“Monday, Monday, it’s here to stay,” concludes the song – last Monday morning witnessed the moving reunion of families of the 1982 South Atlantic war dead with the recently identified graves of their loved ones at Darwin Cemetery on the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands and this coming Monday is Veterans and Malvinas War Dead Day, a public holiday. These two Mondays reflect the full dimensions of the Malvinas issue. Nor is it at all inappropriate that the Darwin reconciliation milestone should fall within Easter week because, while there was no direct Christian inspiration behind it apart from the accompanying religious ceremony, this is exactly the kind of thing which Christians should be doing.
But the credit here does not belong to any one country or any one creed or any one anything. Despite the famous ‘grieta’ rift, the initiative even transcends governments since it began in 2012 with the proposal of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (via the Red Cross, not directly) although the main credit for making it happen belongs to President Mauricio Macri and his first foreign minister Susana Malcorra, who really set the ball rolling within the context of vastly improved relations with the United Kingdom. The names of various others of every type and background could be added here – the 1982 war veterans Colonel Geoffrey Cardozo MBE and his Argentine couterpart Julio Aro (a possible Nobel Peace Prize candidate), ambassadors Mark Kent and Carlos Sersale di Cerisano, the Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters and several other deserving names, including businessman Eduardo Eurnekian, who funded the trip.
A milestone among several in recent times for sure, but much remains to be done to improve relations between the two nations. One indication of just how much was the admission into the political arena of the absurd rumour that the missing submarine ARA San Juan might have been a Royal Navy victim (fed by a doubtlessly malicious report showing the sub just off Stanley harbour) – this suspicion did not fill Plaza de Mayo but the degree of echo remains worrying. Yet even the San Juan tragedy helped to improve relations – the major British contribution to the search effort and the lengthy stint of the British Embassy deputy defence attaché Major Adam Wise in Chubut played their part in boosting bilateral relations, developments that were once considered unthinkable not too long ago.
Time to look ahead but also back half a century to the days of Lord Chalfont (still alive, incredibly) when mainland links were steadily intensifying and a leaseback option for the islands was seriously considered. Apart from a tendency to slide into military dictatorship (relatively harmless before 1976 but still too frequent), Argentina back then was a generally attractive place for the windswept islands with just two percent falling below the poverty line. Like charity, reconciliation begins at home – by announcing this week the descent of poverty to a quarter of the population from a third two years ago, Macri has perhaps made Argentina a slightly less unattractive home for the ‘lost sisters,’ yet it is clear today that the issue of sovereignty isn’t one that can be immediately resolved today.
The Malvinas dispute is about two islands but last Monday’s emotionally overpowering event in Darwin teaches us the importance of what can be achieved, despite deep trauma, when two sides put aside disputes and focus on what they can achieve together. It also brought home the full force of John Donne’s famous line: “No man is an island.”