Suicide plagues Argentine veterans of Falklands conflict
By Veronica Sardon Apr 2, 2007, 7:03 GMT
Buenos Aires - Argentina lost 649 of its soldiers in the Falklands War of 1982 - but another 300 survivors have since taken their own lives amidst government neglect and mistreatment.
Half of the 10,000 to 12,000 soldiers sent to the 74-day war were young conscripts, some with just days of prior training to fight the top notch Britain's armed forces just as southern hemisphere autumn had settled across the chilly the South Atlantic.
Hunger, cold and damp plagued the conscripts who were inadequately clothed for such April conditions - factors that historians consider to have been almost as effective as British bombs in defeating Argentina. In some cases, the conditions were worsened through mistreatment by superiors.
Badly armed, hundreds died in combat. Even more have suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and post-war abandonment by the country for which they risked their lives.
When they returned in defeat, the conscripts suffered not only from a two-tier system that gave veteran privileges only to the professional soldiers, but also from a tide of public disdain that washed across the country after the military dictatorship lost the war.
To make a living and bring their cause closer to their fellow citizens, some conscript veterans even make and sell small national symbols on Argentine streets and trains. They are a constant presence on the streets of the cities.
Falklands veteran Luis Alberto Lopresti, who committed suicide in 1999, wrote in his farewell note: 'I want to return with my comrades. I do not want to be a nuisance to my family or to society.'
Former conscript and veteran leader Roberto Piccardi told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that just as Argentina was not prepared to go to war against Britain, it was also not prepared for the return of thousands of young, traumatized veterans.
Neither the ailing Argentine democracy of 1982 nor the young democracy that emerged in the following year - precipitated by the military defeat - were up to the task at hand, Piccardi noted.
'You find that unfortunately when you return, nobody supports you, there is no health care, you have no income, you have few chances of finding a job, because precisely for having gone through an abnormal situation it is very normal that you feel bad,' he recalled.
Piccardi estimated that 300 to 320 men committed suicide upon their return in this mixture of helplessness and post-war trauma.
Conscripts who fought in the Falklands were denied the possibility to retire as military personnel and receive the relevant pension and health care. For nearly 11 years afterwards, they received no money or medical attention as war veterans, and for many years after that the amount was almost negligible.
That treatment compares to the support given other military veterans - a pension equivalent to three times the minimum wage, around 450 dollars a month.
Journalist Horacio Verbitsky noted in his 2002 book Malvinas, la ultima batalla de la Tercera Guerra Mundial (Falklands, the Last Battle of the Third World War) that Lopresti's farewell letter echoed the feelings of his fellow soldiers.
'This says nothing good about the country which lit up with joy during the war and then immediately turned its back on those who suffered for it at the frontline,' said Verbitsky. 'April's Falklands fervour' gave way to 'June's anti-military furore,' he wrote.
The government has made a limited attempt to catch up with the needs of Falklands veterans - but those efforts have harvested scorn from writers like Eduardo van der Kooy, co-author of another book, Malvinas, la trama secreta (Falklands, the Secret Plot, 2007.)
He claims that 27,000 pensions are being paid to Falklands veterans, even though only 10,000 to 12,000 went to war.
'There is something there which is not right ... and I feel that it is not right because the whole (Falklands War) story was not right,' he told dpa.
General Leonardo Galtieri, whose regime collapsed within days after the June 14 admission of defeat, was later found guilty for mis-planning of the Falklands war, and sentenced by a military court to 12 years in jail.
'The military plan was conceived with the idea that the recuperation of the islands would force a negotiation, and not a military answer on the part of Great Britain,' van der Kooy says.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur