Below is the text of my paper written last December. It is a bit lengthy for a blog post, but I feel it's important to make it available. Sovereignty in the Falkland Islands is still a controversial issue and I want to be clear about my stance on the issue as a historian. This work presents my analysis of the relationship between the Falkland Islands and the United Kingdom, based on the sources available to me in New Mexico. Most of these sources come from outsiders looking in on the situation. The lack of sources from the Falklands and the people who live there is part of what has motivated me to go there and see for myself.
During the twentieth century, the significance of the Falkland Islands increased as Great Britain attempted to remain relevant in the bipolar world of the Cold War. In the absence of her once-great empire, Britain tightened her hold on this archipelago in the South Atlantic. However, the British fixation with the Falkland Islands began centuries ago. Repeated conflicts over the islands have served to reaffirm Britain’s imperial might politically, militarily, and economically. The Falkland Islands have come to represent the majesty of the entire British Empire, making it impossible for the United Kingdom to relinquish sovereignty. In the twenty-first century, the Falkland Islands serve to commemorate Britain’s former greatness and hope for future generations of Britons.
British attachment to the Falkland Islands began as early as the sixteenth century, when early explorers noticed the islands as they travelled through the Straits of Magellan. However, early modern cartographers could not accurately mark the Falklands’ location, leading to much confusion about their existence. Spanish and Portuguese explorers, including Amerigo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan, sighted land near the latitude of the Falklands, but many of these islands (e.g. Pepys, the Sebalds and Sansons) proved nonexistent after further study. English tradition maintains that Richard Hawkins first sighted the islands in 1594, naming them the “Maiden Land” in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. An early twentieth century cartographical study by Commander B. M. Chambers reexamined this tradition, suggesting instead that Hawkins recorded seeing the Cape Tres Puntas on the Argentinian coast. However, others have refuted Chambers’ analysis in order to continue justifying English possession based on discovery. Fortunately for these historians, other English explorers claimed to have visited the Falklands. A short account by John Davis records that his ship the Desire took refuge on the islands after a storm in 1592, a fact undisputed by Commander Chambers. Almost a century later, another Englishman, John Strong, named the islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, Viscount Falkland. The Dutch captain Sebald de Weert may have also visited the islands in 1600, as soon afterwards they began to appear on Dutch maps, bearing the name “The Sebalds.” The confusion surrounding the discovery of the Falkland Islands should prevent any nation from claiming sovereignty on those grounds. However, Max Hastings wisely observed after the Falklands War that “from the moment of their discovery they seem to have embodied the national pride of whoever held them.” England certainly would not prove immune to the islands’ attraction.
The Falkland Islands also drew interest from Spain and France as the Great Powers of Europe set about dividing the world amongst themselves. Strictly speaking, Pope Alexander VI granted the Falkland Islands to Spain in 1494 as they fell within the Spanish territory delineated by the Treaty of Tordesillas. Nevertheless, a Frenchman became the first to attempt colonization; Bougainville founded Fort Louis on East Falkland in 1764.Supposedly unaware of the French presence, John Byron formally claimed the Falkland Islands for England less than a year later. John McBride confirmed this claim by establishing the first English settlement at Port Egmont on West Falkland in 1766. Both colonies continued in ignorance of the other’s existence until the end of that year, when “to [Captain McBride’s] utter amazement he came upon the Malouine settlement.” He protested the French presence and demanded that the colonists remove themselves from English territory. Back in Europe, Bougainville had actually sold the Iles Malouines to Spain based on the Treaty of Utrecht, which had confirmed the status quo in the New World.Upon closer scrutiny, this justification does not bear much weight as it relies on the application of the Treaty of Tordesillas to islands whose existence was not confirmed until two hundred years after its signing. In addition, the Protestant Reformation lessened the scope of the Pope’s authority in Europe, as his pronouncements could not compel non-Catholic nations such as England and Sweden. France only considered transferring the Falkland Islands to Spain in order to uphold the Family Compact between the two Bourbon kings. Had the two nations not been allies at this time, the islands surely would have remained in French control.
