15 years after Falklands war, British grip strong
Argentine general now says 1982 invasion 'hasty'
June 15, 1997
Web posted at: 4:12 p.m. EDT (2012 GMT)
STANLEY, Falkland Islands (CNN) -- Flocks of sheep still
graze and penguins still frolic amid the barren, idyllic
landscape of the Falkland Islands, just as they did 15 years
But a closer look reveals stark evidence that, back then, the
eyes of the world were on these tiny specks of land in the
South Atlantic, just 800 miles from frigid Antarctica.
The skeletal remains of a crashed aircraft; the ruins of an
abandoned military field hospital; white crosses marking the
graves of soldiers who fell -- all tell the story of the
bitter, pitched military battle played out between two modern
Saturday marked the 15th anniversary of Argentina's surrender
of the Falkland Islands -- or the Malvinas, as the Argentines
prefer to call them -- to Great Britain. Two months earlier,
an Argentine military force had seized the islands, which had
been controlled by the British since 1833 but were also
claimed by Argentina.
At the time of the 1982 conflict, the Falklands -- home to
just 1,800 people and 600,000 sheep -- seemed hardly a
valuable strategic prize. Indeed, it is widely believed that
the military junta then in power in Buenos Aires launched the
invasion primarily to buoy its deteriorating domestic
In an interview Saturday, a former Argentine military
commander admitted that, in hindsight, the decision to invade
the Falklands was hasty.
"We were not prepared for war," said then-military governor
Gen. Luciano Menendez in an interview with the Buenos Aires
radio station Mitre. "The Argentine government decided to
occupy the islands with 500 men and open negotiations, but it
changed its mind and sent in more troops. And when the
British attacked, we fought back."
War ushered in the end of the Argentine junta
The conflict claimed 712 Argentine soldiers; Britain lost 255
people. And though defeated in war, Argentina still maintains
its territorial claim to the Falklands. Indeed, it was
enshrined into the Argentine constitution in 1995.
However, the war debacle helped lead to the collapse of the
military government, eventually ushering in elections and a
new era of democracy for Argentina.
The war also hardened the attitudes of the staunchly British
Falkland Islanders, as epitomized by a huge Union Jack
painted on the roof of one local house.
"As far as we're concerned, Argentina doesn't exist," says
Brooke Hardcastle, whose home was hit by 26 bullets on the
day of the Argentine invasion. "We don't need Argentina, and
I'm sure they don't need us."
"It's British as far as I'm concerned. It always will be, and
they don't have a claim to it," says islander Brian Aldridge.
Britain and Argentina resumed relations in 1990 and have
signed agreements on oil exploration and fishing in the
waters surrounding the islands. But a British military force
remains on the island, and the London government has invested
in new roads, a port and an airport.
Fifteen years after the shooting stopped, the threat of a
military conflict with Argentina seems remote -- and the
feeling that the islands will long remain British seems
Correspondent Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.
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