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Last Updated: Monday, 2 April 2007, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
'The Falklands are Argentine'
By Daniel Schweimler
Buenos Aires

Memorial to Argentine soldiers in Buenos Aires
The Malvinas is viewed as part of Argentina's identity
Twenty five years on from the invasion of the Falklands how do Argentines view the anniversary and do they still believe they have a claim over the islands in the South Atlantic Ocean they know as Las Malvinas?

'Las Malvinas son Argentinas - the Falklands are Argentine.'

And for most Argentines they are and always have been.

They have been claiming the islands since the British first settled there in 1833.

Any map produced in Argentina indisputably includes the Falklands as national territory, the first thing any visitor sees when entering the country is a map of the islands and almost all Argentines, from an early age, know the words to the Malvinas March.

So when the military government led by General Leopoldo Galtieri, sent troops to take the Falklands by force on 2 April 1982, tens of thousands of Argentines were on the streets to celebrate.

We didn't live the pain and suffering of that time but we're living with the people who did
Student Florencia

It is difficult to find anyone now who will admit to being one of those flag-waving patriots - most now see the invasion as the last desperate act of a disgraced military government that had already murdered 30,000 of its own people.

The shambolic organisation of the battle with Britain and the humiliating surrender two months after the invasion helped bring that government down and pave the way for a return to democracy.

There is still anger they sent ill-trained, poorly equipped teenage conscripts into a war against a professional army, misleading the Argentine people throughout the conflict that they were winning the war.

However, most Argentines do believe Las Malvinas son Argentinas.

'Dark period'

A large part of today's population were born after the conflict but everyone still has a view.

At the Lenguas Vivas School in central Buenos Aires, 17-year-old Juan Augusto says: "The war was unnecessary since the United Nations always supports Great Britain. It was Argentina against the world."

Florencia, 17, adds: "We didn't live the pain and suffering of that time but we're living with the people who did."

Falklands veteran, Jose Luis Ferreira
Jose Luis Ferreira survived the Belgrano sinking
Dario said: "I'd like to meet the people who were attacked, to ask them how they feel today."

Their classmate, Ayelen, is one of the few who disputes Argentina's claim to the islands.

"They are so British we should not get them back," she said. "We lost them in 1833. The Malvinas represents a bad history here."

The conflict with Britain came at the end of seven years of brutal military rule. It was a dark period in Argentine history which many afterwards found difficult to talk about.

The returning soldiers were a painful reminder of a futile and costly military adventure.

More than 600 died in the conflict. But a further 400 or so veterans have committed suicide in the past 25 years as they tried and failed to find a place in a society that wanted to forget them.

HAVE YOUR SAY
As an Argentine who was sent a draft notice I remember the conflict well
JPW, Toronto

It was a common sight in Argentina after the war to be approached on buses and trains by haggard young men in faded uniforms asking for loose change.

Dr Enrique De Rosa, a psychiatrist who treated Falklands veterans, said: "There have been victims, we have to accept that.

"These people have needs, social needs, they have no jobs, they don't have anywhere to live, they don't have any kind of social network to protect them and they don't have medical and psychological treatment.

One of those veterans Jose Luis Ferreira, was 19 when he served on the cruiser, the Belgrano, sunk on 2 May 1982 by a British submarine, with the loss of 323 lives.

He spent 24 hours in a leaking life-boat lashed by 10-metre high waves in a storm before being picked up.

He works with veterans in the Buenos Aires suburb of Adrogue, helping them find a place in a society that is finally beginning to remember and take responsibility for the years of military rule and the war with Britain.

"We asked the local government to create a department that deals with employment and health for the Malvinas veterans," he said.

"Those have been the two main issues, especially because it is not a clinical matter but a psychiatric one."

The Argentine government has set up a special committee to look at the issue and is asking the British government to negotiate.

Britain will not do that until the islanders say that is what they would like.

Symbolic significance

Regular talks do take place on fishing rights, 20 or so Argentine scientists live and work alongside British colleagues on the islands and Argentine citizens can visit without a visa.

President Nestor Kirchner
President Kirchner will emphasise his country's peaceful claims

Sporadic reports in the British media about increased Argentine aggression over the issue are met with incredulity in Buenos Aires.

But it is still a sensitive issue. This is election year in Argentina and President Nestor Kirchner will strongly emphasise his country's peaceful claims to the Malvinas.

No-one here will contradict him. Malvinas veteran Edgardo Esteban wrote about his experiences in a book 'Illuminated by Fire' which has been made into a film, shown in Argentina and Britain.

"When you talk about Argentina you talk about Eva Peron, Gardel, Maradona and tango.

"For us the Malvinas is part of that identity, it is a symbol, we learn about it at school from a very young age.

"There is no town, no matter how small, that hasn't got a monument, a street, a square or a school called Islas Malvinas, or Malvinas Argentinas."

The Malvinas issue has not gone away. It is being discussed in the media, President Kirchner's government is paying some attention to the veterans and the Argentine authorities continue to press their case in diplomatic circles.

But most here recognise it is not a simple case of examining yellowing 19th century documents to ascertain who has the most valid claim.

They realise exploration and fishing rights, national pride, international politics and the wishes of the Falkland islanders all play a part.

Argentina has been waiting since 1833 to fly their flag over the Malvinas Islands and few expect that wait to end any time soon.




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