These attempts at early colonization led to England’s first dispute over the Falkland Islands, which would prove both her naval power and the majesty of King George III. Captain Hunt returned to England in 1770, where he reported the presence of a Spanish settlement on East Falkland. England immediately demanded that Spain withdraw its forces. Spain did not comply, but opened negotiations with the English Prime Minister, Lord North.  Acting independently, the governor of Buenos Aires removed the English from Port Egmont by force. “The action of the governor of Buenos Aires, Francisco Bucarelli, in ordering Spanish forces to evict the British garrison on the West Falkland Island, was seen as part of a general challenge to the supremacy of British sea power.” When word reached Europe of this eviction, a squabble over land-rights became a crisis of sovereignty.
George III demanded the restitution of the English colony and an apology from Spain for the offense done to his honor. The tiny militia outpost at Port Egmont could barely have been called a colony, but the King of England hinged his dignity on its recovery. Not for the last time, the majesty of Empire rested on an archipelago 8,000 miles away from the British Isles. Though the Family Compact bound France and Spain together, France found itself ill prepared for war and informed Spain that Charles III would fight England alone if they could not settle the dispute diplomatically. In response to Spanish rumblings, England began to increase her navy. This period of armament created the British navy that would dominate the seas for centuries to come. Spain could not defeat the growing English navy without French support, ergo negotiations began in earnest. The French Foreign Minister, Choiseul, negotiated an agreement that satisfied honor on both sides. Charles III apologized for the insult done to George III and allowed the English to return to Port Egmont. Official records document this part of the peace, with no mention of a definite ruling on sovereignty. The Spanish declaration read that the agreement “cannot nor ought in any wise to affect the question of the prior right of sovereignty of the Malouine islands, otherwise called Falkland’s Islands.” Thus, negotiations preserved both Spanish and English claims to the Falkland Islands.
Some historians claim that Charles III only assented to this declaration because of a reciprocal promise from the English Prime Minister Lord North. This “Secret Agreement” promised that the English would soon vacate the Falkland Islands and implied the abandonment of all English claims to sovereignty. However, the only evidence of this agreement comes from the correspondence of Spanish diplomats. While this agreement is absent from English accounts, Spanish records suggest that the English delayed abandoning the Falkland Islands until after the militia returned to Port Egmont and that they denied that they had relinquished any sovereignty. The details of a verbal promise seem easily forgotten. When the English did finally leave Port Egmont, they left behind a plaque confirming continued English ownership of the Falkland Islands:
Be it known to all nations that the Falklands Islands, with this fort, the storehouses, wharfs, bays, and creeks thereunto belonging are the sole right and property of His Most Sacred Majesty George the Third, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, Defender of Faith, etc. In witness whereof this plate is set up, and his Britannic Majesty’s colors left flying as a mark of possession by S. W. Clayton, commanding officer at Falkland Islands, A.D. 1774.
The American Revolution necessitated this withdrawal, but the Falkland Islands proved a useful tool for George III to extend his majesty and naval might.
An official British presence did not return to the Falkland Islands until 1833, but private citizens continued to visit their shores. During this period of Spanish and Argentinian occupation, the economic and strategic value of the islands emerged. An abundance of seals, whales, and fish filled the icy waters of the South Atlantic, making the Falkland Islands an ideal location for commercial outposts. Whalers and sealers from Britain, the United States, and other countries often made temporary camps on the islands. The islands’ location also made them an excellent resupply point for ships travelling either between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, or bound for exploration in Antarctica. Close proximity to the Straits of Magellan would also allow whoever held the islands to control that passage. As the British Empire expanded in the nineteenth century, the Falkland Islands became an appealing foothold in the South Atlantic.
