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Falklands conflict remains an ‘open sore’ for Argentina, says ambassador

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The memory of the Falklands War is an “open wound” for Argentina, the country’s ambassador to the UK has said.

Speaking to the PA news agency to mark the 40th anniversary of the conflict, Javier Figueroa said the disputes over the sovereignty of the islands were “ridiculous”, and he compared the situation to relations between South Korea North and South Korea.

He said most young people in the UK had no idea that “Britain has a beef with Argentina over the South Atlantic”.

The issue of island sovereignty does not have “high visibility” in public opinion in the UK, he said, but in Argentina it has “enormous visibility in public opinion and ruling class”.

Mr Figueroa said: “This asymmetry is a problem.

“In Argentina, war is always a wound – an open wound. It’s been almost 40 years, but in Argentina it’s a deeply emotional issue.

“It’s not just emotional, it’s also political. The Falklands [Falklands] issue is my country’s highest foreign policy priority.

He said the issue looks like a “roaring monster in a room” when it comes to UK-Argentina relations, and he wants to resume negotiations with the UK government to discuss the islands’ sovereignty.

Javier Figueroa at the Ambassador’s office in Belgrave Square (Victoria Jones/PA)

“It’s unbelievable that after 40 years we have a situation like North Korea/South Korea in the South Atlantic, which is ridiculous,” he said.

Mr Figueroa referred to a recent poll by charity Help for Heroes which showed the Falklands conflict was at risk of becoming a ‘forgotten war’, with half of 18-34 year olds saying they don’t know when the war will took place, and one in 10 of that age group believing the islands are in the English Channel.

“I am quite sure that the new generation [do not] have an idea regarding the war or that Britain has a beef with Argentina regarding the South Atlantic,” Mr Figueroa said.

“That says a lot about the actual level of knowledge…and that’s also a problem.”

The ambassador said the 40th anniversary of the conflict offered “an opportunity to pay tribute to all the people who died in a war which, in my opinion, was almost a stupid war”.

He noted that there had been only three civilian casualties from friendly fire from British forces, with both sides fighting “very valiantly”.

ANNIVERSARY Falklands
(PA graphics)

He said: “Any war is a mistake – I think it’s a tragedy, but there were almost 1,000 dead in this war, 600 Argentine soldiers and servicemen and 300 or more British soldiers lost their lives, and I think we have to pay tribute to the families.

He said the way the conflict is commemorated in the country has changed, with the military dictatorship viewing the war with “shame” and trying not to recognize veterans, while now veterans have more rights in terms of social care and access to pensions.

“Argentina regained democracy more than 40 years ago and in a way the war contributed to that, in a way accelerated a process in which civil society and political parties in Argentina began to regroup and fight against the dictatorship,” he said. .

Mr Figueroa said he believed the way young people in the UK remembered the British Empire was also changing and that for Argentina the British takeover of the Falklands had symbolized a ‘recovery of the colonial question’ .

He continued: “I see a growing debate here about the British Empire, what it was, what it means, the good heritage and the bad heritage.

“I clearly believe that the younger generation has a clearly different vision than the older generations.”

He said that any Latin American country considers “national integrity as something sacred”.

Mr Figueroa added: “Perhaps this cannot be understood in the UK, because the UK was never invaded… in Latin America, when this conflict started in the 19th century, almost all the Latin America was recently independent from foreign powers.

“It was a repeat of the colonial question…and because of that, I think it is so powerful in our political consciousness, not only in Argentina but in all of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Colonialism as memory “rings a different bell” in public opinion in Africa and south of the Rio Grande, he said.

Mr Figueroa added that it was in Britain’s interest to foster good relations with Latin America “because in the context of Brexit there will be opportunities”.

He said: “Clearly the UK is saying it wants to play a new role in the world and we believe that new role must be based on law.

“We really believe that in the future the British government will view our conflict through this prism, the prism of international law.”