USHUAIA, Argentina – As Monday marks the 30th anniversary of Argentina’s failed occupation of the Falkland Islands, President Cristina Fernandez and her campaign for the remote South Atlantic archipelago has reached an all time high.
In a speech to lead hundreds of patriotic rallies nationwide, Fernandez urged Britain to concede sovereignty of the islands, known in Latin America as "Las Malvinas."
In another speech, the President insisted the resolution be peaceful, even though leftist groups are preparing to confront riot police outside the British embassy in Buenos Aires.
The multifaceted campaign is being executed with the help of Nobel Peace Prize winners and Argentina's Latin American allies, who accuse Britain of militarizing the dispute even as Fernandez pursues what islanders consider to be economic warfare against them.
A union threat to boycott British cargo and refuse British-flagged cruises has complicated shipping, while Argentina's refusal to allow more than one weekly flight through its air space has limited airborne commerce. The Fernandez government has urged companies to find alternatives to British imports, threatened to sue British investors and banks, and tried to block offshore oil development.
Even with all these efforts, none seem to bring Argentina close to recovering the territory it claims British forces stole from them in 1833 and ran as a colony for 150 years. Instead, the moves are simply making life more difficult for the islanders.
Britain says there is nothing to negotiate: The islands are now a self-governing British Overseas Territory and the people who have lived there for generations will determine their own fate. The islanders themselves overwhelmingly say they want to remain British.
With no real progress to be made, the rhetoric has only become more intense with feelings on both sides hardened.
Through email and social networks, Argentines have accused the islanders of being "pirates." One urged a editor at the islands' weekly Penguin News to "move to England, or if you want to be a Martian, hop on a rocket and head toward Mars."
While Penguin News Editor Lisa Watson has fired back through Twitter messages, one of the site’s online news photos of President Fernandez, saved under a crude insult, has not helped her situation.
"It never occurred to us that the filename would be so transparent. It was hugely embarrassing, particularly now as we were seemingly winning the image war," Watson's colleague John Fowler said. "Before that, Lisa had been pretty continuously receiving hundreds and hundreds of nasty sexually insulting messages a day."
For the last four decades, Argentina has tried to charm, occupy, negotiate and threaten its way back into the islands. In the 1970s, it established a direct air link with Buenos Aires, supplied them with gasoline, paid to educate island children and otherwise tried to build ties. Britain was lobbying the islanders to accept a Hong Kong-style handover before the junta decided to invade on April 2, 1982.
Led to believe they would be welcomed as liberators, Argentine troops instead discovered that islanders wanted to stay British — and that a flotilla was on its way from England to seize the islands back. The junta rushed in thousands of newly drafted troops without logistical support or even warm clothes. They fought bravely, British soldiers said, but hardly stood a chance.
Argentine forces surrendered on June 14, after battles that cost 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers' lives, along with three islanders killed by friendly British fire.
There were other attempts to build ties in the 1990s — a series of agreements on shared fishing and oil rights, shipping and air links and other exchanges. But nearly all those deals were abandoned in 2003, after Fernandez' late husband, Nestor Kirchner, became president and began trying to isolate the islands instead.
Ever since then, such efforts have only intensified.
"Thirty years and now we find it again, we are worried we are going to go through it all again, another invasion. We do not, we do not want to see this again," islander Mary Lou Agman said as several hundred of the islands' 3,000 residents turned out Sunday for a commemorative march by the small Falkland Islands Defence Force.
Among those who yearn for common ground are a small group of Argentine war veterans who were spending Monday in the islands, holding a quiet ceremony at the cemetery where hundreds of Argentine soldiers remain buried.
"To return to this little piece of land, which for me is a little bit of my country and apart from that, being here is so pleasing, to be among the people that were once our enemies, that which we can now live together with — it's just really proof that we human beings are not like animals," said Juan Carlos Lujan, one of the veterans.
James Peck, a 43-year-old islander and artist who now has dual Falklands-Argentine nationality after marrying an Argentine and moving to Buenos Aires, said he has tried to keep a low profile, but told The Associated Press that he wrote a brief essay urging dialogue ahead of the anniversary because he saw this war of words "fueling itself and becoming hysterical."
"I didn't really want to join in the noise," Peck explained, but he said someone has to speak out for common sense. "For me Argentina has real dignity these days, and I'm amazed that grown up politicians cannot sit down and talk civilly to each other. I think that's really sad. Not everybody's getting stoked up by all this, I'm sure they're not."
Associated Press Writer Brian Hendrie contributed to this story.