By Catherine Lough, PA - The memory of the Falklands War is an “open wound” for Argentina, the country’s ambassador to the UK has said. Speaking to Catherine Lough of Press Association news agency to mark the 40th anniversary of the conflict, Javier Figueroa said wrangling over the Islands’ sovereignty is “ridiculous”, but admits that the war was instrumental in accelerating the return of democracy to Argentina.
Figueroa said most young people in the UK have no idea “Britain has a disagreement with Argentina regarding the South Atlantic”.
The issue of the Islands’ sovereignty does not have “high visibility” in public opinion in the UK, he said, but in Argentina it has “huge visibility in public opinion and the ruling class”.
For the Argentine ambassador, “This asymmetry is a problem. In Argentina, the war is still a wound – an open wound. It’s almost 40 years, but in Argentina it’s a deeply emotional issue.
“It’s not only emotional, it is political as well. The Malvinas [Falklands] question is the highest priority of my country in foreign policy.”
He said the issue is like a “monster in a room roaring” when it came to relations between the UK and Argentina, and he wants to re-engage in negotiations with the UK Government to discuss the Islands’ sovereignty.
“It’s unbelievable that after 40 years we have a situation like North Korea/South Korea in the South Atlantic, which is ridiculous,” he said.
Figueroa referred to recent polling by the charity Help for Heroes which showed the Falklands conflict risks becoming a “forgotten war”, with half of those aged 18-34 reporting they do not know when the war was fought, and one in 10 of that age group believing the Islands are in the English Channel.
“I am completely sure that the new generation [do not] have any idea regarding the war or that Britain has a beef with Argentina regarding the South Atlantic,” Figueroa said. That speaks a lot regarding the real level of knowledge… and that is a problem as well.”
The ambassador said the 40th anniversary of the conflict presents “an opportunity to pay homage for all the people who die in a war that I really believe was almost a stupid war”.
He noted there were only three civilian casualties from friendly fire by British forces, with both sides fighting in a “very gallant way”.
He said: “Any war is a mistake – I think it’s a tragedy, but there were almost 1,000 lives lost in that war, 600 Argentine soldiers and servicemen, and 300 or more British soldiers lost their life, and I think we have to pay homage for the families.”
Figueroa said the way the conflict is remembered in the country has changed, with the military dictatorship viewing the war with “shame” and attempting not to give recognition to veterans, whereas now veterans have more rights in terms of social care and access to pensions.
“Argentina recovered democracy more than 40 years’ ago and in a way the war was instrumental in that, in a way accelerated a process in which the civil society and the political parties in Argentina began to regroup and fight against the dictatorship,” he said.
Figueroa said he believes the way young people in the UK remember the British Empire is also changing, and that for Argentina the British capture of the Falklands had symbolized a “rerun of the colonial issue”.
He went on: “I see a growing debate here regarding the British Empire, what it was, what it means, the good heritage and the bad heritage. I clearly believe that the young generation have a clearly different view than older generations.”
He said any Latin American country sees “national integrity as something sacred”.
Mr Figueroa added: “Maybe it cannot be understood in the United Kingdom, because the United Kingdom was never invaded… in Latin America, when this conflict began in the 19th century, almost all of Latin America was recently independent from foreign powers.
“It was a rerun of the colonial issue… and because of that it’s so powerful, I think, in our political conscience, not only in Argentina but the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean.”
Colonialism as a memory “rings a different bell” in public opinion in Africa and south of the Rio Grande, he said.
Figueroa added it is in Britain’s interests to foster good relations with Latin America “because in the context of Brexit there will be opportunities”.
The ambassador said: “Clearly the United Kingdom say that they want to play a new role in the world and we think that this new role has to be based on law. We really believe that in the future the British Government views our conflict through this prism, the prism of international law.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: The United Kingdom has no doubt about its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands and surrounding maritime areas, but it is up to the Falkland Islanders to determine their own political status.
In a 2013 referendum the Islanders voted overwhelmingly to remain a UK Overseas Territory.