Argentine ambassador in London Alicia Castro revealed she has been meeting with Welsh MPs for the potential organization of the 150th anniversary of Welsh settlers in Patagonia in 2015. However Welsh sources said initial discussions broke down because the Argentine representatives were seeking people supportive of their views in the Falkland Islands dispute.
Elfyn Llwyd, Plaid MP for Dwyfor Merionnydd from were many Patagonian settlers originated said that he was involved in initial discussions with Argentine representatives over how to mark the anniversary, “but they broke down due to concerns they (Argentina) were seeking people sympathetic to their views on the Falklands’ sovereignty claim”
MP Llwyd said he hoped that escalation of tensions over the Falklands would not derail any talks over celebrations in 2015 and said that “there was a potential for a long term cultural exchange between the two countries in 2015”.
“There is a potential for several events to take place over 2015, and I would hope that such a cultural exchange would not be taken over by politics”, underlined the MP Llwyd.
Speaking to the Welsh media, Ambassador Castro said that “150.000 British descendents live in Argentina happily, prosperously and we have 79.000 people from Wales living in Patagonia”.
Challenged on whether the way of life of Falkland Islanders would change if they came under Argentine rule ambassador Castro affirmed, “Nothing. We are fully committed to respect their identity. They are British, they feel British and we respect that and their way of life”.
The same way “we respect the way of life of the people from Wales that live in Patagonia, there’s quite a number of them and I personally and my team in the embassy are working with MPs from Wales in celebrating the anniversary in 2015 of the 150 years when the Welsh community established in Argentina”.
However the Argentine ambassador downplayed the recent Falklands referendum which had an overwhelming turnout of 92% with 98.9% in support of the Islands remaining as a British Overseas territory.
“Argentina has clearly expressed in New York the reasons for the illegality of the referendum”, said Ambassador Castro adding that “no regional country has recognized it as a legitimate voting process”.
But Dr Ian Johnson, a Plaid Cymru councillor who studied attitudes towards Welsh language, culture and identity in Patagonia for his PhD said the comparison between XIXth century Patagonian Welsh and the Falklands in the XXIst century was not valid.
“Because of these issues, and to do with language and culture, the idea that they (Welsh settlers) lived happily ever after is not quite right” said D. Johnson
“The idea you can compare the Welsh settlement from 150 years ago to the Falklands does not stand up to scrutiny. It is not as uncomplicated as Ambassador Castro suggests”.
Finally “I think it is an unfair comparison to look at the Welsh in Patagonia in the 1858/60 alongside XXIst century Falkland Islanders. It is just a different situation”.