Argentinian president Cristina Fernandez’s campaign to force Britain to hand over the Falkland Islands may have reached its high point with the 30th anniversary of her country’s failed occupation of the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
Ms Fernandez prepared to lead hundreds of patriotic rallies nationwide with another major speech urging Britain to concede sovereignty of the islands Latin Americans know as Las Malvinas.
Leftists, meanwhile, called for a march on the British embassy in Buenos Aires. Nobel Peace Prize winners accused Britain of militarising the islands, and union leaders were celebrating their boycott of British cargo and cruise ships.
In recent weeks, her cabinet ministers have urged companies to find alternatives to British imports and threatened to take British investors in the islands to court. Other Latin American countries have closed ranks around Argentina as well.
But none of these moves seem to be bringing Argentina any closer to recovering the islands, which it claims British forces stole from them in 1833 and ran as a colony for 150 years.
Britain says there is nothing to negotiate. The islands are now a self-governing British Overseas Territory and the people who have lived there for generations will determine their own fate. The islanders themselves overwhelmingly say they want to remain British.
With no real progress to be made, the rhetoric has only become more intense. Feelings on both sides have hardened.
Argentina has variously tried to charm, occupy, negotiate and threaten its way back into the islands in the last four decades. In the 1970s, it established a direct air link with Buenos Aires, supplied them with fuel, paid to educate island children and otherwise tried to build ties. Britain was lobbying the islanders to accept a Hong Kong-style handover before the junta decided to invade on April 2, 1982.
Led to believe they would be welcomed as liberators, Argentine troops instead discovered that islanders wanted to stay British – and that a flotilla was on its way from England to seize the islands back. The junta rushed in thousands of newly drafted troops without logistical support or even warm clothes. They fought bravely, British soldiers said, but hardly stood a chance.
Argentine forces surrendered on June 14, after battles that cost 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers’ lives, along with three islanders killed by friendly British fire.
There were other attempts to build ties in the 1990s – a series of agreements on shared fishing and oil rights, shipping and air links and other exchanges. But nearly all those deals were abandoned in 2003, after Ms Fernandez’ late husband, Nestor Kirchner, became president and began trying to isolate the islands instead.
Those efforts have intensified ever since.
“Thirty years and now we find it again, we are worried we are going to go through it all again, another invasion. We do not, we do not want to see this again,” islander Mary Lou Agman said.
Several hundred of the islands’ 3,000 residents turned out yesterday, waving British and Falkland Islands flags and watching the small Falkland Islands Defence Force march down their main street.
While nationalist passions on both sides have largely drowned them out, some people still yearn for common ground, such as a small group of Argentine war veterans who were spending today in the islands, holding a quiet ceremony at the cemetery where hundreds of Argentine soldiers remain buried.
“To return to this little piece of land, which for me is a little bit of my country and apart from that, being here is so pleasing, to be among the people that were once our enemies, that which we can now live together with – it’s just really proof that we human beings are not like animals,” said Juan Carlos Lujan, one of the veterans.
James Peck, a 43-year-old artist born in the islands, became the first person since the war to obtain dual Falklands-Argentine nationality. Now married to an Argentine and living in Buenos Aires, he has tried to keep a low profile, but said he wrote a brief essay ahead of the anniversary because he saw this war of words fuelling itself and becoming hysterical“.
“Preservation of islanders – which I once was, and still consider myself to be, if not from a distance – is not about raising the temperatures as such, between peoples in regions which need to be at peace. It is about dialogue, and believing in a dignified future,” he wrote.
“I didn’t really want to join in the noise,” Mr Peck explained, but he said someone has to speak out for common sense. “For me Argentina has real dignity these days, and I’m amazed that grown up politicians cannot sit down and talk civilly to each other. I think that’s really sad. Not everybody’s getting stoked up by all this, I’m sure they’re not.”