Falklands has prospered after war

Kai Ryssdal Jun 14, 2007

Falklands has prospered after war

Kai Ryssdal Jun 14, 2007


KAI RYSSDAL: Twenty-five years ago not too many people would have been able to find the Falkland Islands on a map. Today, most still can’t. But at least they know the name.

The war between Britain and Argentina over the islands off the coast of South America ended 25 years ago today. Remembrance services were held in both London and Port Stanley, the Falklands’ main city. Which is where we reached Dr. Andrea Clausen. She’s a member of the Legislative Council there.

Dr. Clausen, good to speak with you.

Dr. Andrea Clausen: And you.

RYSSDAL: You know, any country changes in 25 years. Any economy does. How’s it changed for you since 1982?

Clausen: The Falklands has really fundamentally changed since 1982. Prior to 1982, Gross Domestic Product was around 5 million pounds per anum. With the establishment of the Economic Exclusion Zone in 1986-87 were were able for the first time to sell license fees to fishing companies. And, almost overnight, our Gross Domestic Product rose to over 30 million pounds per anum. And today it’s peaking around 75 million.

RYSSDAL: So, it’s fair to say that that exclusion zone that let you control fishing rights out for a couple hundred miles, that’s your cash crop now, isn’t it?

Clausen: It is, indeed. We also have, potentially, hydrocarbons on the horizon. Although, in terms of how our economy is run, and how the government runs its budget, we don’t take into account anything that might happen. But that exclusion zone, of course, also gave us the control of the offshore mineral rights, as well.

RYSSDAL: Hydrocarbons. So, drilling for oil?

Clausen: Yes. We currently have seven operators in the Falklands. And one company has been ready for the last year, year-and-a-half to drill. But, of course, the rig market is so tight at the moment — prices are so high due to world demand. We are still relatively remote in the world in global terms and so it’s proving quite difficult to get a rig into our area.

RYSSDAL: Seventy-five-million pounds for an economy of 3,000 people is quite a bit of money. What are you doing with all that money?

Clausen: We have invested, fundamentally, in infrastructure, schools, hospitals. We have put a lot of money into training our young people. Prior to 1982, young people in the Falklands didn’t really have access to university education and so on. We pay fully for students from the Falkland Islands to attend university overseas. And we’re also, for the first time, getting close to implementing a cross-sound ferry. The Falklands have two main islands and that will have an absolutely radical effect for the rural area — particularly the West Falklands, where they haven’t had such bright times in recent years with the collapse of the wool market.

RYSSDAL: Change can be a tricky thing, though. Especially when it comes so quickly. Are you having any problems?

Clausen: I don’t think so. I mean, we are still a relatively crime-free society. You can still leave your house unlocked, your keys in the ignition of the car. You won’t get mugged. Of course, money brings with it a range of other things. And, I guess, because people had no money prior to the conflict, they didn’t really care about material things. That would probably be the only thing in my mind that’s changed. People are more materialistic now. But, otherwise, we are still a very close-knit community. And when the chips are down, we’re all there for each other. And I think it’s a very special place because of that.

RYSSDAL: The honorable Dr. Andrea Clausen sits on the legislative council of the Falkland Islands. Dr. Clausen, thanks for your time.

Clausen: Thank you, very much.

RYSSDAL: We also called around to a few Falklands locals to get a better sense of what the years since the war have meant to a place that used to be little more than one big sheep ranch.

Hi. Is Miles Lee available, please?

Miles Lee: Yeah, you’re talking to him.

RYSSDAL: Miles Lee is a fifth-generation sheep rancher on West Falkland. That’s the area Dr. Clausen was talking about that’s pretty isolated. We chatted for a while once we got him on the phone. And then I asked him how business was going?

Lee: Not too good. You don’t want to be a farmer if you’re trying to get rich, really. I’m sure there’s not too many of your friends that wear a woolen garment. And that’s the crux of the matter, really.

RYSSDAL: Well, this is Los Angeles, so there’s not too much wool to begin with, you know.

Lee: No.

RYSSDAL: Is there a way you can give us a sense of the standard of living? I mean, what kind of cars do folks drive down there?

Lee: Most people drive four-by-fours. Most people drive a car that’s no more than about six or seven years old. There’s been 700 kilometers of road built in these islands. We barely had tracks before. And lots of individual homesteads have a road right to their back door now.

RYSSDAL: And they didn’t use to have that.

Lee: No. No. It was all just overland travel across open country.

RYSSDAL: Tell me about where you live. Describe your property for me.

Lee: We’ve got about a dozen houses here in a small valley, right next to the sea. The sort of largest hill that’s snow-capped behind us. There’s not many people here. There’s only 20. But you know everybody.

RYSSDAL: Could you describe for me the way the economy down there has changed in the past 25 years since the war?

Lee: Beyond all recognition. In just this last year we’ve formed a wool-marketing company. Probably 50 percent of the Falkland Island farms have joined that and we’ve employed a worldwide marketer. That’s a product of the good economy, because the Falkland Island government is supporting that company and giving it money to research and improve the sales.

RYSSDAL: You have childre, Mr. Lee, right?

Lee: Just the one.

RYSSDAL: How old?

Lee: He’s only 3 months.

RYSSDAL: Well, first of all, congratulations.

Lee: Thank you.

RYSSDAL: I’m wondering, though, what you think your child’s life might be like in 10 or 15 years?

Lee: I think it’ll be fairly similar. The majority of Falkland Islanders remain in the Falklands.

RYSSDAL: What’s the appeal, do you think?

Lee: It is a comfortable place to live. There isn’t any unemployment in the Falklands — or, everybody has a job. It’s just not the sort of, whatever you call it, the rat race . . . you see all these dreary commuters heading off to work everyday. We don’t do that. It’s about a three-minute walk down here to work. I come home for lunch.

RYSSDAL: Sounds like a pretty good life.

Lee: Yeah. I think it is. Yeah.

RYSSDAL: Mr. Lee, thank you so much for your time.

Lee: That’s all right. Cheers.

RYSSDAL: That was Miles Lee from West Falkland. He’s a sheep rancher there.

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