2012 is a year marked by a number of notable milestones. The Olympic Games come to London, the US holds a presidential election, and some forecast doomsday by divining ancient Mayan prophecies. 2012 also marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, which claimed the lives of around 900 Argentines and Britons in the waters of the South Atlantic, with almost 2000 more wounded.
Though diplomatic relations were restored by the end of the 1980s, the tension between the two nations never fully dissipated. With just a short stroll around Buenos Aires one can see any number of placards or graffiti tags proclaiming that “Malvinas es de Argentina”, while some British tourists have found themselves immediately less popular with a small cross-section of the local residents upon revealing their nationality. Tony Blair became the first British Prime Minister to visit Argentina in 2001, when he spoke of peace and solidarity between the two countries, suggesting that progress was being made. Yet in 2007, Margaret Thatcher’s daughter Carol was greeted at Buenos Aires airport by protestors, some telling her to go home, others calling for her mother to be tried in an international court for her approval of the decision to sink the Belgrano during the conflict.
The situation has been exacerbated over the past two years following supposed exploration for oil around the Islands in 2010, which resulted in Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner pushing the issue of sovereignty back towards the top of her government’s agenda, even managing to convince many Latin American countries to ban any ship flying the Falkland Islands flags from entering their ports. The nationalistic jingoism perhaps reached its zenith this year with an advert portraying an Argentine athlete preparing for the Olympics by training on the Islands, referring to them as “Argentine soil”. Though claiming to be “In homage to the fallen soldiers and war veterans”, the commercial earned Kirchner criticism from both outside and within Argentina, as well as an admonition from the International Olympic Committee, and yet no display of contrition has been forthcoming from Buenos Aires.
What does this mean, then, for relations both business and personal between the peoples of these two nations? Along with the recent YPF controversy, Kirchner’s actions bear all the hallmarks of that classic political manoeuvre of attempting to distract the people from a failing presidency by leading a demagogic campaign of nationalism, the same tactic that led to the Argentine intervention of the Islands thirty years ago.
The people of Britain and Argentina, then, should focus not on arguments of sovereignty, but on the human cost of that conflict. This was manifested not only in the official toll of dead and wounded, but in the 700 men who were left so emotionally crippled by the conflict that they took their own lives in its aftermath. Numerous veterans now live on the streets of Buenos Aires, many of whom have had limbs amputated, still awaiting compensation from their government for wounds suffered in the line of duty. That is not even to mention sparing a thought for the three thousand inhabitants of the Islands, who are so frequently overlooked in this discussion.
If we can learn from the past, we should remember there is more than sovereignty, power and resources at stake. The governments should not overlook the people who are affected by conflict, nor should they drive a wedge between our countries.
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