Falkland Islands: Argentina's dissenters

Port Stanley - file photo Tensions have risen as the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War approaches

For many Argentines, their country's claim of sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, or Malvinas as they are called in Spanish, is clear.

Recent opinion polls suggest that two-thirds of the population support this view.

Amid such strong backing for the government's position, dissenting voices find it hard to engage debate.

"I'm not really bothered about the claim over the Malvinas. I don't think it changes much to have them [as part of Argentina] or not," says historian Luis Alberto Romero.

"What does worry me is the rise of a nationalistic feeling that can cause traumas in our society," he says, referring to public support for the country's military regime when it decided to invade the South Atlantic islands in 1982.

Start Quote

I have proven my patriotism, so I'm not afraid to say what I think about Malvinas. The government is leaving out the islanders in their claim”

End Quote Horacio Benitez Argentine Falklands War veteran

After the war, many Argentines realised they had supported a regime that was leading one of the fiercest repressions in Latin America at the time.

Mr Romero is part of a group of 20 well-known Argentine intellectuals that recently issued a statement criticising the government's stance over the islands.

"The idea of getting the islands back cannot be the priority of the [Argentine] claim. There must be a negotiation process," says sociologist Vicente Palermo, one of the signatories.

That must involve dialogue with the Falkland islanders themselves, Mr Palermo says.

"Right now that is probably difficult, but not impossible."

Those who signed the statement - including leading academics, journalists and historians - have found that their views echoed in other parts of Argentine society.

"I definitely think that the islanders must be taken into account, as after all they are the ones who live there," says Horacio Benitez, an Argentine veteran of the Falklands War.

Mr Benitez was on the front line during the conflict. He experienced hand-to-hand combat against British troops, and he was shot in the head. It almost killed him.

"I have proven my patriotism, so I'm not afraid to say what I think about Malvinas. The government is leaving out the islanders in their claim," he says.

Backlash

This is a controversial position in Argentina.

Start Quote

Why do we actually want these islands? Nobody [in the Argentine government] responds to this question”

End Quote Tamara Florin Documentary-maker

A day after the intellectuals published their statement, Argentina's main tabloid, Cronicas, put four of them on the front page under the headline: "Supporting the Pirates."

In Argentina, the word pirates is used pejoratively to describe the British when referring to the Falklands issue.

In other media, too, there were strong words against the group.

"As soon as you say anything different about the subject you are immediately branded a traitor," says Mr Romero.

"And that is what happens when you put such an emphasis on sovereignty. You end up with extreme nationalistic feelings," he says.

The Falklands issue can lead to passionate debates among friends and within families.

"I think it touches a deep and sensitive fibre in our society," says documentary film-maker Tamara Florin.

Ms Florin was born in 1981, a year before the Falklands war started. She says she knows many people of her age who have similarly critical views about the current Argentine sovereignty claim.

Vicente Palermo Vicente Palermo and other intellectuals want to see a dialogue with those living in the Falkland Islands

"The self-determination of the islanders is being ignored. Nobody seems to remember that they actually live there."

Five years ago, Ms Florin went to the Falklands to make a documentary. She says was astonished at how different the islanders were.

"I met many people who had lived in the islands for a long time. I was the one treated like an invader," she says.

She believes that Argentines who support the sovereignty claim do not know how different, culturally, the Falklands are.

"We cannot be neighbours to a population and not listen to their own views".

"Why do we actually want these islands? Nobody [in the Argentine government] responds to this question," she says.

For some Argentines, the main problem is the lack of free debate about the issue.

"You can hardly exchange arguments, because you will be immediately attacked. That worries me," says Mr Palermo.

"Many people act like football hooligans when referring to the Falklands, but they are only repeating a militaristic view which led to a war 30 years ago," says Ms Florin.

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