Andy Beckett’s stay in the Falkland Islands has not really produced much in the way of nuance when it comes to the contemporary let alone the future Falklands (Past haunts the present but Falkland Islanders remain defiant, 20 March). He trots out some familiar sounding historical milestones and seems to think it is noteworthy that Islanders are not drinking Chilean beer. What would have been more interesting and subtle is how ‘the past’ is put to work by the Falkland Island community and others. The 1982 South Atlantic conflict is actually rather double edged for the Islanders – on the one hand, the relics of war have played a part in enabling battlefield tourism to contribute the local economy (and tourism after fishing licensing is one of the most important economic sectors including ship-based tourism to and from Antarctica). Bizarrely the mine fields add further flavour and it is worth noting that no one has ever lost their life or limb unlike in places like Angola and Cambodia. On the other hand, the memories of 1982 are frequently used by British journalists to frame the Islands and to do so in a way which suggests, albeit unwittingly at times, that the Islanders want to be referenced by ‘1982’. What it tends to do is underplay the extraordinary changes that have occurred within the Falklands, especially in the fields of education and employment. The modern secondary school that Andy Beckett might have seen is particularly noteworthy in this regard. He also might like to read the 2008 Constitution to see how the Falkland Islands approaches the present and future as a largely self-governing overseas territory.
In my experience Falkland Islanders want to remember the past including the 1982 conflict but don’t want to live in the past. Islanders had an unwelcome glimpse into one particular future in 1998/9 when the air link with Chile was suspended in response to the arrest of General Pinochet in London. Over the last thirty years, relations with Chile have generally been cordial and by way of contrast contact with Argentina has swung from cautious co-operation to outright hostility. If Falkland Islanders remain defiant it is partly because they have every right to – since 1982 British governments have pledged to respect the rights of the Islanders to self-determine their future as, at present, a British overseas territory. Britain remains defiant on this issue.
If the past haunts anyone it is to be found closer to London rather than Stanley – the treatment of the Falkland Islanders in the 1960s and 1970s was confused and confusing.