42nd anniversary of the Falklands War: A possible solution

Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands, while Great Britain and the islanders are unwilling to give in. Argentine writer Ricardo Rojas explains his proposal to end the territorial dispute.

April 2 marked the 42nd anniversary of the Falklands War, an armed conflict that began after the Argentine government, led by dictator Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, decided to invade the islands.

The war, which lasted 74 days, ended when Argentina surrendered on June 14. In total, three civilian islanders, 649 Argentine military personnel and 255 British military personnel were killed.

The Argentine sovereignty claim over the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) continues now the government of Javier Milei. Although the president was (and is) criticized for having expressed his admiration for Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister during the war, and Diana Mondino, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, was also the target of repudiation for having said that the rights of the islanders must be respected, the truth is that Argentina still claims the islands as its own. The government has taken this stance, not only because it is a sensitive issue for Argentines, but also because Vice-President Victoria Villarruel's father was a veteran of the war.

During the act in tribute to the fallen of Malvinas 42 years after the War, Milei blamed Kirchnerism, which governed between 2003 and 2023, except for the four years that Mauricio Macri was president between 2015 and 2019. "Is it possible to claim sovereignty if the leadership of a country is dedicated to belittle and harass its Armed Forces? What homage to the heroes of Malvinas can be sincere, if at the same time the State finances groups and organizations that do nothing but discredit our forces? To the heroes of Malvinas and to our Armed Forces I say that this time is over. You are a source of pride for our nation and in this new Argentina you will have the respect you have long been denied," said Milei.

Sovereignty claims over the islands "constitute a political trap"

Argentine writer and former judge Ricardo Rojas believes that sovereignty claims are not positive for Argentina.

"The problem with these sovereignty claims is that they constitute a political trap. After an absurd war and the political use that has been made of the issue during the last 40 years, no Argentine (or British) government is in a position to carry out a negotiation that means ceding sovereignty. And since this eliminates any possibility of an agreement in these terms, it has become an unsolvable problem, which is used as a political flag, but without reasonable hopes for a solution," said Rojas.

Rojas added that "the possibility of reaching an honorable and acceptable agreement for both sides disappeared the day there was a war with hundreds of deaths. For that reason, the claims and ceremonies, or even naming cities and schools after Malvinas, is something symbolic but with little practical value."

Regarding Great Britain's arguments to maintain sovereignty, Rojas pointed out that the British "have an important point, and that is the permanent occupation of the islands, with many generations of native islanders who have recognized the British government for almost two centuries."

The writer clarified that "it is good to remember that the islands have had no aboriginal population, they were uninhabited islands when they were discovered, so many of the arguments linked to occupation by force and decolonization are not applicable. The decolonization processes that took place in Asia and Africa, mainly in the second half of the 20th century, were aimed at recognizing the political rights of the original inhabitants against minorities that occupied territories by force. This does not apply to the Malvinas. In fact, it could be said that the first occupants of the islands were French fishermen, who came from the port of Saint-Malo, and that is why they called the islands Malouinas, which later became Malvinas."

Rojas, unlike many others in Argentina, stresses the importance of the wishes and interests of the islanders in this conflict. "After two centuries of uninterrupted occupation, generation after generation," he said, "I believe that the most important opinion is neither that of the historians nor that of the cartographers, nor that of the lawyers, but that of the inhabitants. It is true that this opinion is biased because they are descendants of the original British occupants, and from the beginning they maintained their character of subjects, but they have occupied the islands for almost two centuries. They invoke the previous occupation by the Spanish and the Argentine government for some years before they were taken over by the British. But that occupation was preceded by British and French occupations. So it is not a simple issue, and it seems to me that the most authoritative voice is that of the permanent settlers."

A possible solution to the territorial dispute

This conflict seems to be a zero-sum game. Therefore, the solution would involve sovereignty over the territory of one side or the other.  Rojas proposed a sort of third alternative to, perhaps, reach an agreement that could satisfy all parties involved.

"Today sovereignty is under discussion. The British consider the islands within their sovereignty, the Argentines the same. So ultimately there is no established sovereignty, it is in dispute. The inhabitants of the islands are in a sort of limbo. Their only link with the world is the fact that they are recognized as British subjects. In theory they can also be Argentine citizens, if they decide to apply for it, by getting an Argentine document. But I don't know any inhabitant of the Islands who has chosen that," said Rojas.