Port Stanley, capital of the Falklands, a windswept archipelago on the edge of the South Atlantic, some 400 km off the coast of Argentina. This is where 40 years ago the generals of Buenos Aires landed, marking the start of a short but bloody war with the British. How to understand this confrontation? What remains today? Interview with Sébastien Velut, professor of geography at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Latin America.

On April 1, 1982, Rex Hunt, British Governor of the Falklands, warned the thousand inhabitants of these South Atlantic islands of an imminent Argentine landing. The operation will be confirmed the following day at dawn, April 2: Argentine troops occupy the Falkland Islands, then under British domination since 1833. The showdown turns into a confrontation, which will conclude 74 days later with a landslide victory for the United Kingdom. Result: 649 victims in the Argentine camp, 254 on the British side.

RFI: Let’s first recall the context. What suddenly prompted the dictatorship of Argentinian General Leopoldo Galtieri to want to “  kick  ” the English out of the archipelago?

Sébastien Velut:  There are several reasons. The first is obvious: in 1982, the military dictatorship in Argentina faced a whole series of internal problems, including a serious economic crisis. She is looking for a loophole to reunite the national identity around a cause shared by all Argentines. Because if there is one point on which there is a consensus in the country, it is that the Falklands are legitimately an Argentine territory.

But the political calculation on the part of the generals proved inaccurate. They thought that England would not react to the Argentinian operation. However, on the same day, April 1, when it is announced that the Argentine navy is sailing towards the Falkland Islands, the British navy had, it seems, dispatched a nuclear submarine to the scene. Great Britain therefore reacted without delay. She then sent a massive fleet to the Falkland Islands to recapture that territory.

Another error of the Argentine generals: believing that there would be support from other countries on the American continent for this movement on the Falklands…

SV: Indeed, Argentina had ensured that the territory of the Falklands was included on the United Nations list of non-autonomous territories, “to be decolonised”, as we sometimes say. She thought she had the support of other Latin American countries. But that was not the case. Chile, in particular, did not support Argentina. It even served as a rear base for part of the British fleet.

Result: on June 14, 1982, the British again occupied the Falklands. Margaret Thatcher, who is in power, comes out all powerful on the British side. On the contrary, in Buenos Aires, the dictatorship will collapse. The opposite of the expected effect occurs. Forty years later, what remains for Argentina of this war? The Falklands Constitution of 1994 is unambiguously…

SV: Yes, in official Argentinian documents, it is always said and repeated that the Falklands are Argentinian. This is a truth considered absolutely indisputable not only in the Constitution, but also in the official cartography, published by the Institute of Geography of Argentina. The Falklands are still listed as an Argentine territory.

Moreover, since the end of the 1980s, all Argentine presidents, to varying degrees, have maintained this territorial claim on the Falklands…

SV: Yes, because the wound of the war persists. There was bloodshed. During these two months of war, an Argentine ship, the Belgrano , was sunk by the British navy: more than 300 people perished. A British ship, the Sheffield , was also fatally hit by the Argentinians. The weight of these dead therefore haunts the memory of the Falklands War. This also reinforces this nationalist feeling.

Today, the Falklands are still at the heart of this territorial battle. What is the economic interest of the archipelago?

SV: Several dimensions justify the British interest and the Argentinian interest for these islands. The first concerns resources: oil and gas off the Falklands, whose existence has been proven by several explorations. There are therefore potentially hydrocarbons to be exploited. With today’s rising energy prices, these resources may one day be.

Second interest of the archipelago: fishing. Around these islands extends an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of around 500,000 square kilometres, the size of metropolitan France! This is a fishing area of ​​considerable global importance. The third reason to be interested in the Falklands is geostrategic. Since the war, the British have reinforced their military position in the archipelago, by creating a base for their navy there, at Mount Pleasant.

Hence the regular tensions between London and Buenos Aires…

SV: Yes, for example during hydrocarbon exploitation projects. President Kirchner had blocked the boats that were to take equipment to the Falklands. Tension can therefore resurface at any time.

Is a form of compromise, of sharing these resources, possible?

SV: There were attempts in the 1990s, under President Carlos Menem , to have resource co-management areas. This seems entirely possible to me, but it requires two reasonable governments in Argentina and Great Britain. I’m not sure that’s the case, at least not simultaneously.

In 1982, the Argentine population supported the invasion of the Falklands. In 2022, is the archipelago still a point of convergence in the country, or even a ”  rescue of the Argentine collective  ” ?

SV: Yes, but it is, I think, a notion conveyed a lot by the school and by the propaganda of the Argentine state. The population believes in it, but with a distance. We are not ready to go get killed to take back the Falklands, in any case.

Forty years later, this war leaves scars on both sides. In Argentina, a national commission for veterans has opened proceedings for “  acts of torture  ” in the context of this conflict. Does this also mark the Argentine collective?

SV: Yes. Veterans, wounded were more or less abandoned after the war. They are the ones who really paid the price. The regime of the generals had sent conscripts to fight in conditions that showed great military unpreparedness. The military junta therefore bears a great responsibility in the situation of veterans.

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