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Falkland Islands Fact Sheet

|   Geographic Location    |   History    |   Climate    |   Population    |   Economic Overview    |   Administration   |

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Geographic Location

Falkland Islands locates about three hundred miles (480 kilometers) east of the Strait of Magellan, near the tip of South America. Rocky and treeless, they are swept by winds and pelted much of the year by cold rains. The islands, a British self-governing colony, are near the trade routes approaching the strait. The 200 islands of the group cover 4,618 square miles (11,961 square kilometers). The main islands are East Falkland, which is 90 miles (145 kilometers) by 55 miles (89 kilometers), and West Falkland, which is 80 miles (129 kilometers) by 45 miles (72 kilometers). The capital is Stanley, or Port Stanley, on East Falkland. A governor and executive and legislative councils rule the islands. Under their 1985 constitution, South Georgia, which has a small military garrison, and the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands ceased to be dependencies of the Falklands.

The islands are deeply indented with many anchorages. The landscape is treeless moorland, with deep peat deposits, and hills ranging across the northern parts of both islands, rising to the highest point, Mt Usborne (705m) in East Falkland, and Mt Adam (700m) in West Falkland.



The first sighting of the islands has been ascribed to various navigators, but the first known landing was by Captain John Strong in 1690, who named the islands after the then Treasurer of the Navy, Viscount Falkland. The first occupation was by the French in 1764 under Antoine-Louis de Bougainville, who established a small colony on East Falkland. This was sold to Spain, who governed most of South America at that time, in 1767. In 1765, the British had taken possession of West Falkland and, in the next year, established a colony on Saunders Island to the north of West Falkland. The Spanish compelled the British settlers to leave in 1770, bringing the two nations to the brink of war, but were persuaded to hand back the colony in 1771. Both the British and Spanish had left the islands by the early 19th Century.

In 1820, the Buenos Aires government, which had declared its independence of Spain in 1816, sent a ship to the islands to claim sovereignty, and a colony was once more established on East Falkland with Luis Vernet as Governor. In 1831, a US warship destroyed this settlement in reprisal for the arrest of three American sealing-vessels. In 1832 the Argentinians again attempted to settle a garrison but were evicted when the HMS Clio arrived. The British resumed occupation of the islands, which has been continuous since. The islands were given a governor in 1843. Grants-in-aid for the settlement were approved and continued until 1885, when the islands became self-supporting.

Argentina did not abandon its claim to the islands, and pursued this in UN talks from 1966 onwards, despite the islanders' overwhelming preference for retaining their association with Britain. During these years, links continued between the Falklands and Argentina, with air and sea communication, and facilities for education and medical care for the Falklanders. But, in April 1982, Argentine military forces invaded the islands and overwhelmed the British garrison. A British task force was dispatched and finally forced the Argentinians to surrender in June 1982, after the loss of some 1,000 British and Argentine lives. Since the election of the Menem government in Argentina in 1989, there has been a considerable rapprochement between the two countries. In 1990, diplomatic relations, broken off in 1982, were restored with Argentina, both sides in effect agreeing to disagree on sovereignty over the islands.



Cold marine; strong westerly winds, cloudy, humid; rain occurs on more than half of days in year; occasional snow all year, except in January and February, but does not accumulate.



Estimated 2,564 in 1996. The population has risen in the last few years (5.5% since 1991), probably owing to an increased interest in the islands after the 1982 War, increased aid, and some ex-servicemen returning to live there. The population is of British descent with a strong Scottish element. Approximately 1,700 British soldiers were stationed on the islands in 1994.


Economic Overview

The economy was formerly based on agriculture, mainly sheep farming, which directly or indirectly employs most of the work force. Dairy farming supports domestic consumption; crops furnish winter fodder. Exports feature shipments of high-grade wool to the UK and the sale of postage stamps and coins. Rich stocks of fish in the surrounding waters are not presently exploited by the islanders. So far, efforts to establish a domestic fishing industry have been unsuccessful. The economy has diversified since 1987 when the government began selling fishing licenses to foreign trawlers operating within the Falklands exclusive fishing zone. These license fees total more than $40 million per year and support the island's health, education, and welfare system. To encourage tourism, the Falkland Islands Development Corporation has built three lodges for visitors attracted by the abundant wildlife and trout fishing. The islands are now self- financing except for defense. The British Geological Survey announced a 200-mile oil exploration zone around the islands in 1993 and early seismic surveys suggest substantial reserves capable of producing 500,000 barrels per day.



Chief of state Queen ELIZABETH II (since 6 February 1952); head of government Governor David Everard TATHAM (since August 1992).

Cabinet Executive Council 3 members elected by the Legislative Council, 2 ex-officio members (chief executive and the financial secretary), and the governor.

Legislative branch unicameral; legislative Council elections last held 11 October 1989 (next to be held October 1994); results - percent of vote by party NA; seats - (10 total, 8 elected) independents 8. Judicial Branch Supreme Court.

Flag designed in blue with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant. The Falkland Island coat of arms in a white disk centered on the outer half of the flag. The coat of arms contains a white ram (sheep raising is the major economic activity) above the sailing ship Desire (whose crew discovered the islands) with a scroll at the bottom bearing the motto 'DESIRE THE RIGHT'.


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