The collapse of Spanish control over the American colonies in the early nineteenth century broke the Spanish monopoly on South American trade for the first time in centuries. However, Great Britain would not be the first nation to claim the Falkland Islands in Spain’s absence. The United Provinces of the La Plata, which would become Argentina, nominally inherited the Islands from Spain, but they did not formalize this claim until 1820, when Colonel Daniel Jewitt visited the Islands. He did not establish a new colony, but warned the foreign sealers that Argentina now reserved all rights to hunting and fishing. In the wake of this announcement, Buenos Aires granted those rights to a Frenchman named Louis Vernet. This is where British and Argentinian accounts diverge. Louis Vernet may have served as the official Governor of the Islands, or he may have been an entrepreneur. In either case, he reinforced his commercial rights on August 30, 1829, but American and British sealers ignored Vernet’s protestations. Forced to take action, Vernet provoked an attack from Captain Silas Duncan of the USS Lexington, who destroyed Vernet’s operation.  Afterwards, Duncan claimed that Vernet had been nothing more than a pirate and declared the Falkland Islands res nullius. The persistence by both the British and Americans in continuing whaling and sealing operations on the Falkland Islands resembles the manner by which Britain established the Opium trade in China. Both endeavors were accomplished by blatantly ignoring the authority of another nation to control economic activities within its borders. Argentina another attempt to establish a penal colony on Islands, but this venture also proved a failure as the prisoners murdered the only governor sent to them. Argentina could not successfully colonize the Falkland Islands, but it was heavy-handed action by the United States which created a vacuum of power on the Falkland Islands.
While Argentina struggled to found a viable colony, Britain maintained her claim to sovereignty by formally protesting Louis Vernet’s endeavors. As soon as he began his venture, The British Consul General, Woodbine Parrish, argued vehemently that Argentina violated British sovereignty by authorizing Vernet’s actions on the Falkland Islands.  Parrish maintained his protests even though Argentina offered no response. He justified British possession of the islands by right of discovery and sovereignty established, but not withdrawn, in 1765.Renewed British colonization became inevitable as “the Admiralty held the position that effective occupation of the Falklands constituted the only means of securing their claims to sovereignty.” On July 21, 1833, Captain Onslow and the HMS Clio raised the British flag over the Islands and notified any remaining Argentinian forces that they should depart at once. One possible account suggests that British residents of the islands requested that Great Britain found a colony there after the American attack. However, it is more likely that the British felt the approaching urgency called for by the New Imperialism, characterized by growing competition for unclaimed regions of the world.  “The high tide of late-Victorian imperialism had already begun to rise a half century or more before.” It took some years to grow a viable colony as the islands did not present the most attractive opportunity in the Empire. Almost all goods and some raw materials, especially timber, had to be imported and the Falklands contained little potential for new exports. A safe harbor at Port Stanley created a market for resupplying and repairing ships, but Britain made little effort to develop the Islands further. Sealing and whaling continued, but these were not industries around which a colony could be built.
The introduction of sheep around 1835 created a new industry with more appeal for families. Most settlers came from the northern islands of Scotland, including the Shetlands and Orkneys, as the British government felt they would adjust quickly to life in the South Atlantic. The Islands became a crown colony in 1843, exporting wool and whale oil back to the motherland. The Falkland Islands Company received its charter on December 23, 1851, which granted it control over most of the Islands’ industry. As a crown colony economically controlled by a mercantilist company, the Falkland Islands fit right in with the nineteenth century British Empire.
However, during the twentieth century, the British Empire mostly ignored the Falkland Islands. Their strategic position led to naval victories in 1914 and 1939, but completion of the Panama Canal in 1914 greatly diminished their importance.  For administrative purposes, Britain created the Falkland Island Dependencies in 1908 and 1917 to oversee the South Orkneys, South Sandwich Islands, South Shetland Islands, South Georgia, a large portion of Antarctica, and various other islands. The British Antarctic Survey on South Georgia and several other Antarctic expeditions enjoyed the proximity of the Falkland Islands as a base for resupply, repairs, and medical care. British visits to the islands painted a grim picture of life in the South Atlantic. In the 1920s, Clarence Jones reported that wool and whale oil continued to dominate the economy. The only potential area for development he saw might be found in fisheries, as the bounties of the South Atlantic remained largely untapped. In 1946, Miles Clifford reported that he found the Islands “in poor shape, financially, and very much of a Cinderella colony. There was no form of political representation, no social security, and no communications.” He contributed to some minor improvements, but life on the islands continued to stagnate. British negligence seems to have been the norm as a report from 1949 surveying development and investment in the remaining colonies barely mentions the Falkland Islands. This document notes a scheme concerned with sealing, some survey work, and a proposal for a mutton freezing plant; that is the extent to which the 53-page booklet discusses the Islands. The inside back cover also offers a 10 minute supplementary film on “work being done by the British in Antarctica,” which seems to have been more important than any activity on the Islands themselves.
