More than 200 relatives of 90 fallen Argentine soldiers killed in the South Atlantic War with Britain visited Darwin Cemetery on the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands this morning, to pay homage and see the final resting places of their loved ones.
Fathers, mothers, siblings and other relatives of the fallen travelled early this morning on a humanitarian flight, which was agreed under a diplomatic agreement between the two nations reached in 2016, when Britain and Argentina agreed to try and identify the remains of unknown soldiers on the island.
During a brief ceremony, the auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires, Enrique Eguía Seguí, delivered a Catholic Mass. Anglican and Catholic priests from the islands were also present. At the close of the ceremony, Scottish Guards played bagpipes.
The group arrived just after 8am at the cemetery, travelling from RAF Mount Pleasant, the remote islands’ airport, via coach, accompanied by a small delegation that included journalists, doctors, psychologists and officials, including Human Rights Secretary Claudio Avruj.
Avruj, speaking prior to the trip, said the event was "a sample of what can be achieved through dialogue."
According to a statement, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie spoke to the families at midnight on Sunday, hours before they departed.
“Tomorrow (Monday) you will be able to kneel down and, in touching that land, be closer to them,” he said in reported comments.
"Nothing will change the story, nothing will change the loss that each of you had,” he continued, “but perhaps somehow being there, in front of a plaque with the name and surname, will have another value.”
"A huge step has also been taken by Argentina to fulfill a pending commitment with the families and the heroes of Las Malvinas," said Avruj this morning, using the name for the islands used by Argentines.
"This is the road that Argentina and the world needs to take – dialogue, encounters, mutual respect and recognition of our fellow men," he said. "This way, our societies will be better, more just, and peaceful."
"It's a very strong, new feeling because I found my son," said Dalal Abd, the mother of soldier Marcelo Daniel Massad, as she held back tears.
"I was able to speak to him, as a mother, and ask him questions," she said. "I have a feeling of peace because I know where he is after almost 36 years of so many struggles. I know he's here now, with his cross."
The emotional trip, funded by Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, was the culmination of a process led by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which managed to identify solders from 121 tombs that previously bore a simple inscription in English on each gravestone: “Argentine soldier known only to God.” In total there are 237 graves in the cemetery. There are still 33 sets of unidentified remains.
One of the main drivers for the identification process, which eventually took place after bilateral talks between Argentina and Britain, was the No Me Olvides NGO, a group created by veterans and relatives in 2008.
Under the ICRC’s watch, a multinational team of 14 experts – including both Argentine and British forensic experts – exhumed, analysed, sampled and documented remains over an exhaustive two-month period that began in June 2017. The samples were analysed and then compared with DNA samples from family members of some of the dead soldiers at a laboratory in Argentina. Laboratories in Britain and Spain conducted quality control of the DNA analyses.
The Falkland islanders reportedly call the site "the Argentine cemetery.” It sits in the middle of a hill, west of the Darwin Settlement, close to the location where the fierce Battle of Goose Green took place.
In all, the war claimed the lives of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers, in just 74 days of fighting.
When the war ended on June 14, 1982, most Argentine bodies were left untouched on the battlefield or in temporary graves during the southern winter. Britain tried for months to send them to Buenos Aires, but the ruling military junta said they were already in their homeland.
Then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher finally agreed to build a cemetery. Cardozo, then a 32-year-old captain, was ordered in January 1983 to recover and rebury the dead.
"They very quickly became my boys because they were orphans. Their mothers and fathers were not on the island and I was the only one who could look after them," Cardozo told The Associated Press on Friday. "And so I took great care to bury them, to look after them. And every step I took along the way with each body, I had in my mind their mothers, their families."