USHUAIA, Argentina — President Cristina Fernandez’s campaign to force Britain to hand over the Falkland Islands may have reached its high point with Monday’s 30th anniversary of Argentina’s failed occupation of the remote South Atlantic archipelago.
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,” insisting on a peaceful resolution even as leftist groups prepared to confront riot police outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires.
The campaign has been multifaceted, with Nobel Peace Prize winners and Argentina’s Latin American allies accusing Britain of militarizing the dispute even as Fernandez pursues what islanders consider to be economic warfare against them.
A union threat to boycott of British cargo and refuse British-flagged cruises has complicated shipping, while Argentina’s refusal to allow more than one weekly flight through its air space has limited airborne commerce. The Fernandez government has urged companies to find alternatives to British imports, threatened to sue British investors and banks, and tried to block offshore oil development.
The moves have made life more difficult for the islanders, but none seem to be bringing Argentina any closer to recovering the territory 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.
Through email and social networks, Argentines accuse islanders of being “pirates” or deride them as “kelpers.” One urged a “Penguin News” editor to “move to England, or if you want to be a Martian, hop on a rocket and head toward Mars.” Another reached out to a bed-and-breakfast owner for a reservation, then wrote: “YOU GUYS STOLE THE ISLANDS FROM ARGENTINA … you are arrogant people, greedy, criminals … just wait. And you think you deserve to decide over the Malvinas??? You stoled from our backyard??? fff … all you!!!”
Editor Lisa Watson at the islands’ weekly Penguin News has 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 President 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,” Watson’s colleague John Fowler said. “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 hand-over 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 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 as several hundred of the islands’ 3,000 residents turned out Sunday for a commemorative march by the small Falkland Islands Defence Force.
Among those who yearn for common ground are 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 islander and artist who now has dual Falklands-Argentine nationality after marrying an Argentine and moving to Buenos Aires, said he has tried to keep a low profile, but told The Associated Press that he wrote a brief essay urging dialogue ahead of the anniversary because he saw this war of words “fueling itself and becoming hysterical.”
“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.”