When Lord Shackleton visited the Falklands in the 1970s, he found the situation unchanged. Wool remained the major industry, mostly under control of the Falkland Islands Company. The mutton freezing plant in the 1940s had come to naught. Social problems pervaded the Islands as the gap widened between inhabitants of the “camp” and Port Stanley. Population dropped as both young and old fled the Falklands. Women of marriageable age were in very short supply as many had left the Islands after marrying Royal Marines.  The Atlantic Ocean continued to contain huge resources of fish and algae, but no effort had been made to develop an industry. 
From 1950-1974, the Falkland Islands paid taxes as a crown colony, but received no reinvestment for development.  Indeed, during this period, Britain benefited financially from neglecting the Falkland Islands and their mercantilist company. “The economy of the islands is dominated by the Falkland Islands Company, a miniature replica of the East India Company and the British South Africa Company of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, with some of the characteristics of its mighty ancestors.” In all practical ways, the Falkland Islands Company controlled the islands, the islanders, and their lives.  The final insult came in 1981, when the British Nationality Bill deprived many Falkland Islanders of British citizenship. Throughout the twentieth century, Great Britain exploited and neglected the Falkland Islands, but the islanders remained firm in their commitment to the Empire.
Argentina did not remain silent when British forces occupied the Falkland Islands in 1833. The young nation spent the next seventeen years tirelessly protesting British sovereignty, but the complaints of a fledgling South American country are almost as easy to ignore as a secret promise. Britain considered the matter settled in her favor, therefore there was no need to negotiate questions of sovereignty. Argentina let the matter drop later in the twentieth century as British investment built its economy and infrastructure. With Great Britain as Argentina’s largest creditor, it would have been uncouth to challenge the matter of the Falklands/Malvinas. A small rebellion surfaced in 1884, when an atlas included the Falkland Islands within Argentina’s territory. Naturally, the British protested this affront. However, this incident heralded a resurgence of Argentinian claims during the twentieth century. Grade school curriculums began to specifically cover the Falkland Islands, indoctrinating children at a young age.  By the mid-twentieth century, Argentina’s leaders had been “taught from the cradle that ‘las Malvinas son argentinas’.” They took up the cause again in the context of post-WWII decolonization. With support from the United Nations, Argentina forced the United Kingdom to open negotiations about the decolonization of the Falkland Islands in 1965.
UN Resolution 2065 mandated that the United Kingdom and Argentina work together to decide the fate of the Falkland Islands. Negotiations began well, as the UK had little interest in continuing the maintenance of a dwindling colony 8,000 miles away. In 1967, British overtures contained the very clear message that they felt prepared to cede sovereignty. A survey led by Lord Shackleton in the 1970s assessed the economic potential of the islands, concluding they needed much investment and development to catch up to the rest of the world. In this light, the UK and Argentina began a joint economic mission in the Falkland Islands; Argentina established a weekly air service, built a temporary airstrip, and allowed easy travel between the islands and the mainland. British officials hoped that this closer relationship would soften the Falkland Islanders’ attitude towards Argentinian sovereignty.
In decolonization efforts, the UN emphasized self-determination above all other factors and the Falkland Islanders were determined to remain British. Lord Shackleton observed that “the people there are entirely indistinguishable from any British person that you find walking about in England.” However, once the Falkland Islanders came to the forefront of any agreement in 1968, negotiations were doomed. The Islanders would never consent to Argentinian rule, no matter how advantageous such an arrangement might be for them. Though the Islanders now had final control over any decision, even in 1979 British negotiators “recognized that for Britain the Falklands were of secondary importance whereas for Argentina they were of prime importance.” The insistence of the Falkland Islanders on their “Britishness” prevented any negotiated result that would satisfy all parties. Thus, Great Britain gladly allowed herself to be drawn into a war 8,000 miles away by an unfeasible colony of fewer than 2,000 people. After the embarrassment of relinquishing control over colonies that struggled for independence, Great Britain was unlikely to let go of a colony which ardently desired to remain part of her Empire.
