bill Luxton, a sheep
farmer who was deported from the islands during the war, recalls
how Argentine dictator General Leopoldo Galtieri changed his life.
'If Galtieri had not invaded we'd all be Argentines now,' he says.
'The place would have fallen apart and they would have just walked
When, nearly 20 years ago, Argentina launched
its ill-fated invasion, the Falklands were on the brink of total
economic collapse. The islanders were being bled dry by absentee
landlords and exhausted by the struggle to scratch a living from
farming in one of the world's most remote and hostile environments.
Young people were leaving in droves - in fact, there was no future
for anyone. Then came the invasion, the heroic departure of the
British task Force and the daunting realisation that retaking the
islands was going to mean a battle in the South Atlantic for territory
few British people knew existed.
When the smoke cleared after two months
of fighting, the islands' future was, paradoxically, assured. Firstly,
the Falklands had assumed the highest possible political profile
after years of neglect by successive British governments. But more
importantly, the protection zone established around the islands
included a fair chunk of the richest fishing grounds in the world.
With reserves of £70 million, the Falkland
Islands are totally self-sufficient, discounting the cost of defence.
At the last count, the GNP equated to £21,000 for every man, woman
and child. There is no unemployment. All this wealth is almost entirely
due to a rubbery, wriggling creature called a cephalopod, more commonly
known as a squid, millions of which obligingly spawn within the
Falkland Islands conservation zone. 'Squid,' says John Barton, the
Director of Fisheries, 'provide 60 pence of every pound the government
Port Stanley still has red telephone boxes
and the kind of courteous tweed, twin-set and pearls lifestyle that
characterised Britain in the Fifties. There is no graffiti to be
seen, no drugs and precious little crime. Sunday evensong in Stanley's
modest cathedral always begins with the National Anthem. Islanders
like to claim not just that they all know each other but they know
each other's names. Newcomers, however, can find it hard to assimilate
into such a close, community, as Michael Bingham can testify. Bingham,
43, arrived in the Falklands from North Wales in 1993 to work with
Falklands Conservation, a UK-registered charity charged with protecting
the islands' unique environment.
As part of his duties, Bingham conducted
a comprehensive survey of penguins, concluding that their dramatic
decline was due to increased fishing in their traditional feeding
grounds. This was not popular in a place where penguins were the
number one tourist attraction and fishing was the major income earner.
Worse was to come when he objected to the appointment of councillor
Louis Clifton as chairman of Falklands Conservation. Clifton was
a director of one of the oil companies given a licence to prospect
for oil in Falkland waters.
In 1997, Bingham was told his contract was
not being renewed. He found another job and continued his research
privately. But his applications to become a permanent resident were
consistently turned down. In September 1998, he found a handgun
and a box of bullets under the bed in his room. Panicking, he threw
both into the harbour. Six weeks later, during a 'routine mail search',
Falklands Custom officers discovered a pornographic video in a package
addressed to Bingham, and Customs officers obtained a warrant to
search his room. Bingham was convinced they were looking for the
In January 1998, Bingham was accused of
making a false statement in an application form. When he was shown
the form at Port Stanley Police station, he claimed it had been
altered. The police later admitted that a mistake had been made
transferring information from his original application to a computer.
The charges were dropped.
Falklands police asked the National Criminal
Intelligence Service to carry out a criminal records check on Bingham.
The NCIS reported that there was a Bingham with a record including
car theft, burglary and affray, but pointed out that the dates of
birth did not match and that fingerprints would be required to confirm
his identity. However, Bingham was arrested and charged with concealing
his previous convictions on his applications for residency. By this
time he started receiving abusive telephone calls. He was spat at
in the street and someone hung the severed head of a cat over his
door. In April 1998, Falklands police admitted they got it wrong
and all charges were withdrawn.
Bingham, meanwhile, had complained to Dafydd
Wigley, his former MP, who had taken up his case with John Battle,
the Foreign Office Minister responsible for the Falklands. Battle
concluded that apart from the mistake over the criminal record,
there was no evidence of 'maladministration' either by the Falkland
Islands government or the police. I put it to David Lang, the islands'
portly Attorney General, that there appeared to have been a sustained
campaign of vilification and harassment against Bingham. 'That is
absolutely untrue,' he blustered, scarlet in the face.
Publicly, most islanders would be glad to
see the back of him, but in private there is some sympathy for him.
An islander told me: 'What you have to understand is that this is
a very close community. It doesn't do to cross the wrong people.'
Meanwhile, there is excited talk about oil
revenues generating the equivalent of £500,000 for every man, woman
and child. Six exploratory wells have been drilled 90 miles north
of the islands and the results are promising. Experts estimate there
could be at least 60 billion barrels under the heaving, foam-flecked
surface of the South Atlantic.
Mail on Sunday online.
Adopt and name your penguin,
and we will send you reports and photos of your penguin's progress. We
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in case you ever want to visit. (Visitors are welcome).
The Falklands Regime by Mike Bingham
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