Falklands War anniversary brings renewed tensions
Today's 30th anniversary of the Falklands War is being marked both in Argentina and the U.K. as tensions again rise over who owns the islands.
The two-month war, which was more about pride than anything else, claimed the lives of 255 British troops, 649 Argentineans and three islanders killed by friendly fire.
The Falkland Islands themselves are a remote, rocky outpost with little strategic value, located 1,900 kilometres due south of Buenos Aires and 550 kilometres offshore. The population stands now at about 3,000, most engaged in sheep farming, fishing and tourism.
In the end, Argentina surrendered, but in the years since, the South American country has never given up hope that it would, one day, regain control of the Falklands, known to Argentina as Las Malvinas.
Britain has been steadfast, saying the islanders themselves want to remain British.
Simon Weston, a veteran of the war who was injured when his ship was bombed by Argentine forces, talks now about maintaining the islanders' right to maintain their independence.
"It's down to the islanders," he says. "They have a legitimate government that was elected. It's been there for 200 years. … The Argentineans have no right to interfere with that. "
Until the islanders vote to join with Argentina, the U.K. will continue to defend them, he said.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Monday that Britain "remains staunchly committed to upholding the right of the Falkland Islanders, and of the Falkland Islanders alone, to determine their own future."
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez's campaign to force Britain to hand over the islands may have reached its high point with the anniversary.
Hundreds of patriotic rallies
Fernandez prepared to lead hundreds of patriotic rallies nationwide Monday with another major speech urging Britain to concede sovereignty of the islands Leftists called for a march on the British Embassy in Buenos Aires.
Nobel Peace Prize winners accused Britain of militarizing 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.
Through email and social networks, Argentines accuse islanders of being "pirates" or deride them as "kelpers." One urged an editor of the local newspaper, the Penguin News, to "move to England, or if you want to be a Martian, hop on a rocket and head toward Mars."
Editor Lisa Watson fired back through public Twitter messages, attempting to find the right tone, but it didn't help when Argentines noticed that an online news photo of Fernandez had been saved under a crude insult.
"It never occurred to us that the filename would be so transparent. It was hugely embarrassing, particularly now as we were seemingly winning the image war," said Watson's colleague, John Fowler. "Before that, Lisa had been pretty continuously receiving hundreds and hundreds of nasty sexually insulting messages a day."
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 gasoline, 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.
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 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 Sunday, 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 Monday 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 told The Associated Press that he wrote a brief essay ahead of the anniversary because he saw this war of words "fueling 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," 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."
With files from The Associated Press