Al Jazeera Blogs


Americas

Thatcher's wartime legacy haunts Argentinians

As much of the UK mourns its first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher's legacy in Argentina remains controversial.
Last modified: 9 Apr 2013 04:40

"The Iron Lady that defeated Argentina is dead."

That was the headline in a major newspaper here, and 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 later, details about the war and soldiers' conditions continue to come out.

Some soldiers 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.

Belgrano memories

"Margaret Thatcher did nothing for world peace," said Ernesto Alonso a former combatant. "She was at the same level as the dictatorship. They both led us to a war that left hundreds of people dead."

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 here remember the interview Margaret Thatcher gave to 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.

Conflict lives on

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 spiked the rhetoric over the islands and the British have responded by sending a navy destroyer to protect them.

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," former Ambassador Diego Guelar told me.

"The military used the Argentine claim over the Islands as a way to perpuetuate themselves in power, and it didn't work. 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 is far from being buried as Argentina has vowed to continue denouncing what they call the "British Occupation" in every international forum.