25 years on, Falklands vets treated as outcasts

Discussion in 'Falkland Islands (Op CORPORATE)' started by armchair_jihad, Jan 21, 2007.

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  1. I have edited the following article to reflect history and reality, but not to insult conscripted Argie veterans.

    As teenagers they were conscripted to fight for Argentina. Now they remain haunted by memory and struggle to live normal lives

    As the train pulls into the central station of Buenos Aires, Jose is still walking down the aisle hawking a clutch of goods. An olive-green jacket, a patch with an Argentinian flag on his right arm, and a silhouette of the Falklands Islands signal he is one of the many veterans of the Falklands war supplementing their meagre pensions. What he sells is patriotism - small calendars and stickers bearing the slogan: 'The Falklands were, are and always will be Argentinian.'

    But he tells a story of betrayal, of himself and 15,000 other veterans of the 1982 war with Britain. In a voice made automatic by repetition, he says: 'A little help please, I am a veteran of the Falklands, I have been repeatedly denied jobs simply for being a veteran, my pension is not always enough, I have been forgotten by my country for a long time.' He has been saying it for 25 years. It is a story repeated by most veterans.
    Things have improved, but very late. The most important change came in 1991, when some veterans finally began to receive pensions. The next milestone was the election in 2003 of Nestor Kirchner. He became President on the back of promises on human rights, and increased the pension so the veterans felt able to pull down the green tents they had pitched in front of the government building on the Plaza de Mayo, protesting at lack of compensation and healthcare on the same spot where thousands congregated in April 1982 to cheer the capture of the Falklands.

    But the difficulty of winning a pension is, veterans argue, evidence of neglect which goes back to the war itself. General Leopoldo Galtieri, 'in his quest to stay in power, had no qualms in sending brave 18-year-old conscripts, with no military training whatever, into a war', says Norberto Santos, one of those 18-year-olds and now a member of the Centre for Ex-Combatants Islas Falklands (CECIM). The troops had to endure shortages of ammunition, food, and clothing and suffered from cold, abuse and humiliation by their superiors.

    'Some of us were treated better by the British while in custody in the troop ship Canberra than by the Argentinian forces,' says Sergio Isaia, another veteran held prisoner.

    For Santos the war ended when a bomb blew off his left arm. A comrade, thinking he was dying, shot him to end his suffering. Instead, he prolonged it. The neglect continued despite Margaret Thatcher's victory, the fall of Galtieri and the re-establishment of democracy. One example was the pensions, but the state paid little attention to veterans' health or post-traumatic stress. Maria Laura Tapparelli, the widow of Jorge Martire, agrees her husband's response was to join Argentinian society in forgetting. After 60 days fighting on the Falklands, he returned to La Plata in Buenos Aires province. He found a wife, had three children and studied architecture. 'He barely spoke about the Falklands,' she says. In October 1992, on the way to sit his last exam, he disappeared. He was found later wandering around the city's main square. He had lost his memory as well as his way. He was hospitalised with symptoms of 'atypical psychosis' - what some veterans call the 'Falklands syndrome'. One day Jorge was found by the doctors hidden underneath his bed, sheltering from 'an English bombing'. Early in 1993 he was released. He bought a gun, went to a bar in the city and blew his head off.

    Martire - 'martyr' in Italian- was far from alone. Suicides are commonplace among veterans, the number - 460, according to CECIM - almost as high as 650 deaths in combat. Jose says he was unable to find ordinary work because he was a veteran and Santos believes his experiences bear out such claims. He tried to find a job at the municipality of La Plata, his home town, but when he said he was a war veteran he was rejected. A few months later he told another interviewer he had lost his arm in a motorbike accident. He got the job.

    Veterans believe that discrimination explains other unusual experiences. Santos married and had three children, but after a few years the couple divorced. His ex-wife told the judge that he was a Falklands veteran and Santos was denied the right even to see his children. 'I still wander around the courthouse asking what my punishment is for having been on the Malvinas, asking how many years will pass before someone can tell me if I committed a crime,' he says.

