It was Margaret Thatcher who was responsible for Argentina’s humiliating defeat in the 1982 Falklands War. And if there are still open wounds in this Southern Cone nation, they are because of the islands known locally as Las Malvinas.
Jorge Castro, a columnist on international affairs for the Buenos Aires daily Clarín, recalls how during those years the newspaper published the minutes of the British Cabinet meetings.
“She was the decisive factor for her country’s victory – it was her who decided to send an expeditionary force to the Falklands against the advice of her Cabinet, her defense minister and the Foreign Office.
“Thanks to her, Great Britain won the war in 1982. If it had been up to Defense or the Foreign Office, the Argentineans would have kept the islands after the April 2 invasion,” he said.
Before the war, international affairs were irrelevant in Argentina, Castro said. “This was an isolated country; no one had any idea what Margaret Thatcher signified in Great Britain or her importance in that country.”
Months after the war, the seven-year-old military dictatorship, led at the time by General Leopoldo Galtieri, was soon over.
“For the Argentineans the defeat quickly became a question of internal order,” Castro said. “The war was seen as the disintegration of the military government and a step toward democracy.”
A half-hour after Thatcher’s death was announced on Monday, Argentinean radio stations began replaying her famous explanations regarding the British sinking of the cruiser General Belgrano on May 2, 1982, in which 323 Argentinean troops were killed.
“That ship was a danger to our boys,” she told David Frost in 1985. “This is why that ship was sunk… I know that it was right to sink her, and I would do the same again.”
Most Argentineans believe that the General Belgrano posed no danger to the British warships and was outside the 200-mile Total Exclusion Zone placed around the Falklands by London. She was sunk by the nuclear submarine HMS Conqueror, and for many it was signal from Thatcher that she wanted to end the war quickly. Like the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was meant to be a coup de grâce to bring the conflict to an end.
Eventually, with 649 Argentineans and 255 British dead, the Falklands War ended on June 14, 1982. The archipelago’s population at the time was around 2,000. At present, it is closer to 3,000. In a recent referendum, 98.8 percent of the islanders voted in favor of remaining British.
“She killed a lot of innocent people,” said Víctor Hugo Morales, a journalist at Radio Continental, which is owned by PRISA – the publisher of EL PAÍS. “That is why we are not going to shed a tear for that woman.
“The damage she caused over the past 30 years of humanity cannot be measured in words. For us, Thatcher is the person who killed hundreds of Argentineans.”