Nearly 30 years after the Falklands conflict, the dispute is hotting up again over whether the islands shouldbe British or Argentinian.
Airdate: 
Sunday, October 16, 2011 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

The weapons may have remained silent in the nearly 30 years since the Falklands conflict, but the war of words has continued.

And now, the dispute is hotting up again over whether the islands should have British or Argentinian sovereignty.

At the heart of the problem, the economic prosperity of the self-governing territory. Its government is supporting exploration for oil and it's enjoying a fishing boom, helping to give it the highest GDP in the region.

But it's angered Argentina, which is trying to use its influence in Latin America to disrupt vital shipping links. Some Argentinian militants are even threatening to sabotage oil rigs around the Malvinas, as the Falklands are known in South America.

So what does the future hold for these remote Atlantic islands?

WATCH - Nick Lazaredes takes a fresh look at both sides of the story. 

EXTRA - Read more about the polarised opinions over the Falklands on our page of useful links from both sides of the dispute.

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Photo (British flag): Getty

Extra

Opinion over the Falklands conflict is polarised between the British and Argentinian viewpoints. Follow the links below for extra reading on both sides of the debate...

Wikipedia has an entry on the history of the Falkland Islands.

Its sister site, Debatepedia, has a detailed discussion over who should have sovereignty of the territory.

Penguin News is the islands' weekly newspaper.

The Falkland Islands Association is a UK-based supporters group.

The South Atlantic Council is an academic discussion group over British-Argentine relations and the Falklands-Malvinas dispute.

Argentina's Foreign Ministry has an English-language page outlining its stance over the islands.

The Committee of the Relatives of the Fallan in the Malvinas has a site in Spanish, or English via Google Translate.

The Argentina Independent is the country's English-language newspaper.

MercoPress is a South Atlantic news agency, based in Uruguay.

You can also find out more about the islands on the official Falkland Islands website, and read more news coverage of the dispute by following the links under other perspectives on the right-hand side of the page.

Resources

Transcript

It was nearly 30 years ago that Argentinean forces invaded the Falkland Islands, a curious speck of Britain in the South Atlantic. It made headline news around the world, made Maggie Thatcher's career and ended with a decisive British victory. But the causes of that conflict are still unresolved and over the past year the sabre rattling has begun all over again. The campaigning for the Argentinean Presidential elections due next Sunday has had patriotism running high and the Falklands are once again in danger of becoming a flashpoint. Nick Lazaredes travelled to the chilly isles to find out why this is a conflict that just won't go away.

REPORTER: Nick Lazaredes

On the icy fringes of the South Atlantic lies a graveyard of old shipwrecks - a testament to the Falkland Islands long history as an outpost of the British Empire. Nowadays, this windswept archipelago is one of Britain's last colonial possessions, but the long simmering territorial dispute with Argentina is once again threatening to boil over.

MIKE SUMMERS, FALKLAND ISLANDS POLITICIAN: We've been through periods where we were all trying to get on and work together. We've been through periods where we're simply not getting on at all and we're in one of those periods now where we're not getting on at all.

In 1982 the tortuous history of these islands hit its lowest point - and this boggy landscape was transformed into a battlefield. It lasted 74 days and took over 900 lives - inflicting deep emotional wounds on both sides that refuse to heal.

While many scholars choose to describe the 1982 Battle of the Falklands as a conflict most islanders prefer to call it a war and here, just a few kilometres outside the largest settlement, Port Stanley, the legacy of that deadly period is all around.

In the haste of the invasion, Argentine conscripts laid scores of minefields and well over 15,000 mines remain - blighting large chunks of the Falklands coast. With the scars of war so evident, a younger generation of islanders are determined that should there be a next time - they will be ready. Nearly every night of the week squads of young reservists train with the island's volunteer Defence force - the FIDF.

MAJOR PETER BIGGS, FIDF COMMANDER: We've got several of these Land-Rovers that have been converted to carry weaponry.

Organised at a light infantry company specialised in the methods of arctic warfare, FIDF Commander Major Peter Biggs is confident in the forces capabilities.

MAJOR PETER BIGGS: We punch above our weight in shooting sports and that's reflected in the marksmanship of the FIDF I think. We're quite proud of our shooting prowess.

In the past 18 months Argentina's Government has become increasingly hostile, demanding, once again that the islands be returned to them, resulting in a surge of recruits joining Major Biggs.

