Forty years after the Falklands War, the wounds are still deep
In the spring of 1982, the Malvinas, or ‘Falklands’ as the UK calls them, found themselves at the center of a ten-week armed conflict with Argentina. Four decades later, the defeat of Buenos Aires by the British remains an open wound for the South American nation. For more than eight out of 10 Argentines, their government must continue to claim sovereignty over these islands in the South Atlantic. Reporting by Éléonore Vanel, Nicolas Flon and Flavian Charuel. 400 kilometers from the Argentine coast, in the Atlantic Ocean, the Falkland Islands experienced several waves of colonization before finally being considered a “British Overseas Territory” in 1833. But nearby Argentina had claimed the islands since its independence in 1816. In In the spring of 1982, Leopoldo Galtieri, leader of the junta in power in Argentina at the time, decided to “recover” his territory and ordered his troops to invade the Malvinas Islands. To retake these islands, which the United Kingdom calls ‘Falklands’ , British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to immediately send her army more than 12,000 kilometers from London. The conflict lasted ten weeks and killed 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 British soldiers and three islanders. It ended on June 14, 1982 with the surrender of Argentine troops. Since then, diplomatic relations between Buenos Aires and London were reestablished in 1990. But the position of the two countries on the Malvinas has not changed. A Malvinas museum in Buenos Aires Despite this military defeat in 1982, time does not seem to have any effect on the attachment of Argentines to the Malvinas Islands. The Argentine Constitution of 1994 itself is unequivocal: “The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty (…) constitute a permanent and inalienable objective of the Argentine people.” Thus we find the Malvinas all over the country: on murals, traffic signs or even on the 50-peso bill. Even the Malvinas Museum in Buenos Aires is dedicated to this claim. It is visited every day by more than 1,000 students, who learn there the reasons why these islands are truly Argentine. “The most important thing is that all students know the arguments to defend our sovereignty. When the English usurped the islands on January 3, 1833, they forcibly expelled the population and the Argentine authorities who were there. But we were before them.” explains the guide Silvina Gutérrez. Thirty years in exile to heal from the war Martín Otaño was 18 years old when he was sent to fight in the Falklands. Like him, seven out of ten combatants were young recruits under the age of 20. Upon his return he suffers from post-traumatic stress and falls into drugs. “The return was traumatic, because they brought us hidden, at night. Since we had lost the war, it was like a shame. It was almost more painful than anything he had experienced during the two and a half months of war. So I locked up everything that happened and never talked about it with anyone again. I imagine that psychological assistance would have helped me, but I never did. I had it and never ordered it because I didn’t want to talk about it. I was afraid that it would reopen wounds that I thought had closed. When they weren’t closed at all.” Martin left the country and went into exile in Spain for almost 30 years to heal. It was when his childhood friend Javier de Aubeyzon contacted him again that Martin decided to return to Buenos Aires. Javier found a letter that the young soldier had sent him from the battlefield. Javier, who is now a painter, wants to transfer it to a large painting: “What surprises in this letter is the way in which Martín writes. He was only 18 years old at the time and you can feel the extreme situation in which he finds himself”. He writes: ‘I am writing to you lost in the confines of the world, in the midst of the cold and the most absolute solitude’. The cadence of this phrase!”. Javier was not drawn into the army in 1982 and therefore did not have to fight in the archipelago. But like all Argentines, he is not unaware of the central place of these islands in Argentina. “The Falklands cause is deeply rooted in this country, without a doubt,” he said. “In addition, despite the very important political gap, the two political parts of the country agree on a single issue: sovereignty over the Malvinas Islands. Over time, it has become almost sacred.” A local population attached to the United Kingdom Graciela Cabrera lost her pilot husband, Luciano Guadagnini, during the war. She died during the attack on the English frigate Antelope on May 23, 1982. She attended, 40 years later, a tribute ceremony in the province of Córdoba. “I am proud that there are still people who mobilize these memories and keep them alive, that we remember the heroes who died and also those who returned, we must keep this fire alive, that of the claim of our sovereignty, be it historical, geographical, political And social. These islands are ours, they are part of our lands. One day, perhaps diplomatically, the Argentine flag will be able to wave again over the Malvinas,” says Graciela. According to a 2021 survey, more than eight out of ten Argentines want their government to continue claiming sovereignty over the islands. But on the archipelago in question, British sentiment is very strong. In 2013, a referendum was organized there to ask the inhabitants if they wanted to remain linked to the United Kingdom: 99.8% of the participants voted ‘yes’. Leona Roberts is one of them. Her family arrived in the archipelago in 1841, they represent the sixth generation. “What is difficult for us is that Argentina completely refuses to take us into account,” she explains. “They accuse us of being settlers, which is absurd. When my ancestors arrived here there was practically nothing. We built this country. I find it offensive and very annoying. The international community seems not to listen to our voice. We are so few, 3,000 inhabitants, compared to 40 million Argentines”, explains Roberts. Eric Goss was responsible for the Goose Green colony in the archipelago. During the war, more than a hundred inhabitants had been hostages of the Argentines in the central building of the town. These traumatic memories have tormented him in these forty years: “I have never forgiven and I never will. I have been to the United Nations twice, I met Argentines there and I told them that I would never shake hands with an Argentine as long as they have not resigned.” to claim our islands”.