Thursday, June 14, 2007

General Leopoldo Galtieri and the Invasion of the Falklands

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War.

When the war was declared, Argentina was one of those countries that had long suffered leaders who assiduously snatched poverty out of the jaws of prosperity. In 1933 Argentina had been the ninth most prosperous country in the world, to which immigrants from Europe, and in particular Italy, flocked in great number. After the Second World War, Argentina fell in the thrall of Juan Perón, whose catastrophic mixture of cronyism and corporatism left Argentina an economic and political basket case. Nor did his hospitality towards people one could euphemistically describe as "political refugees" from postwar Europe endear him to the wider world.

Perón's last wife, whose life was not made into a famous London musical, succeeded him to the presidency of an Argentina plagued by left-wingers given to the notion that it was justified, even ethical, to summarily kill purported "enemies of the revolution," and a military that had no compunctions about "disappearing" thousands of revolutionaries known to entertain such beliefs, or suspected of doing so, without worrying about legal niceties. Such circumstances rarely make for too happy a country; as General Leopoldo Galtieri, the head of the junta that held the reigns of power in Argentina, realized that time was running out for his increasingly unpopular regime, he decided to invade the Falkland Islands.

The Falklands had belonged to Spain, and been part of the Spanish province to which Argentina belonged when Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1816. In 1833, the British occupied the Falklands, deported the remaining Argentines, and settled some of Her Majesty's Subjects on the islands. Argentina had never - and does not - recognize the British claim to these islands; to this day it remains a matter of national pride that the "Malvinas" as they are known in Spanish, are Argentinian.

General Galtieri believed - or wanted to believe - that the British under Maggie Thatcher's leadership, would quietly acquiesce to his conquest, and that the United States, with whom he enjoyed a good working relationship based on their mutual enmity of Communism, would put its friendship with Argentina above its venerable, almost fraternal, ties with Great Britain. In both of these he was sorely mistaken; Argentina's forces on the Falklands were no match for the British forces. The Falklands were lost, and his government fell. The talks between the United Kingdom and Argentina about the future of the islands - however soporific they may have been - are also a thing of the past.

But for the few days or weeks in which it seemed that Argentina may have regained the Malvinas, General Leopoldo Galtieri was the talk of the town.

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