PORT STANLEY, Falkland Islands — Some Falkland Islanders are protesting a recent thaw of relations between Argentina and Britain over the disputed islands.
Argentina lost a brief but bloody war with Britain after Argentine troops invaded the South Atlantic archipelago in 1982. In the biggest breakthrough in years, both countries recently announced that they would work to remove restrictions in the oil, fishing and shipping industries affecting the Falklands. They also agreed to increase the number of flights between the islands and Argentina.
But islander Faith Felton says that it’s not worth the sacrifice of those people who died defending the British overseas territory. She launched an online petition this week called: “Is your cheap holiday worth their lives?”
“We won the war in 1982, you know we should not be appeasing Argentina and we should be looking toward other routes,” Felton said. “Our economy would still evolve, we would still move on. It might be a little slower but it would still happen.”
The war over the islands known by Argentina as the “Islas Malvinas” claimed the lives of 649 Argentines and 255 British soldiers. Argentina’s constitution was amended in the 1990s to make recovering control of the Malvinas through peaceful means a national priority.
During her eight years in power, former President Cristina Fernandez tried to pressure Britain into sovereignty talks by turning away British ships, encouraging companies to divest from Britain and raising other trade barriers. But tensions have eased since pro-business President Mauricio Macri took office in December promising a less-confrontational stance.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that progress can be made now, particularly with Argentina agreeing to roll back sanctions that were being imposed more and more by the previous government,” said Phyl Rendell, a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Government of Falkland Islands.
“They want to disassociate themselves with that, remove obstacles to our industries and also to look at us having a flight from a third country to increase air access. So it is looking quite positive at the moment.”
The Falklands are internally self-governing, but Britain is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Argentina claims Britain has illegally occupied the islands since 1833. Britain disputes that and says Argentina is ignoring the wishes of the 3,000 residents who wish to remain British.
Macri has been criticized at home by politicians for both the agreement with Britain and for his recent comments. Macri said that he spoke informally with British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this week and brought up the dialogue the countries have re-established in hopes of resolving the dispute over the Falklands. He told Argentina’s state news agency Telam that he told May that “he is ready to start an open a dialogue that includes, of course, the issue of the sovereignty of the Malvinas.”
Macri said the British leader responded with a “yes, that we should start to talk,” Telam said. Macri later backtracked on the comments, saying “a minute’s worth chat cannot become an official agreement,” and Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra cautioned that while the disputed islands are something to be discussed with Britain, it would be “a big step to say that the issue is on the table.”
The Falklands remain one of the world’s most remote, underpopulated and unspoiled places. At stake are not only the islands themselves where sheep far outnumber people but rich fishing grounds and potential undersea gas and oil in the surrounding seas.
“My personal feeling is that the Argentines will want to get back in, not for the extra flight, but for the oil,” said Robin Goodwin, a fifth-generation Falkland Islander.
But other Falklands residents speak in more optimistic terms about closer ties between Argentina and Britain.
“We definitely need to tread carefully,” said Lizzy Bonner, a British-born, long-term resident of the islands.
“But I also think something positive could come from it, like establishing trade links, which would be great for the economy with bringing new products into the islands.”
Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne and AP writer Luis Andres Henao, contributed to this report from Buenos Aires, Argentina.