By Nicholas Tozer -Buenos Aires.
THE visit by over two hundred of Argentine next-of-kin to the Argentine Military Cemetery in Darwin in East Falkland earlier this week undoubtedly marks a new milestone in the so-often troubled relations between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands dispute.
However, this time round both Argentina on the one hand and Britain and the Falkland islanders on the other, can rightly feel pride over what is clearly a triumph of humanitarian decency over all other political considerations.
Walking round the Argentine Defence Ministry in Buenos Aires with the man who all sides agree is the lynch pin that allowed all this to happen – retired British Army Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo – it was easy to see the warmth and affection with which he was greeted by all he encountered – Argentine servicemen of all ranks, 1982 war veterans, civilian employees and other passersby.
There is agreement that the now retired British officer is largely responsible for the work carried out in 1982 in collecting, identifying where possible and burying the Argentine war dead of the conflict.
People stop and thank him for the painstaking degree to which he went to help identify the dead and leave a testimony of their identity, a ghastly undertaking which thirty five years later proved to be essential in identifying 90 of the 121 previously unidentified servicemen buried at Darwin Cemetery.
Accompanying Cardozo on his visit to the Defence Ministry for an interview on the Armed Forces Radio Service was retired General Sergio Fernandez, a decorated Argentine war veteran who now heads AVEGUEMA, the Argentine Malvinas War Veterans Association.
Under Fernandez, AVEGUEMA was one of the several Argentine organizations that contributed essential research work and knowhow on the argentine war dead which proved to be crucial for identifying the servicemen buried as “Argentine Soldier Known Only by God” at the Argentine Military Cemetery
As seen on the media coverage of Monday’s visit, the families who finally were able to know where their loved ones are buried, are extremely grateful for the work carried out and for the way so many different parties came together to make this humanitarian triumph possible.
Watching Geoffrey Cardozo and Sergio Fernandez together conveys a message of hope that in this time and age is refreshing.
Two professional soldiers from counties that were at war in 1982, today work together to redress one of the unresolved consequences of a war that should never happened, but did.
Today Darwin Cemetery is both a tragic reminder of a war and the symbol of what can be achieved when people are willing to put compromise over conflict.
Behind Cardozo and Fernandez there are undoubtedly numerous people and institutions who contributed to the success of this enterprise. Some are Argentine, other British and Falkland Islanders and it is from the contributions made by all that such a worthy outcome was forged.
Despite his Portuguese surname Geoffrey Cardozo comes from a distinguished British military family, and both his father and a grandfather were decorated Army officers who served in the First and Second World Wars.
Back in 1982 then Captain Geoffrey Charles Cardozo of 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards armoured cavalry was a 32 year old Army officer working in logistics at the Ministry of Defence in London.
Because he was fluent in Spanish he was ordered to travel to the Falkland Islands to help take care of and maintain the discipline of the men who had survived the war.
When engineers clearing the battlefields notified him of the discovery of Argentine bodies, Cardozo was tasked with recovering and identifying them so they could laid to rest in a dignified manner.
This he did and the Argentine war dead were buried on a plot of land near Darwin Hill donated by a Falkland Islander which is now the Argentine Military Cemetery.
Thirty five later the painstaking work Cardozo and his team carried out was crucial in helping identify 90 of the 121 previously unidentified servicemen.
In 1982 Sergio Fernandez was a young lieutenant and a member of the Army´s 601 Commando Company who, while based at Port Howard, shot down a RAF Harrier GR3 piloted by Flight Lieutenant Jeff Glover with a Blowpipe SAM missile.
Later in the war he was responsible for recovering and burying SAS Captain Gavin Hamilton MC who had been killed in a gun battle with Argentine Special Forces. Since the end of the war he continued a distinguished military career retiring as a general, becoming president of AVEGUEMA and arguably Argentina’s top expert on the 1982 war.
While much has been achieved in identifying the Argentine war dead, much still needs to be resolved. There still several dozen servicemen who have not been yet accounted for and further work will be necessary to provide as many answers as is possible.
It is to be hoped that in this new found sprit of collaboration that has produced mutually acceptable results to all involved, can be continued and not only in this worthy enterprise, but serve as a blueprint for the resolution of other aspects of this never-ending saga.
Professional teams have succeeded in working together and valuable links have been forged. It is to be hoped that they can continue providing such commendable services.
As we await to see what – if anything – happens next, people in Argentina, Britain and the Falkland Islands have a unique opportunity to say “Thanks you for your service” to men such as Geoffrey Cardozo and Sergio Fernandez and through them to the many other men and women, civilian and military, from government and NGOs, of different nationalities and creeds who jointly made this possible.
Finally, it should be remembered that Argentina, Britain and the Falkland Islands still have zealots and extremists who see the events of the last week as being unacceptable.
The challenge will be to prove that meaningful, mutually acceptable progress based on consensus will ultimately prevail over the bigoted outpourings of a few.
Time will tell.