Where Thatcher’s memory is tied to war

Wounds of 1982 Falklands war, ordered by late UK PM and which cost many Argentinian lives, still linger.

“The Iron lady that defeated Argentina is dead.”

That was the headline in a major newspaper in Buenos Aires – an example of how  the memory of Margaret Thatcher here is tied to the war.

The Malvinas/Falklands conflict was a traumatic period for this country.

Not only because Argentina lost a war but also because it happened during the so-called Dirty War, where the military dictatorship tortured and killed thousands of political opponents.

Many Argentine soldiers who fought in that war were 18-year-old conscripts who had no shoes or food in battle.

Thirty-one years after the war details about the conditions of the soldiers continue to come out.

Some were even tortured by the officers in charge. The war was an embarrassment for Argentina and the defeat led to the end of the dictatorship.

“Margaret Thatcher did nothing for world peace,” Ernesto Alonso, a former combatant, said.

“She was at the same level as the dictatorship. They both led us to a war that left hundreds of people dead.”

Sinking of warship

What was also traumatic for Argentina was the sinking of the General Belgrano cruise ship that killed 323 sailors.

The Belgrano was hit outside the total exclusion zone imposed by the British.

People in Argentina remember the interview that Margaret Thatcher gave Sir David Frost three years after the war where she said that the Belgrano was sunk to save British lives and that she would do it all over again.

In 2005 the Argentine Congress referred to the sinking of the Belgrano as a war crime and voted to ask the government to do everything necessary to put Thatcher on trial. But Mario Carranza, who is a survivor of the Belgrano says, that the ship was a casualty of the war.

“The Belgrano was supposed to participate in a military action that did not happen because of bad weather. But we played a crucial role in the war. That’s why we started retracting but the day before we were supposed to be backing up the military and that’s why we got hit,” he told us.

Argentina continues to claim the Malvinas, as the Falklands are called in Argentina, in spite of a recent referendum where the residents on the Island voted to remain British.

People here say that they historically belong to them.

In recent years Argentina has escalated the rhetoric over the islands and the British have responded by sending a navy destroyer to protect them.

Battle of words

There are no chances of war but the battle of words continues.

In fact some here accuse the government of using it to cover other local problems like inflation and a slowing economy. But the Malvinas are a national cause, probably the only one, that unites most Argentineans.

“The Malvinas belong to Argentina,” Diego Guelar, a former ambassador, told me.

“The military used the Argentine claim over the Islands as a way to perpuetuate themselves in power. And it didn’t work.

“And we put those people on trial for human-rights abuses and that launched that war.

“We learnt that the only way is negotiation and that’s what we ve been doing.”

Margaret Thatcher may be dead but the conflict over the Islands if far from being buried as Argentina has pledged to continue denouncing what they call is the British occupation in every international forum.