    Stories like Santos's and the suicide of a friend, as well as his own experience of war, drove Edgardo Esteban to write an autobiography which was turned into an award-winning film, Blessed by Fire. Edgardo, too, was 18 when he was sent to fight. 'The post-traumatic stress was there, but I managed to send it and my ghosts away and to exorcise myself'. 'The "blessed by fire" are the madmen, the disturbed, the insane, all those veterans that have been forgotten during this past years,' he says. In Argentina the film publicised the realities of the veterans' lives. 'The movie gave a voice to the voiceless and the silenced,' he says. 'After the war, the military asked us not to say a thing. But why not talk about the Falklands? ' When it was shown in London and Manchester, Esteban remembers some British Falklands veterans crying and giving welcoming applause. 'There was a very nice dialogue with the British then,' he says. Some of the British veterans he has seen reflected the same realities from a different side. 'The British now have to avoid any celebration about the war; even with a victory, wars are not to be cheered.' But the film upset some in the Argentinian armed forces. 'The armed forces wanted Rambo-style images, but there are no Rambos in a war, just human beings made of flesh and bones.'

    Others look for therapy among people. Juan Cantini, a member of the Union of Veterans of the Islas Falklands, says: 'Some of my comrades-in-arms have been wandering around trains for ages, as they started to do before they received their pensions, for an economic need. Some today are still walking up and down the trains and buses as a form of therapy, just to clear their minds for a while and to be surrounded by other people - who, unfortunately, still ignore them.'

    But for some it may be more important than even therapy. At Retiro station, Jose waits for the next train back to the suburbs. He sold just a few calendars and stickers on the way out and will probably sell a few more on the way back. 'The trauma is still with me. I have to keep going, I do not want to succumb to other temptations, like suicide.'

  2. ugly

    ugly LE Moderator

    Could read 1 year on as far as the Argentinian conscripts are concerned. No one wants to know about them even if they had won it would be like us today, too cold for swiss toni to attend!
  3. Why does this remind me of the shameful and disgraceful treatment dished out to British Armed Forces veterans, or Septic Vietnam veterans?

    It seems all gobments have the same basic attitude to war veterans in general, but I could be wrong.

  4. Poor Burggers - does Swiss Tony secretly run there as well?
  5. Tytus_Barnowl

    Tytus_Barnowl On ROPs

    Yank vets get fair treatment if they were reg soldiers. Nat guard and draftees (line dogs) have an uphill struggle.
    Falklands vets? I'm sure a cabinet meeting was held on the last day of the war to make absolutely certain that not a penny was to be released to support them.
    Sounds like they took a page out of the Argies book here, just didn't publish it for a few months.
  6. It is such a terrible shame. The British forces that went to the Falklands did a superb job and fought incredibly bravely against superior numbers with (generally speaking) better kit. They went from troops trained for war in peacetime, to the thick of a very short battle, and then back to peace again. They came home as heroes, but were soon forgotten as the world moved on, but they still had to deal with the aftermath of such a violent and brief introduction to death.

    The Argies went in as heroes and came back out as the losers, to face the ignomony of the loss, the shame of the people back home having had the same hard introduction to battle and death.

    I believe that more work can be done and much better services provided for those who have faced the abnormal situation of warfare. I believe it should be so.

    Why is it so difficult to honour such men and women? Is it because it is easier to forget?
  7. I know that someone will correct me if necessary but I have heard from an unverifiable source that the number of UK forces who took part in the campaign and who have subsequently and tragically taken their own lives exceed the total number of battlefield fatalities.

    Is anyone able to confirm this from a verifiable source or dismiss it as an urban myth?

    Most grateful for any assistance in answering this question.

    Regards and best wishes
  8. It's not an absolute confirmation, but see here:

  9. Thank you RFUK, I am obliged to you.

    Regards and best wishes