“A day for humanitarianism: leaving politics aside and providing relatives of the fallen with a right to grieve” was how Paul Martínez, First Secretary from Falkland Islands Government House described Saturday’s visit by 165 members of the Malvinas Families for the inauguration of the Memorial at the Argentine cemetery.
The organization (from both sides) of the first of two consecutive day-trips of Argentine next of kin (the following is next Saturday) was considered “very efficient” and having run “smoothly” and according to schedule.
The Argentine cemetery in Darwin holds the remains of 237 of the 649 combatants killed during the 1982 conflict with Britain.
Since the Falkland Islands and Argentine governments were not officially represented at the ceremony, Martinez was actually acting as a “British mediator”, emphasizing that “it is not a political day: it is an emotional day, involving the (Malvinas) Families commission, and the Argentine Government is not officially represented either”.
The next of kin flew over from Rio Gallegos mid morning and were received at MPA by Martinez who then accompanied the convoy of buses and minivans to the Argentine cemetery that has been in Darwin since 1982.
The cenotaph, finished in 2006, was assembled in the shape of two extended arms embracing the graves and with only the names (no ranks) of all Argentines killed in the conflict engraved in plaques on the blocks.
In spite of the freezing temperature at the wind swept barren knoll, the full communion ceremony was highly emotive, accompanied by the singing of hymns and later, bugles playing the Argentine version of the “Last Post” (Silencio Militar).
Paul Martinez and the Commander of British Forces at Mount Pleasant Air Commodore Gordon Moulds, partly responsible for the logistics, were present at the religious service.
“An important opportunity to many (of the next of kin), as the names on the plaques also represent the crew of the “General Belgrano” who have no gravesite” said Martinez.
The cruiser was sunk in May 1982 by a British submarine becoming the most single numerous loss of life in the conflict, 323.
As had been agreed by both sides, emphasizing the humanitarian nature of the event, there was no singing of the Argentine national anthem or any visible representation of the Argentine flag or colors, with no mention of sovereignty or the leaving of controversial memorabilia.
To help with the organization and freezing conditions three marquees sheltering the ground outside the cemetery provided light refreshments, seating and a quiet area for reflection. Lunch boxes and blankets were distributed to the relatives as well as the media. Medical and emergency support was close by with Reverend Richards Hinds and the British Military Padre also available for emotional support.
“Co-operation from all enabled the day to run smoothly and to schedule; 165 people made the journey to their loved ones last resting place” said Major Peter Biggs of the Falkland Islands Defense Force
Spirits were respectively somber but the families were keen to express their gratitude for the organization feat at every given opportunity.
“The facilities are excellent and the people of the Falkland Islands very helpful. This is an emotional trip but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to come”, said Maria Shemi one of the Argentine relatives.
Though subject to standard immigration regulations the Argentine next of kin were processed through to the departure lounge quickly and left the Islands as they had arrived, on time, though hopefully more fulfilled.
Teslyn Barkman – SeAledPR - Stanley