The Falklands, forever in the hearts and demands of Argentines

Buenos Aires (AFP) – In the Constitution, school books, on frescoes, tattooed on the skin… The Falkland Islands, at the center of a conflict with Great Britain in 1982, haunt politics and the heart of Argentina, both totem and cement on which time has no hold.

« The recovery of said territories and the full exercise of sovereignty (…) constitute a permanent and inalienable objective of the Argentine people ». The Argentine Constitution of 1994 is unambiguous about what the question of the South Atlantic archipelago represents in the South American country: a state policy.

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« The Argentine Falklands! Cry the wind and roar the sea… » On April 2, as every year for the day of « Veterans and Fallen in the Falklands », schoolchildren will sing the « March of the Falklands », the official anthem of the claim of the islands, composed in 1941, and which already evokes « the lost southern pearl » since an English occupation in 1833.

Because in time as in space, these 12,000 km2 beaten by the winds 400 km from the nearest Argentine coast, are almost everywhere in the country.

At the bend of streets in Buenos Aires where many frescoes represent the islands, often painted with the azure and white of the national flag, with a defiant « Volveremos! » (We will come back).

On road signs, regardless of the province, where it is not uncommon, alongside the distance of nearby towns, to find the mention « Argentine Falklands = X km ».

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Hundreds of streets, football stadiums and even the national 50 peso banknote bear the name « Argentine Falklands ».

– Elephant seals –

« Argentina is a complex country with, politically, many fractures. There are few subjects that save the collective. But the Falklands is the rescue of the collective, it’s like the national football team » , sums up Edgardo Esteban, director of the Falklands Museum in Buenos Aires. “We all feel this belonging”.

A 2021 poll, on a large sample of 5,000 people, showed that more than 81% of Argentines believe that the country must continue to claim sovereignty over the islands, and 10% that it must stop.

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De facto, successive governments have never stopped doing this, although with different approaches. For a long time via the UN where, as early as 1965, a resolution recognized a sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom and urged the two countries to find a negotiated solution.

The 1982 military adventure launched by the dictatorship — in which 649 Argentines and 255 Britons were killed — swept away this multilateral diplomatic channel and sparked global misunderstanding of Argentine sentiment.

« What they did not understand in Europe is how the people were able to cheer the dictators » after the capture of the Falklands, recently lamented the Nobel Peace Prize (1980) Adolfo Perez Esquivel. « It was very hard to explain that the Falklands were a national claim and not support for the military dictatorship. »

On Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, the famous « Mothers » of the disappeared under the dictatorship, in their round of pain and defiance, carried signs at the time proclaiming « The Falklands are Argentine, the disappeared too ».

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After the war, Argentine politics was for a time « demalouinized », with in particular the resumption of relations with London in 1989. Then the discourse was more or less acute on sovereignty depending on the presidencies: more under the Kirchner Peronists than under the liberal Maurico Macri.

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At the Falklands Museum, created in 2014, we assume to feed the narrative on the islands for future generations « because we only speak well of what we know », explains its director Edgardo Esteban. « But since 1982, the discourse on the Falklands has remained prisoner of the aftermath of the war. But it is only a moment, in a long history of belonging », he says.

If the museum of course evokes the conflict, it speaks of a « geological unit », of a « continental maritime shelf », of the pioneering scientific presence of Argentina, with the first base in Antarctica as early as 1946. And even elephant seals who were traced back and forth between the Falklands and the mainland, their two « homes ».

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