Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands
   / Islas Malvinas
   Islands off the coast of Argentina, 900 miles southeast of Buenos Aires. Although sparsely populated, cold, and windswept, the Falkland Islands (known as the Islas Malvinas, or Malvinas, in Argentina) have been a subject of dispute between Argentina and Britain since 1833. In that year, the British occupied the islands, which Argentina had claimed as an inheritance from Spain. In 1982 General Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, the leader of the third junta, made the decision to take back the islands—an attempt to divert attention from the country’s domestic problems. Diplomatic talks failed, and Argentina turned to force. On 11 March an Argentine construction crew on South Georgia Island (a Falklands dependency) created a diplomatic incident by raising the Argentine flag. Shortly after, events in Argentina persuaded Galtieri to accelerate plans for an invasion. On 18 March the Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) staged their largest Thursday vigil yet, and on 30 March the Confederación General del Trabajo (CGT, General Labor Confederation)—revived but illegal-led thousands in a demonstration that was suppressed with violence. On 2 April Argentina invaded the islands.
   At first, the move was popular in Argentina. The demonstrations against the junta a few days earlier were replaced with rallies in support of the invasion. Even the labor movement set aside its grievances. The Madres, however, continued their protest, though the Thursday vigils attracted fewer marchers. Outside Argentina, however, the junta found itself virtually isolated. The invasion was condemned by the United Nations Security Council and elicited, at most, only lukewarm support from Latin American countries. The United States sided with Britain, its ally in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Domestic support faded, too, when it became clear that Britain intended to recapture the islands. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a fleet to the south Atlantic, including eight destroyers, two aircraft carriers, and two nuclear submarines. Because their invasion plan had been hastily drawn up, the Argentines found themselves at a disadvantage. The occupying force, the Third Army Brigade, was made up largely of recent conscripts who lacked training and equipment. It was no match for the experienced British force, and the Argentines surrendered on 14 June.
   The next day, when Galtieri reported Argentina’s defeat to a crowd assembled in the Plaza de Mayo, the crowd hurled insults at him and the other junta members and began rioting in the streets. On 17 June Galtieri was forced to resign. He was replaced by Reynaldo Benito Bignone, a retired general, who would return the country to civilian rule the following year.

Historical Dictionary of the “Dirty Wars” . . 2010.

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