Saturday, September 3rd 2005 - 21:00 UTC

“US support to UK in Falklands' war was decisive”

The Chilean military Junta support to Britain during the 1982 conflict “was important, but did no influence the outcome of the war; United States support to Britain was decisive”, remarked former Argentine Army Commander General Martin Balza interviewed by the Chilean media.

General Balza's remarks follow the disclosure this week of Chilean involvement in the Falklands conflict by a former member of the Chilean Junta and former Air Force commander Fernando Matthei.

According to General Matthei Chilean support included military intelligence gathering, radar surveillance, RAF aircrafts operating with Chilean colours and even safe return of British commandos who landed near Punta Arenas, among other things.

"I did everything possible to make Argentina loose the Malvinas war", and the utmost to defend Chile, confessed General Matthei.

General Balza who was then a Lieutenant Colonel and head of an artillery group fighting in the Falklands said the Argentines had hooked into the Chilean communications system and were well aware of the early warning system of the British, delivered by the Chileans, every time Argentine bombers took off for the Islands.

"General Matthei's revelations were pragmatic, sincere and realistic, but not surprising. In a book I wrote on the war I enumerate the support received by Britain during that absurd event, which was the South Atlantic conflict", said General Balza.

Working on information from Chilean and British sources, General Balza in his book described the UK-Chile collaboration as a "secret pact". "But when I say Chile, I'm not referring to the Chilean people, but to the government of the time", he underlines.

General Balza stresses his respect and love for the Chilean people, and the Chilean people's friendship towards Argentina, "which was never affected by the decisions from the military government headed by Pinochet; on the contrary I believe General Matthei's revelations consolidate the historical truth about the war, with great respect and sincerity".

As to Chilean support to the British war effort, "it was important in several areas, early warning when Argentine bombers took off the British had been alerted by the Chileans, and the British vessels and land forces were ready. British Canberra bombers operated with Chilean colours and were donated to Chile after the conflict, but in my opinion, it did not influence the outcome of the war. The decisive support was from the United States to Britain".

General Balza was then asked about General Fortunato Galtieri's remarks, then head of the Argentine Junta, who said the Malvinas war was the "beginning of the recovery of Argentine territory", implicitly referring to areas under dispute with Chile.

"I don't like to speak about Galtieri who as member of the Junta led us into an absurd war and played with the Argentine people's sentiments. Malvinas is a cohesive call for the Argentine people", replied the General. "Unfortunately the Argentine military dictatorship playing on that feeling used it for a bastard purpose which was, if successful, to consolidate the dictatorship. That's why it was a just cause in bastard hands. Those of us who fought in Malvinas, fought not for Galtieri, but for a feeling. It was an absurd war for which we were not prepared".

General Balza who together with 500 other Argentine officers was made prisoner of war by the British following the cease fire in June 1982 said that "as a war veteran, the war was very painful, regrettable and a vexation from the Argentine military Junta.

Paradoxically the Chilean and Argentine dictatorships were linked by the unfortunate Plan Condor". (The combined repressive operation by military dictatorships of the Southern Cone which at the time pooled resources and information to pursue, capture, torture and kill opponents, dissenters, suspects as well as exchange prisoners)

General Balza was then asked about some previous remarks arguing that in a conventional war scenario with Chile, Argentina would have been defeated.

"As a professional military officer I can say Argentina was not prepared for any conventional conflict at the time. Argentina was facing an internal conflict and in a war situation she would be considered the aggressor and in no way could have won". "Nobody wins in a war. A war between neighbouring countries with a common future would have been an adventure, but that all belongs to the past. As a common citizen I can say that in the Malvinas cause we have the full support of the democratic government of Chile, of the Chilean people in our legitimate claim over the Islands which have to be pursued diplomatically".

General Balza said he was grateful to God and the Pope's intervention, and for the strong feelings of the Chilean and Argentine peoples, "who avoided an absurd confrontation in 1978".

Finally General Balza underlined that any misunderstanding arising from recent revelations about the Falklands war have had no impact at all in bilateral relations.

He remarked that "the Chilean and Argentine peoples are above any regrettable statements, and we must not forget that former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998 defended him arguing Chile had granted very valuable assistance during the war".

"Thatcher confessed that 254 British servicemen lives were lost in the Malvinas war, but without Chilean assistance they could have been far more, so this clearly is evidence of that support. But it was given by the Chilean dictatorship, not by the Chilean people?"

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