The conflict turns 30
By Enrique Marcarian
When Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982, I tried to reach there on an Argentine Air Force plane from the continental mainland, but due to restrictions imposed by the military government I only reached a port on the Patagonian coast. I was stuck there for a week, but as I was there I managed to photograph what I still remember as one of the saddest moments in the story of that conflict – the return of the ARA Alferez Sobral, the Navy’s rescue tug that had been attacked by British helicopters. On board the boat were survivors with their uniforms torn and trembling in the South Atlantic cold, and eight dead crew members in coffins.
It was only 23 years later, in 2005, that I finally did manage to reach the islands in one of the weekly commercial flights leaving from Chile. That was to be my first coverage of life in the Islands. I was anxious to see how the locals would react to an Argentine photographer taking pictures of them.
My first stop was at a major dart tournament. I entered cautiously trying to be unnoticed, which worked at first while everyone was focused on the dartboards and beer drinking. Once I had a few beers and took a few pictures, a couple of schoolteachers took notice of my nationality. To my surprise, instead of throwing me out they asked me about my country, and complimented me on then-Foreign Minister Guido di Tella for having sent Christmas presents to Falklands children.
The next day I went to the local police station to request a map of the places where there were still landmines planted by Argentine troops. The police told me that under no circumstances was I to try to cross those fields, because it would mean a fine of £2,000 and arrest. I joked to one officer that both of those penalties would only be enforceable if I survived the crossing, but he didn’t find it funny.
The rest of the week I toured the minefields and observed the penguins crossing them, and thought of following them, but decided not to. I didn’t have £2,000 to pay the fine.
I visited battlefields, Port Howard, and pubs, far from the hostility that I admit to having expected. I only met people who wanted to leave their memory of the War behind them.
In June 2007 I returned to cover the 25th anniversary of the islanders’ commemorating the Argentine surrender. This time I found an atmosphere much more militarized, but most likely due to the presence of Prince Edward and some combat exercises.
Since 2007 my country’s government has only increased its claims over the Falklands, reaching their peak just recently in the days running up to the 30th anniversary this year. In Argentina that 30th year is celebrated on April 2, when the invasion began, and in the Islands the celebration is on June 14, the day Argentina was defeated.
Upon landing on my third visit to the Falklands last month, I called the local government press officer who told me that I could cover all the events I wished. His only recommendation was that it would be better not to photograph children without the permission of their parents. On June 13th I went to the British cemetery in San Carlos, two hours from Stanley, where some 20 British veterans and British Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne paid tribute to the 14 soldiers buried there. With some discretion I took photos from a distance, and when the ceremony was over I approached Mr. Browne, and ended up posing with him for a picture.
The next day, during the main ceremony in Stanley, there was a more formal ceremony in tribute to the British fallen, under a steady snowfall in which it took us two hours to get a satellite signal to transmit. Strangely enough, during the ceremony I felt as if I were watching a football match of my favorite team from the rival’s tribune.
I had never taken photos in a snow storm, and found it impossible. Each time I raised the camera snow fell onto my lens front and froze there. I worked hard at getting an image of one officer in particular, but every time he began to bark orders, he got a mouthful of snow.
Later in the day I went to a reception at the Governor’s residence, and again met Minister Browne, who remembered having taken his picture with me. He was very nice, although I noticed he was a little nervous when I first approached him. Maybe he thought I was an Argentine about to attack.
The islanders I spoke to were thankful to the British government for protecting them from my president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who they referred to as “La Kirchner,” and other worse names as well.
In spite of their pride in being British, they also were very adamant in calling themselves “Falklanders” with the right of self-determination.
On my return flight home we had a scheduled stop in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, at the southern tip of the Patagonia, for a plane change to Buenos Aires. Immigration officials there demanded that all passengers fill out a customs declaration, something which I denied. I felt that if Argentina insists that the Falklands are really called the Malvinas, and that they belong to us, then they shouldn’t treat passengers as if we were arriving from abroad. I asked them to stamp my passport as having returned to Argentina, which would have confirmed their recognition of the Islands as foreign territory.