Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Holding firm over the Falklands

Argentine cemetery near Darwin, East Falkland
Argentina and Britain went to war over the Falklands in 1982

By Andrew Harding
BBC News, Buenos Aires

When it comes to the Falkland Islands, there are two things that almost everyone seems to agree on in the alleys and boulevards of this sunny, eccentric cocktail of a city (one part Manila, two parts Paris).

The first home truth - shared by the languid sunbathers adorning the public parks, and the tattooed shopkeepers in the dusty slums - is that the Falklands - or Las Malvinas as they're known here - belong to Argentina and should at some point be incorporated into her sovereign territory.

For some, that belief has a casual, wistful, almost dream-like quality. For others it is a raw and immediate article of faith.

But either way, 28 years after Argentine troops invaded the islands and were defeated by a British naval task force, this country and its government hold steadfast to the conviction that the islands belong to them.

'Too bad to mention'

The latest diplomatic feud with Britain over oil exploration around Las Malvinas has merely brought those feelings closer to the surface.

Our politicians are working to have this issue in the newspapers as a distraction so our people don't think about other more important things


"This is what they teach us in school," said Noelia, a shy girl of 14 selling vegetables near the old port. "I believe it."

"I feel angry more than frustrated," said Luis Fernandez, 47, a Falklands war veteran camped out in the park outside the presidential palace with a group of former soldiers demanding government assistance.

"I lost two friends in the war. Everyone knows it is our land and the United Kingdom is simply a colonial power. What they are doing there is too bad to even mention.

"They are our islands. It's not fair that a British company comes to our territory to get the oil," said a young man roller-blading along the embankment in the city centre.

Need for dialogue

The second shared conviction here is that Argentina cannot and must not try to resolve the issue by military means.

Vessel Thor Leader in harbour in Campana
A shipment of pipes for the Falklands was blocked by Argentina this month

For some this is simply a realistic assessment of the odds of victory, but for many people it is part of a more general acknowledgement of Argentina's transformation from a military dictatorship to a globally-integrated democracy.

"Let me stress that we are only pursuing this through diplomatic channels and protests," said Ruperto Godoy, a Congressman and now the government's nominated spokesman on the Falklands question.

"There is no possibility of having any kind of confrontation with the United Kingdom. We want to sit down and have a dialogue."

A mile away, in the narrow alleys that make up the Villa Treinta Uno slum, a pot-bellied man named Alcides, sporting a giant Virgin Mary tattoo on his back, put it more simply.

"We have no money and no soldiers. You can't beat the United Kingdom with bows and arrows."

"It would be a military disaster," agreed Eduardo Diez, from the Centre for Argentine-American dialogue. "Would we send people without arms, without weapons?"

Confusing signals

As for why the fate of the islands is suddenly back in the headlines - Argentines are more divided.

Some people share the official government view here, that Britain has triggered the new diplomatic stand-off by acting unilaterally and provocatively to pursue plans to exploit new oil fields under the sea bed around Las Malvinas.

"This move looks like the United Kingdom is moving the course unilaterally, and unilateralism is unpredictable," said Fernando Petrella, a former Argentine ambassador.

"And unpredictability is very confusing for peaceful and fruitful diplomatic relations between friendly countries."

But some people here take a more distrustful view.

"We have a lot of problems here, with politics and the economy and things that have nothing to do with the Falklands," argued a young man who said his name was Pablo.

"Our politicians are working to have this issue in the newspapers as a distraction, so our people don't think about other more important things."

That view seems quite widely held. Argentina has suffered years of economic and financial hardship and the fate of Las Malvinas is clearly not seen as high priority for many here now.

"We are in a terrible condition," said a woman called Lola.

"We are a Third World Country, so we deserve (oil revenue from the Falklands) but to be honest I really hate this country and if I could I would live somewhere else."

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