In many English-speaking countries (which most of the readers of this book are likely from), the notion of a country like Argentina challenging a major world power like Great Britain to war is almost ridiculous -- and when it actually happened, it was treated as such by English-language media. This short war lasted from April to June 1982, and it remains an extremely touchy and serious subject among Argentines, with the Monday near April 2, the date of Argentina's taking of the Islands, as a national holiday. Regardless of your personal opinion on the logic of Argentina declaring war on Great Britain, any conversation with locals on the topic must be treated very delicately. The war came during a period of rapid inflation and other troubles when the Argentine military government, under the leadership of General Leopoldo Galtieri, was looking for a way to distract attention from its failed economic policies. Argentina lost the war and suffered more than 700 casualties, sparking the government collapse that Galtieri was exactly trying to avoid. Democracy returned to Argentina, and the 6-year Dirty War, under which 30,000 political opponents were tortured and murdered, finally ended. The United States had tried to balance itself and serve as a diplomatic channel between the two countries during the war, but it generally sided with Great Britain, in technical violation of the Monroe Doctrine.
The legal basis of Argentina's claim to the Falkland Islands, known here as Las Islas Malvinas (and you'd better use that term, not the British one, while you're here), is due to their being a portion of Argentina's territory when it was still ruled by Spain. However, as a fledgling nation after independence, Argentina could do little to prevent Great Britain from setting up a fishing colony and base there. This colonization by Britain of the islands, however, spurred Argentina to explore and populate its Patagonia region to prevent losing even more land to the European power. To most Argentines, having lost the war does not mean that they have no rights to the islands, and diplomatic maneuvers continue with the ongoing dispute. The argument is over more than mere sovereignty: Oil reserves have been discovered in the area.
This monument contains Vietnam Memorial-like stark plaques with lists of names of the Argentines who died. An eternal flame burns over a metallic image of the islands, and the three main branches of the military, the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, each guard the monument in 2-week rotations. The location of the monument, at the bottom of a gentle hill under Plaza San Martín, is itself a message. It faces the Torre Monumental, previously known as the British Clock Tower, a gift from British citizens who made a fortune developing the nearby Retiro railroad station complex. Like checkmate in a game of chess, the two sides, Argentina and Great Britain, stand facing each other, symbolically representing the dispute that has no end.
- © Frommer's 2013
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