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Falklands loom large in Argentine view of Thatcher

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Enrique Marcarian/Reuters

(Read caption) A man sits near crosses honouring Argentina's soldiers who were killed in the 1982 Falkland Islands war, commonly known in Argentina as the 'Malvinas,' at the Plazo de Mayo square in Buenos Aires Monday. Margaret Thatcher, the 'Iron Lady' who transformed Britain and inspired conservatives around the world by radically rolling back the state during her 11 years in power, died on Monday morning.

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Margaret Thatcher, who died today at the age of 87, was a hugely divisive figure in Britain. Supporters say her free-market policies brought the country economic prosperity while critics despise her for closing coal mines, forcing people out of work, and eroding the welfare state. 
 
In Argentina, however, there is a consensus: Mrs. Thatcher is loathed.

The former British prime minister's lack of popularity in this southern cone nation has to do with having personally ordered the sinking of the Belgrano warship during the 1982 Falklands War. Some 323 Argentines died as a result.

“Nobody here is going to be very upset [at her passing],” says Andrés Udvari, a newspaper seller in his 60s.

 Britain’s defeat of Argentina in the 74-day conflict boosted Thatcher’s ailing popularity at home and helped propel her to re-election. But her decision to torpedo the Belgrano was hugely controversial since the ship was outside the 200-mile exclusion zone surrounding the islands. Many here consider the order illegal.
 
“Sinking the Belgrano ended the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict,” says Ernesto Alonso, president of the National Commission for Malvinas Veterans. Argentina refers to the Falklands as the Malvinas.
 
“She took the decision knowing it would impede any chance of negotiation,” said Francisco Pestanha, a historian at the University of Buenos Aires.

Opposed to invasion

The government of the Falkland Islands today issued a statement thanking Thatcher for her “decisiveness in sending a task force to liberate our home.”
 
The 2,800 Islanders reaffirmed their desire to remain a British Overseas Territory in a referendum last month. Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has waged a diplomatic assault in an attempt to force the United Kingdom to negotiate sovereignty.
 
Her battle, however, is a peaceful one. Argentines today are utterly opposed to another invasion, which the military dictatorship used in 1982 to whip up nationalist pride and distract from a collapsing economy.

The dictatorship's plan was for the invasion to spark negotiations: Britain's military response was unexpected. Thatcher’s decision to send a task force, leading to all-out war and the deaths of nearly 1,000 troops, will forever be criticized here.

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“Thatcher was bloodthirsty,” says Mercedes Castillo, a school secretary in Buenos Aires. “She hurt the Argentine people deeply.”

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