MAJOR PETER BIGGS: What they're worried about is, the whole sort of pattern unravelling and the same thing happening again, there is genuine anxiety about that I'd say, within the community in the Falklands.

But in Argentina the consensus is that it's Britain who's provoking the situation. Cesar Trejo heads Argentina's largest group representing veterans and their families.

CESAR TREJO (Translation): The South Atlantic has been declared a peace zone, an arms-free zone; adopted by the entire Latin American community and backed by the UN and all multilateral organisations and the only power which is transgressing that international agreement is the UK. Clearly, the one militarising the South Atlantic is the UK. There is no doubt about it.

Here in Port Stanley's harbour, the fishing industry is booming but Argentina is planning, with the help of its Latin American neighbours, to stop the island's shipping links, threatening to cripple the Falklands economy.

NIGEL HAYWOOD, FALKLAND ISLANDS GOVERNOR: I think the main thing that Argentina has been doing is focusing on countries in Latin America and trying to persuade them to support their position on the ownership of the islands which they're doing with a rather distorted view of history.

Echoing Britain's unwavering stance, the Falkland Islands recently appointed Governor Nigel Haywood says Argentina's demand for negotiations are futile because there's nothing to negotiate.

NIGEL HAYWOOD: Argentina sees it as a straightforward negotiation about a transfer of sovereignty, well the Islanders want to remain British, and as long as they want to remain British, then that's their right.

With the islands having the highest GDP in Latin America there may well be more than national pride driving Argentina's latest push. It is estimated that huge oil reserves may lie beneath the surrounding seabed and early last year the Falkland's Government began issuing exploration licenses to oil companies, a move that Argentina described as typical British arrogance. But Mike Summers, a member of the Falkland Island's Government, says that is simply ridiculous.

MIKE SUMMERS: It has nothing to do with British arrogance. These are Falkland Island Government exploration and production licences and we have the right to develop our economy in that way.

Although the Falklanders British ancestral links to these islands stretch back centuries, Argentina describes those who live here as illegal occupants.

MIKE SUMMERS: The Argentines have never owned the Falkland Islands - ever. Yet they go around the world telling people that the British stole it from them in 1833. Well it's just a lie. It isn't true.

460km to the west in Argentina - a patriotic view of the islands they call the 'Malvinas' is drummed into schoolchildren.

SCHOOL TEACHER (Translation): It is our responsibility as citizens, as Argentineans, to continue claiming our right to those islands.

Here, students are taught a version of history coloured with Argentine national pride.

SCHOOL TEACHER (Translation): This territory became Argentinean after independence from Spain. It was conquered by the Spaniards, so it is ours. I now invite you all to come over and join everyone in this small act to pay due homage to all those people left behind in the Malvinas.

Special Malvinas classes like this one are a compulsory element in the Argentine school curriculum. To Argentines, the islands were not invaded but reconquered - a prized jewel stolen by a wicked empire.

SCHOOL TEACHER (Translation): So we'll each choose some of the names and stick them on the poster, all around the Malvinas. We're going to finish with everyone standing up and singing the March of the Malvinas.

After almost two centuries of clamouring for their return the Malvinas issue is embedded in the National Psyche, passing from one generation to the next.

STUDENTS (Translation): The Malvinas are Argentinean, the wind clamours and the sea roars. Who is talking here of forgetting or giving up or forgiving? No land is more beloved in the whole Motherland!

Not far from the site of the Falkland's bloodiest land battle at Goose Green the Argentine Cemetery underscores the tragedy of a war described by many as senseless. Their bodies were never taken home because Argentina's Government declared they were already on home soil.

ERIC GOSS, FARM MANAGER: I was responsible for picking up all the dead and burying them.

Eric Goss was the farm manager at Goose Green when the Argentine armada invaded the Falklands he and the other 113 residents of the village were held prisoner here in the local hall in what became a harrowing ordeal.

VOICEOVER: For the civilians their release hadn't come a moment too soon and they showed it. For 29 days they've been kept in a small community hall, all 114 of them, often without hot food or sanitary arrangements.

After their rescue Eric set about the task of clearing the farm of dead Argentine soldiers.

ERIC GOSS: They were the enemy. It never moved me at all. They were scattered around the farm, the farm had to be tidied up. I'm a sheep farmer, so if an animal's dead on the farm, a sheep, a cow, a horse, you don't leave the carcass lying about or soon it will look like an unsightly graveyard.

Almost three decades on Eric remains hard hearted Argentineans and deeply suspicious of their motives.