During the twentieth century, Great Britain’s prestige diminished greatly as her colonies went the way of independence. The United States and the Soviet Union filled the imperial void after World War II, dividing the world into two factions. Britain struggled with her reduced identity and increasing irrelevancy on the world stage. When negotiations with Argentina soured in the early 1980s, a Conservative government discovered an opportunity to continue their legacy of defending the Empire. The Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982 marked the beginning of Britain’s last imperial war of the twentieth century. All parties involved recognized the absurdity of the War, but careful mythologizing and propaganda transformed it into a national phenomenon.
Britain’s precarious position as the imperial core fighting to retain her periphery meant she had to tread lightly as no one could deny that the Falklands was a colonial war. First, after Argentinian aggression, it would be essential for Great Britain to gain support of the UN and the United States. Careful diplomacy at the UN legitimized any military action Britain took to defend against Argentinian aggression. Likewise, American support would prove instrumental in winning the war. Britain’s first semantic victory came when the United States failed to invoke the Monroe Doctrine in Argentina’s defense. The US had ignored the British occupation of the Islands in 1833 because British claims to the Falkland Islands predated 1823; therefore, they could not easily justify application of the Monroe Doctrine 150 years after the fact. This support for Great Britain struck a double blow to Argentina, whose Foreign Minister had counted on the “anticolonial ticket” winning support for his country.However, no one denied the colonial nature of the Falklands War. Britain even deployed Gurhkas, an essential weapon of Empire, to help retake the Islands.  On the way to the Falklands, Lieutenant David Tinker wrote that it was “very much a 1914 affair, with the Royal Navy going off to defend her colonies.” He lost his life in this colonial war, but he also noticed that his compatriots felt certain that they fought for a just cause. A war fought by sea and air justified the continuation and modernization of Britain’s Royal Navy, which faced serious budget cuts and still used outdated equipment. Just as in 1770, the prospect of naval warfare justified increased armament. “Great Britain went to war, sending a naval task force of one hundred ships eight thousand miles to the South Atlantis, to engage an enemy off the last outpost of a forgotten empire.” This imperial war allowed Great Britain to return some dignity to her increasingly overlooked stature as a world power.
The key to selling the imperial war resided with Margaret Thatcher’s mythmaking rhetoric and propaganda. Most importantly, she transformed “the British troops and, more significantly, the Falkland Islands and its inhabitants into symbols of the essential England.” Thus, she made Falklanders out of all British citizens, creating a personal connection between them and the distant conflict. More than that, the Falkland’s War became “a myth of national rebirth in which feats of arms would open up the way for a simultaneous retrieval of pre- Welfare State verities and radical change along monetarist economic lines.” If she could win the war, then the Conservative plan for Britain would win as well. Victory did secure Mrs. Thatcher a second term as Prime Minister as she continued to connect herself and her party with Great Britain’s strength in ages past.  However, as in previous conflicts over the Falkland Islands, a question of honor led to war. “Argentina’s invasion immediately transformed it into a challenge to the United Kingdom’s national credibility.” National pride governed the other side in the war, too, as Argentinians associated the Islas Malvinas closely with their identity as a nation. President Galtieri chose the year 1983 symbolically; he promised to return the Islas Malvinas to Argentina before the 150th anniversary of their occupation by Great Britain. He staked the junta’s power on this gamble and lost. Propaganda in both nations transformed the Falklands War into a matter of national pride, which would destroy the loser’s government and restore the winner’s former glory.
