The Falklands Archipelago, famously an outpost of the British Empire, is cradled in the gentle curve of Argentina‘s southeastern coastline—where they call the 778 starkly beautiful islands as the “Islas Malvinas.” The islands, together about the size of Wales or the US state of Connecticut, do not seem of a prize—the chill, windswept landscape of penguins and sheep boast a human population of about 3,000, mostly farmers or fishers.
The archipelago’s ownership, however, has been violently contested since the 1700s, most recently during the short but bitter 1982 Falklands War (Guerra de Malvinas). Argentina’s military dictatorship occupied the British protectorate, ostensibly for its rich fisheries and strategic position for ships rounding Cape Horn, but more likely to draw attention away from the military dictatorship’s economic and political failures.
Though the islands are a mere 460km (290mi) from Argentina, and 12,700km (7900mi) from London, residents speak English and vote overwhelmingly for British control in every plebiscite and poll. Britain sent the full force of its military to the isolated protectorate, and within two months, consolidated control over the Falklands with the support of the UN, USA, Chile, Colombia, and other key regional players.
Ever since, the situation between the Falklands and Argentina has been tense but peaceful, and tourism has become a growing part of the islands’ economy. Flights can be a bit tricky to arrange. Some travel to the islands on Ministry of Defence (MoD) Charter flight from the UK. Hi Fly and Titan Airways also offer charter flights. As relations between Argentina and the UK have thawed, however, more and more visitors have booked convenient flights on LAN airlines, which connects Australia, Brazil, Canada, the USA and other prime tourism markets to the Falklands via Santiago and Punta Arenas, Chile, stopping at Río Gallegos, Argentina, en route.
Just as the Southern Hemisphere’s summer gears up to welcome thousands of visitors to the islands innumerable attractions, however, the Argentine government is threatening to block all LAN flights.
After massive oil deposits were discovered off the Falklands’ coast last year, tensions returned. Argentina renewed its claim over the Islas Malvinas at the recent UN General Assembly, while moving to drill for oil in Falklands territorial waters.
Things came to a head when Argentina threatened to cut off all LAN flights if the British refused to negotiate for the Falklands once again. Britain replied that Falklands sovereignty was non-nogotiable.
Thus, the saber rattling continues. While some observers wrote the rhetoric off as political posturing in front of Argentina’s October 23 presidential elections, late last month the government ratified a bill to isolate the islands’ air access. While things will probably sort themselves out nonviolently after the elections, it’s currently a mess. And the LAN website has unhelpfully stopped listing its Falkland connections on the main site.
What does this mean for tourists? If you’re planning to visit the Falklands this summer, be sure to get travel insurance that will refund plane tickets and other expenses in the event of cancellations. While this is especially important for folks flying LAN, those on other airlines and cruises might want to do this as well. English speakers can stay abreast of events through the Buenos Aires Herald, Falkland Islands tourism website, and Falklands Territorial Government website.