Argentina's armed forces marked the anniversary of the invasion of the Falkland Islands today with unrepentant tributes to their failed campaign but faced bitter repudiation and protests from citizens still haunted by the loss of the improbable war with Britain.
The Army and Navy commands issued statements praising the performance of Argentina's forces in the small, stormy islands and predicted in sometimes belligerent terms that the country would eventually win control over them.
"The move initiated on April 2, 1982, still has not ended," the Navy commander, Adm. Ruben Franco, said. "The Navy has a debt to settle."
Despite fears of attacks on the islands or British-linked institutions in Argentina, however, there were no reports of military action or moves by any of several nationalistic groups that had threatened violence. Instead, a quiet, cloudy day in Buenos Aires was marked by denunciations of the military's campaign, a defiant demonstration by war veterans and widespread public apathy.
Government officials, seeking to control public reaction on an emotional anniversary, limited commemorations of the invasion to a series of small official ceremonies scheduled for Monday and prohibited a gathering this afternoon by the Ex-Combatants organization. But the veterans group, mainly young former conscripts, went ahead with a tribute to Argentina's 1,700 casualties in what was once the capital's Plaza Britanica, now renamed but still dominated by a brick replica of Big Ben.
Their numbers swelled to about 500 by several militant youth groups, the veterans burned the flags of the United States and Britain. In a statement, they charged that powerful sectors in Argentina "are trying to erase and forget forever our fight." They called for investigations of both the leaders of the war and officers "who mistreated soldiers" and said Argentina should prohibit imports from or debt payments to countries--such as the United States--that supported Britain.
Many politicians and newspapers that had hailed the military's invasion today sharply repudiated the use of force and renewed calls for public explanations of the failure.
"We have learned that force was not a proper means to recover the Malvinas," said the right-wing paper La Nacion, using the Argentine name for the Falklands. "We have to choose between being a nation of men or resigning ourselves to being only a crowd that follows bellicose exhortations and paternalistic manifestos launched from a balcony."
Other groups called for militant action against British occupation of the islands and denounced the armed forces for their lack of will.
"We demand the continuation of the war effort, in the best times, forms and opportunities, until the enemy has been totally expelled from the South Atlantic," said a handbill distributed in the capital this week by the Argentine Malvinas Action Group, one of several extremist organizations formed in recent months. Much of Argentine society, however, appeared reluctant to remember the war or the Falklands cause. No anthems blared from loudspeakers today, and no flags flew from balconies and rooftops. The Plaza de Mayo, where tens of thousands rallied a year ago, was deserted. In the city center, long lines formed outside theaters for hit movies from the United States.
Major political parties, reflecting the public mood, called neither patriotic rallies nor antimilitary protests this week, and a series of events promoted by the nationalistic groups drew little attention. Tuesday evening, several groups organized a wreath-laying in memory of Argentina's casualties. But the rally, staged at rush hour downtown, drew only about 200.
When leaders launched into singing the "Malvinas Anthem"--the theme song of last year's campaign--the effort died out after the first verses as embarrassed Argentines walked away.
Labor unions, which organized a successful national strike last Monday on economic issues, drew a relatively small crowd of fewer than 10,000 persons Wednesday in a march to commemorate the violent antigovernment demonstrations that preceded last year's invasion. There was little mention of the Falklands invasion at the peaceful demonstration, although the crowd broke into antimilitary chants.
Although the loss of the war and Argentina's continuing claim to the Falklands continue to dominate national politics and foreign policy, the military and its government have often appeared divided on how to pursue the cause.
The government of Gen. Reynaldo Bignone, installed after the downfall of president and Army commander Leopoldo Galtieri last June, has rebuilt foreign policy around a ceaseless diplomatic campaign against British occupation of the islands.
Motivated by that issue, the government has reversed six years of foreign policy by endorsing the agenda of nonaligned nations and has appeared at times to welcome closer ties with such former enemies as Cuba, the Soviet Union and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Officials of Bignone's government also have denounced reports of possible Argentine military actions--as well as even some internal criticisms of the military--as part of a "destabilization campaign" by Britain.
Nevertheless, Argentina's military leadership has never publicly accepted a cessation of hostilities in the South Atlantic conflict and has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in recent months on new warplanes and supplies of the Exocet missiles successfully used last year against British warships.
The government's changes in foreign policy have also produced strange contradictions. Last month, even as Bignone met cordially with Fidel Castro and Yasser Arafat at the Nonaligned Movement session in New Delhi while seeking support for Argentina's Falklands claims, military authorities in Buenos Aires banned television stations from broadcasting images of either leader.
Bignone went on to make a speech calculated to win sympathy for Argentina among nonaligned leaders through denunciations of Israel's invasion of Lebanon, support for a Palestinian state and a sharp attack on South Africa. But in Buenos Aires, critics pointed out that not only was Israel supplying Argentina with arms, but the Army's chief of staff also had reportedly just completed a strategic plan for Argentina to create a South Atlantic alliance with South Africa.
Argentina eventually won a relatively mild paragraph of support from the nonaligned conference, but Bignone returned to widespread criticism for the perceived flip-flops in Argentine policy.
"Just as President Bignone says, Argentina has not changed its foreign policy," wrote Jesus Iglesias Rouco, a prominent newspaper columnist. "The only thing this regime has done, really, is confirm the absolutely erratic line this country has followed in its foreign policy for the last 40 years, and elevated its destructive effects to the highest level."