RTL Today – ‘Symbol of the 20th century’: Argentina’s reverence for Queen Elizabeth tainted by memories of the Falklands

Argentines have wavered between admiration and disillusion as they assess the legacy of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, a country with which they share a complex history marked by a brutally fought territorial war under her leadership.

The government in Buenos Aires reacted quickly to the news of the monarch’s disappearance, assuring the British people that they shared their grief at this “painful moment”.

The Argentine press expressed their open reverence, declaring the Queen a “symbol of the 20th century” and describing her as someone “whom we knew better than our own aunts”.

But on the streets, praise for the Queen’s record has been clouded by lingering wounds from the 1982 war on the Falkland Islands which both countries claim as their own.

“I would have liked the queen to return the islands to us before she died,” Maria Lujan Rodriguez, 51, told AFP in Buenos Aires.

Celia Carlen, 88, was another among those who laid flowers at the British Embassy in the capital for a “very sensible and balanced” monarch.

The islands, yes, “I think they should give them back to us. But I separate the two things,” Carlen said.

During the war, which lasted 74 days and left more than 900 dead — 649 Argentinian and 255 British soldiers as well as three islanders — Elizabeth was the target of much vitriol, many say misdirected.

At the time, fans of football – a sport adopted in Britain to become almost a religion in Argentina – sang songs calling her “the dumbest queen”.

– ‘Archaic system’ –

Argentine political scientist Rosendo Fraga pointed out that the war was a political decision by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government.

The monarchy has no executive or political powers, but the Queen’s public profile has made her an easy target for public invective.

Mirtha Legrand, a 95-year-old TV host and celebrity just 10 months younger than the Queen, summed up the ambivalence felt by Argentines.

“It’s very painful. I’ve followed her since she was crowned at 25,” Legrand said. “She was a great queen, but I can’t forget she reigned during the Falklands War. I can’t forget. It was a very sad time for everyone.”

Two nations share a long history with many ups and downs.

Two deadly British invasions of Buenos Aires in 1806 and 1807 were followed by a period of economic investment that saw British money poured into agriculture, energy and Latin America’s largest rail network.

Then war struck again.

Argentina sent soldiers to claim the Falkland Islands off the Patagonian coast, angering Thatcher.

With the Queen’s consent, the Prime Minister has sent nearly 30,000 troops halfway around the world to retake the islands that Argentina has claimed as its own since 1833 and calls the “Malvinas”.

The Queen’s own son, Prince Andrew, then 22, was part of the deployment as a helicopter pilot.

Britain emerged victorious, but the campaign left a deep wound, despite the resumption of diplomatic and economic relations since then.

The Argentina-based Falklands War Veterans Center said in a statement that Elizabeth II had “embodied the suffering of peoples subjected to colonial and economic domination throughout her reign, an archaic system”.

In April this year, at a ceremony commemorating the 40th anniversary of the war, President Alberto Fernandez reaffirmed: “The Falklands were, are and will be Argentines.

– ‘Bravo Lilibet’ –

A poll last year found that more than 81% of Argentines support claiming sovereignty over the islands.

But in a 2013 referendum among the Falklands, 97% voted to remain in the British kingdom, prompting the Queen to declare it an overseas territory.

She aroused anger in Buenos Aires by telling the then Parliament that Britain “will ensure the security, good governance and development of overseas territories, including by protecting the right of the Falklands to determine their political future”.

One of the last acts of the monarch, in May this year, was to declare the colony of Port Stanley (called Puerto Argentino by Argentina) the official “capital” of the islands.

“This reveals the colonial nature of the illegal and illegitimate occupation of our islands,” retorted the Argentine government.

For retired teacher Elizabeth Farinez, 67, there was a “bit of a confrontational relationship with the English, but you have to admit that she (Elizabeth) was one hell of a lady.

“We should say: ‘Bravo Lilibet, you have done very well, for seventy years you have governed England very well’.”

James V. Hayes