Argentina reaffirms its sovereignty claim 40 years after the Malvinas Islands war | International


Ushuaia is “the capital of the Falkland Islands”. It is repeated by war veterans, high-ranking officials and the military. According to the political system of Argentina, the city that is the head of the province of Tierra del Fuego, in the extreme south of the country, is also the head of “Antarctica and the South Atlantic Islands”. That is why the fervor for the Malvinas cause is part of the identity of Ushuaia, a small city that developed in front of the Beagle Channel around a Navy base. Today it is a powerful tourist center, with a bay of icy waters that overlooks the Andes mountain range and from whose port the cruise ships that visit Antarctica depart. But as of April 2, 1982, supplies left Ushuaia to feed the soldiers who were fighting in Malvinas and hundreds of wounded arrived. Ushuaia was the first port touched by the shipwrecked General Belgrano cruise ship, sunk by British missiles a month after operations began.

Facing the sea, in the heart of the city, there is a flame that does not go out. It is flanked by the marble names of the 649 Argentines who died in the Malvinas. A few meters away there is a large mast with a name: Puerto Argentino. There is also a map of the islands carved in granite and, this Saturday, a tent. Students have been visiting the tent for weeks, where they can touch machine guns and grenades, get on a camouflaged quad and even try on the shields and helmets that the riot police use to disperse demonstrations.

The Malvinas spirit in Ushuaia is more military than civil. Senior military chiefs, governors and mayors spoke at the ceremony in honor of veterans. Poems were also read and the national anthem was sung before a largely uniformed audience. The president of the local veterans association, Conrado Zamora, sent a “happy birthday” to the president, Alberto Fernández, and reminded him that he had promised to be in Ushuaia for the 40th anniversary. He “he promised to come and he didn’t come. Next April 2, he has to be here,” Zamora said.

Malvinas veterans speak during the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the war in Ushuaia, this Saturday, April 2, 2022.ALEXIS DELELISI (AFP)

The Casa Rosada sent the Minister of Health, Carla Vizotti, to the extreme south. The president preferred to stay more than 3,000 kilometers to the north, in Buenos Aires, and commemorate the date from the Malvinas Museum, located in the ESMA, the torture center set up by the Navy during the dictatorship, now converted into a center of memory. Fernández promised not to forget about the veterans, but he focused his speech on the vindication of sovereignty over the Malvinas.

“The Argentine men and women share the same conviction: the Malvinas are part of our national territory. They were always Argentinean and we will never give in to our demands”, he said. He later remembered the place where he was, and charged against the dictatorship. He endorsed the speech that blames the war on a group of desperate soldiers before the imminence of their fall. “Disembarking on the islands was a decision behind the back of a people that they tried to confuse and manipulate. Laws and life were despised. We must say that those soldiers who embarrassed our Armed Forces today definitely constitute a past that no one wants to return to, especially their comrades in arms,” he said.

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The debate on the reading of the war has not yet been closed in Argentina. The thousands of conscripts who fought on the island were for many the last victims of state terrorism. They were then between 18 and 19 years old and wore a uniform because they were doing compulsory military service. Barely prepared for war, they were thrown onto the islands without proper equipment and poorly fed. Many of them have been promoting cases for human rights violations against their superiors for years. Stories of young people staked out for hours, under snow and enemy bullets, as punishment for having stolen a sheep to eat are common.

Four decades later, these soldiers clarify that they were not only victims of a military government. They also want their effort and what they considered a fight against imperialism to be recognized. At the other extreme of the debate is the total absence of self-criticism towards the dictatorship, represented above all in the veterans’ centers made up of those who in 1982 were career soldiers. During the vigil held on Friday night in Río Grande, 200 kilometers north of Ushuaia, the conscript veterans called for an “official history” of the war, which once and for all puts black on white in the collective memory.

That story will coexist with the diplomatic dispute between the governments of Argentina and the United Kingdom. Alberto Fernández warned this Saturday that the claim for sovereignty is “unyielding”, while his foreign minister, Santiago Cafiero, told the United Kingdom that his country’s objective is that it “agree to resume bilateral negotiations on the sovereignty” of the islands. .

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