After the expenditure required to win the Falklands War, the United Kingdom could hardly justify continued possession of the Islands without finally making some improvements. Most importantly, the Falkland Islanders regained their British citizenship in January 1983. Lord Shackleton’s survey became the blueprint for development, but Great Britain would bear a huge financial burden to bring the Islands into the twentieth century.  Today, the islands are classified as a British Overseas Territory, administered by a royally appointed governor and a small elected legislative council. The population has grown significantly since the 1980s as the overall quality of life has improved. Thanks to British aid, the Falklands became self-sufficient in 1998, after the fishing industry finally developed. Other modernizations include the construction of wind turbines, a modern hospital, an airport with weekly international service, telephones, internet access, and a new constitution.  However, education on the Islands ends at 16, forcing anyone interested in higher education to travel to the United Kingdom, as most colonials would have done in the 19th century. In addition, schools in the Falklands use methods, tests, and curriculum set by Great Britain. The Falkland Islands Company continues operations under its royal charter, but it no longer completely dominates the economy. In spite of this the Falklands’ imports and exports continue to resemble those of a nineteenth century colony. Most finished goods and many raw materials must still be imported while the Islands export raw materials such as wool and fish. Today, the Falkland Islands have all the modern conveniences, but their economy, education, and governance would identify them as a nineteenth century crown colony.
Through a remarkable series of events, Great Britain has repeatedly wagered all her power and majesty on the fate of the Falkland Islands. These islands may seem insignificant, but they have come to represent the British Empire as a whole. Today, the islands bear a closer resemblance to a nineteenth century crown colony than a member of the British Commonwealth. Britain’s continued attachment to these islands indicates that she has not completely let go of her imperial past. Max Hastings called the Falklands War a “freak of history…almost certainly the last colonial war that Britain will ever fight,” but the British hold on the islands suggests that she may wage imperial war again.  Someday, Great Britain may have to attack Antarctica with sheep, but until that day, the importance of the Falkland Islands remains symbolic rather than strategic. By relinquishing the Falkland Islands and consequently the British Empire, Great Britain would have to reevaluate her relevance in the twenty-first century.
 Julius Goebel Jr., The Struggle for the Falkland Islands: A Study in Legal and Diplomatic History (New York: Kennikat Press, 1927), 4-14.
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 B. M. Chambers, “Can Hawkins’s ‘Maiden Land Be Identified as the Falkland Islands?”The Geographical Journal 17, no. 4 (1901): 421.
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 Chambers, 415.
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 Clayton, 100.
 Clifford, 406.
 Goebel 269.
 Clifford, 406. It should also be noted that Argentina voided any claim based on the Treaty of Tordesillas when they refused to accept Pope John Paul II’s ruling on their dispute with Chile over the Beagle Channel. (Hastings, 47)
 Goebel, 63.
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 Hoffman, 53.
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 Lord Shackleton, R.J Storey, and R. Johnson, “Prospect of the Falkland Islands,” The Geographical Journal 143, no. 1 (1977): 4.
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 The Sunday Times of London Insight Team, War in the Falklands (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), 12.
 D. George Boyce, The Falklands War (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 10.
 Pascoe, 22.
 J. M. Taylor, “Argentina and the ‘Islas Malvinas’: Symbolism and the Threat to Nationhood,” Royal Anthropological Institute News 52 (1982): 2.
 Hurlburt, 254.
 Pascoe, 32-34.
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 John Darwin, Britain and Decolonisation: The retreat from empire in the post-war world(Hampshire: Macmillan Education Ltd., 1988), 312.
 Hoffman, 103.
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 Darwin, 326.
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 E. Taylor Parks, “European Possessions in the Americas,” Journal of Inter-American Studies 4, no. 3 (1962): 398.
 The Sunday Times of London Insight Team, 199.
 Taylor, 3.
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 The Sunday Times of London Insight Team, ix.
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 Melamid, 211.
 “Country Profile: Falkland Islands (British Overseas Territory)” Foreign and Commonwealth Office, http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/country-profile/south-america/falkland-islands
 “Education,” The Falkland Islands Government, http://www.falklands.gov.fk//Education.html.
 “The Falkland Islands Company,” http://www.the-falkland-islands-co.com/index.php?section=0.
 “Commercial Sectors,” The Falkland Islands Government,http://www.falklands.gov.fk//Commercial_Sectors.html.
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 Eddie Izzard, Dress to Kill, directed by Larry Jordan (1998. Ella Communications, 2002), DVD.