This week, 35 years after the fateful Malvinas war, a delegation of 14 members of the Provincial Commission for Remembrance (CPM) is visiting the Islas Malvinas. The deputation, headed by Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and co-founder of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Nora Cortiñas, arrived on the islands on Saturday heralding a dictum of “dialogue, peace and fraternity.”
In anticipation of the group’s arrival, the islands’ government published an open letter, in which they asked the members of the CPM not to disregard “the rights of the islanders” – in other words, their “fundamental right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Charter.”
The letter continued: “While we understand that the primary focus of your visit appears to be related to Argentine military treatment of its soldiers during the 1982 Falklands War, we note that you expect to take time to learn more about our country and heritage. We take this opportunity to remind you of the 35 years of attempts by the Government of Argentina to ignore our rights as a people and undermine our way of life.”
Arriving on the islands, the Argentine representatives kicked off proceedings by delivering their own open letter to the islands’ residents that reaffirmed Argentine sovereignty over the Malvinas.
The delegation also reiterated the nation’s intentions to support efforts to identify 123 anonymous bodies buried in the Darwin Cemetery, an Argentine military cemetery that holds the remains of at least 237 Argentine combatants killed during the war. The task, which is due to begin in June this year with the backing of both the Argentine and British governments, will see a team from the Red Cross exhume the 123 nameless bodies and collect DNA samples in the hope of identifying the fallen soldiers.
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But it hasn’t all been about penned squabbling. In the true spirit of peace, the delegation has since attended a mass held at the local Catholic church of Santa María (St. Mary’s) in the Malvinas capital of Puerto Argentino, on the island of Isla Soledad, along with a group of islanders. The ceremony was held jointly by Father José María ‘Pepe’ Di Paola, one of the Argentine representatives who have traveled to the islands, and the local parish priest.
“The important thing is that we were able to share the mass with the local Catholic parishioners, to pray for everyone and to meet the other Argentines who have come,” said Father Pepe of the beginning of the visit. About 35 Argentine swimmers also arrived on Saturday, swimming across Puerto Argentino’s habor “for peace”.
“It’s a good way to start a path of dialogue. This is going to require patience, understanding and a lot of listening, but we are also reaffirming our conviction that we are treading on Argentine land,” explained the priest.
According to Perfil, Cortiñas also participated actively in the mass and, when it came to giving the sign of peace, the 87-year-old human rights activist walked the length of the church and greeted members of the congregation with warmth.
Referring to the 123 anonymous bodies buried on the islands, she told the press: “I thought about the fallen boys, about the parents far away from them. I thought about the fact that many of them, like our own sons and daughters, were mistreated by the military personnel, who were guilty of genocide, and they were thrown into the sea, the river, unmarked graves, and that those parents didn’t even know where their sons graves were.”
Today the delegation visited the Cabo San Felipe lighthouse to the east of Isla Soledad. The representatives took the opportunity to place plaques at the site where Argentine armed forces tortured soldiers from their own army. Their signs read frankly: “Aquí las fuerzas armadas argentinas torturaron soldados argentinos” (“Here the Argentine armed forces tortured Argentine soldiers.”)
The delegation, throughout the course of this week, will also be visiting the Darwin Cemetery to honor the fallen Argentines, as well as the San Carlos Cemetery where the British soldiers killed during the 1982 war are buried.