ERIC GOSS: They're a sick nation, Nick, a very fickle nation. I'm always hoping that one day they'll mature and grow up. But as long as they've got that history that they've learnt at school, that the Argentineans were taken from them by the bad British - that'll never change.

In Argentina's capital the monument honouring its Malvinas heroes is accorded special respect.

CESAR TREJO (Translation): Guards from the armed forces always keep watch and take turns, sometimes it's the army, the air-force or the navy, but there are always guards keeping watch.

The monument holds special meaning for Cesar Trejo who says the Malvinas question simply can't remain in limbo.

CESAR TREJO (Translation): Sooner or later we will have to resolve it by logical, peaceful and just and legal means, or we will face problems for ever more. That's the reality.

That's not a view shared by the Falkland Islanders.

MIKE SUMMERS: What Argentina want to do is to enter into a discussion which ends with them getting sovereignty over the Falklands and that's not a game that we're prepared to play.

CESAR TREJO (Translation): But there is an injustice here that the Argentinean people will never, ever come to accept. Argentina will never accept such an injustice. Never!

But there are warnings that if Britain continues to shrug-off Argentina's claims it may hold grave consequences for the future. Already there have been pointed threats to sabotage oil rigs being brought to the Falklands and Cesar Trejo fears the clash may intensify.

CESAR TREJO (Translation): We don't know how things might develop in the future, if this conflict worsens and Britain refuses to engage in a dialogue and observe the resolutions. Probably a conflict scenario could extend into the future, with growing protests and - let's hope not, even a new armed conflict at some point

MIKE SUMMERS: What the real agenda is here is that Argentina wants to be the colonist. Argentina wants to rule our country, and take over our country and my goodness, the future under that wouldn't be very nice.

CRISTINA KIRCHNER, ARGENTINE PRESIDENT (Translation): Here we are showcasing who we are as Argentineans. WE ARE HERE WITH James, whose father fought on the British side - he seeks Argentinean citizenship;.

The key player in Argentina's resurgent push for the Malvinas is its President, Cristina Kirchner. In June she attended this ceremony to publicise a propaganda coup - the virtual defection of a home grown Falkland islander. When Falklander James Peck decided to turn his back on the island of his birth and move to Buenos Aires the event was considered so significant that the president herself presented him with his Argentine residency permit.

JAMES PECK (Translation): It is a special day indeed - I could not have had thus day years ago, it would have been impossible, but not today, thanks to Cristina.

This is my DNE? It's called here - my National Document of Identity.

Within 24 hours of the ceremony James Peck's email account was in overload.

JAMES PECK: I had a lot of quite bad emails which in the end I couldn't look at things because I had about 400 emails in the space of a week. Somebody sort of said to me, such and such said to me, oh yeah, if Pecker comes back, he's dead sort of thing.

James' very public display of support for the Argentine cause sickened many in the Falklands.

JAMES PECK: I did look in the mirror about two weeks after, oh what have you done James? You've got to live with what you've done now. Was it right or was it wrong?

James acknowledges that he willingly participated in an act of Presidential propaganda - but he offers no apologies for what he says is a purely personal decision.

REPORTER: Do you feel like a traitor?

JAMES PECK: No, I think I can argue and justify everything that I've done. I think life is given to you and you really should be able to do whatever the hell you want.

ERIC GOSS: Well I know a lot of his family and they are very embarrassed at what he has done.

Eric Goss views the actions of the young Falklander with contempt.

ERIC GOSS: And I regard them as traitors in fact.

Eric says his own family was thrown into disarray in the immediate aftermath of the 1982 war when his cousin an avowed supporter of the Argentine cause, decided to move there.

ERIC GOSS: But because he defected to the Argentine in 82, we pruned him off the family tree I said, so he's no relation of mine.

REPORTER: That's pretty harsh.

ERIC GOSS: Well that's what you do when people turn traitor you know. He can't live in your house anymore. His choice - not mine.

With the attitudes on both sides as bitter and entrenched as the generations before them, it's clear this conflict is far from resolved and these remote and valuable islands of the South Atlantic seem destined to remain caught in a colonial confrontation.

Reporter/Camera

NICK LAZAREDES

Producer

DONALD CAMERON

Fixer

NICK OLLE

Editors

NICK O'BRIEN

MICAH MCGOWN

Translations/Subtitling

HENAR PERALES

PILAR BALLESTEROS

CLAUDIANNA BLANCO

Original Music composed by Vicki Hansen

16th October 2011