Relatives of the Argentine fighters who died in the Malvinas (Falklands) War, whose bodies they identified this week at the Darwin cemetery, received an explicit request before their journey: do not take Argentine flags or any other patriotic symbol to the Islands.
The request came from the British so as to limit the visit to the identification of the 88 soldiers who died in 1982 military conflict who had been buried on the archipelago as “Argentine soldiers known only to God”.
Nothing blue or white, not even a rosette. The order was clear: no items that beared the colours of the fatherland for which those 88 heroes sacrificed their lives. Not even during such an historic event in which family members travelled to the Malvinas to assign names to tombs and so allow their loved-ones to finally rest in peace after 36 years.
Sources at the Argentine Foreign Ministry told this journalist that relatives could not step foot on the Islands waving the flag or showing anything bearing its colours: “This is a humanitarian issue and from the beginning we told relatives that they would not be able to take Argentine flags”.
Despite Argentina having yielded to the request by the British, the Mauricio Macri government maintains that accepting such a condition did not affect Argentina’s sovereignty. “The issue of the flags is minor”, Foreign Ministry sources said.
But it was a key condition in negotiations among Argentina, Great Britain and the Kelpers. Relatives were essentially told not to take anything, not even flowers or rosaries. The offerings they were to leave had to be rigorously controlled and handed into the Relatives Committee prior to arriving in Darwin. There were to be no surprises, no white or blue to be seen in any of the photos taken that day.
The Macri government has shown just how different it is from the former Kirchner governments. The cemetery in Darwin was opened in 2009 with a mass and a visit by an Argentine delegation. Many families took flags and Argentine symbols that they had hidden in their luggage. But when they returned from Puerto Argentino to Argentina, they packed up their things and did not leave any trace of such items at the cemetery. At the time, the flags were placed at the resting places of their loved ones.
Evidently, the Kelpers do not want to see anything that reminds them of Argentina. A few years ago, they had even tried to pass a law banning the flag.
In 2014, a petition circulated among Kelpers to demand that their Legislature pass a law prohibiting Argentine flags on the Islands, saying that they felt “provoked by that flag”. The petition did not reach a bill but, now at least, the Kelpers have had their way.
“It’s hard to say no to the winner. When we sat down to negotiate, we knew they would demand something”, an Argentine diplomat who participated in the process of identifying the fallen Argentines told this journalist.
A family member who travelled to Darwin but did not want to be identified, fearing she would not be allowed back to Malvinas, confessed: “I know that my brother would have liked to have the Argentine flag at his tomb. He died for that flag and I dreamed of leaving those colours next to the plaque bearing his name on a cross. The truth is that I don’t know why we can’t”.
With a new anniversary approaching, the President will on Monday receive relatives of Argentine soldiers who died on the Malvinas. Perhaps he might explain to them why he agreed to the British demand.