By John Fowler - Frequently controversial newspaper columnist, Matthew Parris, who was a member of the British Parliament during 1982, has not been noted in the past as a supporter of the Falkland Islands in their struggle to avoid annexation by Argentina. It was something of a surprise therefore to read an article by him in The Times of January 26 entitled Argentina’s hypocrites is steeped in blood.
The impetus for the article, which began, The Falklands was just a pantomime skirmish, but the wiping out of the country's native peoples was genocide concerns the question, Where have all the South American Indians gone? which according to Parris, should haunt every traveller to Argentina.
The answer that Parris gives is that whereas in neighbouring countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay there are still large indigenous populations who play a central part in the lives of their countries, in Argentina they have been wiped from history. He continues, The European settlers who now populate Argentina – Italian, Spanish, German, Welsh – are the relatively recent inheritors of colonisers who quite simple exterminated the people whose land this was. This process, which continued from 1820 to 1880, reached its apogee with what became known as The Desert Campaign of 1879, long after Argentina became independent from Spain.
Parris quotes the leader of the Desert Campaign, General Julio Argentino Roca, who later became President of Argentina and whose name and statues litter Argentina today as saying, Our self-respect as a virile people obliges us to put down as soon as possible, by reason or by force, the handful of savages who destroy our wealth and prevent us from definitely occupying, in the name of law, progress and our own security, the richest and most fertile lands of the Republic.
Referring to the claim that a civilian Argentine population was expelled from the Falklands in 1833, Parris says, ”It makes the blood boil to hear the current President of Argentina, in her recent letter to David Cameron, describe a pantomime skirmish involving a handful of people (most of whom stayed put anyway and kept their property) on some windswept islands far out into the ocean as having forcibly stripped her countrymen of their rightful land; and as being a blatant exercise of 19th Century colonialism. The hypocrisy!
Parris continues by calling Argentina the Rhodesia of the New World and asks, If Britain forcibly stripped Argentina of the Falkland Islands, what does Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner think the nation she leads did on the mainland? What words would she find for the cold-blooded and systematic destruction and total dispossession of Argentina's original population by the European invaders whose descendants' votes she now seeks?”
Of course what Parris is referring to when he talks about the genocide of the indigenous peoples of Argentina or the events in Port Louis in 1833, is history, which as we in the Falklands know to our cost, may have more than one version. Parris's view is shared by many in Argentina, including a minister of Argentina's Supreme Court of Justice, Eugenio, Raúl Zaffaroni who is quoted in Gonzalo Sanchez's book, Patagonia Perdida (Lost Patagonia) as describing the descendants of Argentina's indigenous peoples as made invisible, survivors of the genocides practised on them.
An opposite version of this episode in Argentina's history which does not figure prominently in school text books is held by many. The issue of what happened to the indigenous people in Argentina in the 19th Century has become an increasingly live one due to the many claims going through the courts for the restitution of what are claimed to be ancestral lands. Perhaps the most famous of these claims was that made for the restitution of 535 hectares of land made by a Mapuche couple, Atilio Curiñanco and Rosa Nahuelquir against the Italian Benetton family, owners in Patagonia of some one million hectares.
Another journalist, Rolando Hanglin is a recent apologist for the efforts made by successive Argentine governments in the 19th Century to eradicate the native peoples. He supports the view that the Mapuche tribe was not indigenous at all to Argentina, but cane from Chile and by their ferocity had either themselves wiped out or forced integration onto the pre-existing indigenous communities. In chilling detail in a recent article in La Nacion, Hanglin describes their bloodthirsty raids on white settlers of Patagonia, with the consequent throat-cutting, rape and kidnapping of settlements and the carrying off of their extensive herds of cattle.
The whole historical issue is clearly a complicated one and subject to very partisan interpretation. Equally complicated is the legal position in this combat between two cultures, one of which invokes a law based on the absolute right of ownership while the other believes that everything including the land is held in common. The reader might at this stage be justified in asking what this has to do with the Falklands and the Argentine claim and the answer, apart from Parris's accusations of hypocrisy on the part of the Argentine Government, may be 'nothing'. There is, however, an interesting parallel to be observed between a government which refuses to admit the legitimacy of Falkland Islanders as a people and those who also deny the rights of the Mapuches: an indigenous group, which whatever its place of origin and however savage its customs has been present in Argentina since before that country even existed.
We return again to the book Patagonia Perdida by Gonzalo Sanchez and the Argentine Minister of the Nation's Supreme Court of Justice, Eugenio Raúl Zaffaroni, who is quoted as describing the Desert Campaign as a real massacre and says, There has never been a massacre without what in criminology is described as a neutralisation of values. I neutralise my values by demeaning my victim. I neutralise my values by claiming that my victim is the aggressor.
This concept of 'neutralisation of values' which might be also described as an ability to lie to oneself, goes a long way to explaining many of the attitudes of the present Argentine Government towards the Falkland Islanders, their government, the protective British military presence in the Islands that they make necessary and maybe even towards their many creditors.
Penguin News, Deputy Editor John Fowler