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Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands (fôkˈlənd) [key], Span. Islas Malvinas, group of islands (2012 pop. 2,563), 4,618 sq mi (11,961 sq km), S Atlantic, c.300 mi (480 km) E of the Strait of Magellan. The islands are a British overseas territory; the capital is Stanley. There are two large islands (East Falkland and West Falkland) and some 200 small ones. From 1908 to 1985 South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were dependencies of the colony. The Falklands are rather bleak, rocky moorlands, swept by wind and drenched by chill rain. The population is almost entirely British, Christian, and English-speaking.

The islands are flourishing sheep-raising centers, and the economy was long dependent on the export of wool and the sale of Falkland Islands postage stamps and coins. Since the late 1980s, however, the rich fishing grounds surrounding the islands have become the economic mainstay, as a result of the sale of licenses to foreign commercial fishing operations. Squid is the most important catch. Whales and seals also abound in the littoral waters and formerly were heavily hunted. Tourism also contributes to the economy. Oil exploration around the islands began in the early 1990s, but no commercially significant deposits were found until 2010. Fuel, food and drink, building materials, and clothing must be imported.

The Falklands are governed under the constitution of 2009. There is a unicameral Legislative Assembly with 8 elected and 2 nonvoting ex officio members, all of whom serve four-year terms. The monarch of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, represented by a governor, is the head of state.

The British have long claimed the islands, based on probable discovery by the navigator John Davis in 1592, but they were first settled in 1764 by France. Spain, Britain, and Argentina subsequently had colonies on the islands. When the seizure of an American sealing vessel in 1832 led to a U.S. punitive expedition, the British, claiming sovereignty, occupied the islands in 1832–33 and expelled the Argentinian colonists. Near the Falklands, in one of the most stirring naval engagements of World War I, the British under Sir Frederick Sturdee destroyed (Dec. 8, 1914) a German squadron under Graf von Spee.

Argentina invaded the islands in 1982 over a sovereignty dispute with Great Britain, but British forces responded quickly, forcing a surrender by the Argentines within six weeks. Since the invasion Falkland Islanders have opposed negotiations with Argentina concerning the islands' sovereignty. In Feb., 2010, the start of exploratory offshore oil drilling increased tensions with Argentina, which restricted ship traffic through its waters to the islands; in 2011, Falklands-flagged vessels were barred from the ports of Mercosur nations. In a 2013 referendum more than 90% of the eligible voters voted in favor of remaining British.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: South American Political Geography


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