Veterans’ Day

03Apr12

“Is tomorrow a holiday in the United States too?” An eleven-year-old friend, the grandson of one of the pastors in the Resistencia area, wanted to know if folks in the US get April 2nd off from school and work like they do here in Argentina. No, I told him, April 2nd is a uniquely Argentine holiday.

Oh, so that's where the Falkland Islands are:
lower left-hand corner, circled in red

Yesterday’s “Day of the Veteran and of the Fallen in the War of the Malvinas” commemorates the Argentine invasion of the Malvinas (aka, the Falkland Islands) on April 2, 1982. In case your geography is a little rusty, the Malvinas/Falklands are a cluster of islands in the south Atlantic, approximately 288 miles east of Argentina. The history of who discovered the islands and when is controversial, and, as a result, both Argentina and the United Kingdom claim sovereignty over this isolated fishing and sheep ranching outpost.

In April 1982, the Argentine military invaded the British-held Falklands in an effort to build popular support for Argentina’s ruling military dictatorship. The military had taken control of the country in a 1976 coup and then presided over six traumatic years of state-sponsored violence, a period now known as the Dirty War. By 1982, with public clamor for democracy reaching a crescendo, military leaders attempted to stave off popular discontent and stoke nationalist fervor by attacking the Falklands.

The British quickly defeated the Argentine troops, who surrendered on June 14, 1982. Somewhat ironically, Argentina’s loss to the United Kingdom’s imperialist might enabled Argentines to free themselves from military rule. The disgraced military leaders stepped down, and democracy reawoke in 1983.

Now, thirty years later, Argentina is experiencing a reawakening of another sort: the Malvinas/Falklands have once again taken over the national stage. Some sources, notably the major national newspaper La Nación, say that President Christina Fernández de Kirchner is using the Malvinas issue to distract from growing social and economic problems at home. Others say that the Malvinas could become a potentially lucrative source of petroleum, and that Argentina would do well to secure the islands for future oil exploration.

Malvinas banners

Banners at the veterans' protest camp in Buenos Aires

Political and energy strategy aside, popular support for Argentine control of the Malvinas runs deep: two thirds of the population reportedly thinks that the Malvinas should be Argentine territory. And this broadly held opinion seems to be based not on any practical concern for Argentina’s energy strategy, but on good old-fashioned nationalism. Yesterday, for example, one columnist wrote that the Malvinas issue “is intimately linked with the construction of our identity as a nation.” The British presence in the Malvinas/Falklands is seen as a symbol of a history of foreign interference that includes Spanish colonial rule, US support of brutal dictatorships during the Cold War, and the International Monetary Fund-mandated structural adjustment programs that provoked Argentina’s 2001 economic crisis. Given this troubled history, it’s no wonder that the land where the revolutionary Che Guevara was born might chafe under the perceived colonialist intervention of its European adversary.

Buenos Aires’ Plaza de Mayo has been the site of an ongoing protest by Malvinas War veterans since 2009. The vets proclaim that “the Malvinas were, are, and will be Argentine!” and “Spilled blood will never be negotiated!” Widespread though these sentiments might be, it’s unlikely the Malvinas will change hands anytime soon. The United Kingdom shows no signs of relinquishing control of the islands, and Argentina no longer has the military capacity to take them by force. However, it seems equally unlikely that the issue will fade away. As term-limited President Kirchner attempts to establish a clear successor and secure her historical legacy, the Malvinas are sure to remain in the Argentine press for a while to come.

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2 Responses to “Veterans’ Day”

  1. What a lot of good history that I had no idea about. Thanks!


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