Sat, Oct 19, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Return of Argentine Peronism worries the Falklands


The wreckage of an Argentine Chinook helicopter shot down during the Falklands War in 1982 lies on Mount Kent in the Falkland Islands on Oct. 8.

Photo: AFP

Argentina is to go to the polls on Oct. 27 with a Peronist politician backed by former Argentine president Cristina Fernandez expected to win an outright majority, something that has got Falkland Islanders worried.

The Falklands have been in British hands since 1833, but Argentina has waged a diplomatic battle — that spilled into economic and then actual warfare — since the 1960s to try to gain control of the archipelago.

Argentine troops invaded the windswept islands for 74 days in 1982 before Britain swiftly defeated them.

While few islanders believe their closest South American neighbor would invade again, it is the economic impact of another hostile government that concerns them the most.

“They do their best to upset our economy, putting all sorts of sanctions on various things and just being generally unpleasant,” said Shirley Hirtle, 76, who works at the Historic Dockyard Museum in the capital, Stanley.

Relations had improved since 2015 under the administration of Argentine President Mauricio Macri.

However, Peronist frontrunner Alberto Fernandez warned in a presidential debate on Tuesday that he wanted to “renew sovereignty claims” over the more than 750 islands — known as Las Malvinas in Spanish.

Asked about the potential return to power of a Peronist, Hirtle said she was “very angry about it.”

“They’re totally brainwashed from birth onwards. They rewrite their own history,” she said.

Hirtle pointed to the 2013 referendum in the Falklands where 99.8 percent of islanders voted to remain British.

Of the 1,517 voters, only three said “No,” while one ballot was invalid.

“In Argentina, I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d like to see an island have their own freedom and the right to their own self determination, but there are other people who don’t want that,” said Sally Heathman, 25, a communications and media assistant for the Falkland Islands government.

Britain has claimed the Falklands since settling the West island in 1765, while Argentina says it inherited the archipelago from former colonial power Spain, which invoked sovereignty in 1767 after purchasing a French settlement on the East island.

Under Cristina Fernandez, South America’s third-biggest economy made threatening noises regarding the Falklands’ main link with the outside world: a weekly flight to and from Chile’s capital, Santiago, which uses Argentine airspace.

With a second weekly flight from Sao Paulo in Brazil due to begin next month, a change of administration in Buenos Aires could put that at risk.

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was ... a problem with the second flight,” said Keith Heathman, 76, a driver for Battlefield Tours.

The flight from Santiago, through Punta Arenas on Chile’s southern tip, is operated by LATAM, which is organizing the Sao Paulo timetable.

Sally Ellis, 48, the Falklands agent for LATAM, says the Chilean-based company will not allow any mention of the islands in its inflight magazine.

There has been pressure to stop the flight, but it was “saber rattling,” Ellis said.

Many Argentines, such as 50-year-old Walter Goncalves, visit the Falklands to pay their respects at the Argentine cemetery near Darwin.

Goncalves braved the biting cold, wind, sleet and snow to hike key battlegrounds such as Mounts Longdon, Tumbledown and Two Sisters.

“I didn’t want to die without seeing them,” he told reporters.

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