President Alberto Fernández reaffirmed Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands, recalling troops who fell in a failed attempt to retake them in a war with Britain that began 40 years ago on Saturday.
“The Malvinas were, are and will be Argentines,” the president said, using the Spanish term for the South Atlantic archipelago, during a Saturday ceremony where he presented medals to 15 combat veterans.
He called on Britain “to abandon its unwarranted and disproportionate military presence on these islands, which does nothing but bring tension to a region that distinguishes itself as a zone of peace and international cooperation”.
Britain and Argentina were locked in long-standing negotiations over the islands’ status when the South American nation’s military dictatorship launched an invasion on April 2, 1982, in hopes of strengthening its domestic position.
Instead, Britain rallied in defense and retook the distant islands, prompting the discredited military regime to cede power for good a year later.
The conflict claimed the lives of 649 Argentines – many of them crude or poorly equipped soldiers – and 255 British soldiers.
The government has declared 2022 a year of “Homage to the Fallen” and is continuing its efforts in collaboration with the island’s government and the Red Cross to identify the remains of those who died and were buried there.
Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain denies this, saying Argentina is ignoring the wishes of its 3,000 residents who want to remain British. It claims that the Falkland Islands are now a self-governing overseas territory rather than a colony.
No other active Latin American leaders attended Saturday’s ceremony at the Malinas Museum in Buenos Aires, although former left-wing Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Pepe Mujica of Uruguay were present.
It was one of many commemorations and demonstrations across the country, including a protest march through the center of the capital to the British embassy and a vigil with a field of candlelit crosses in the town of Pilar late Friday night.
While the two nations have made continuous efforts to improve relations in recent years, there is still resentment at British control of the islands and anger at the military leaders who started the fight.
Youngsters of “16, 17, 18 went into the Malvinas context, completely without resources, without anything, against the English, a world power,” said neighborhood activist Agustina Scaronne, who took part in the protest march. “It seems to me that they are part of our history and our identity.”