Javier Milei pledges roadmap for UK to hand over Falklands

President Javier Milei
Javier Milei has, in the past, rarely talked about Argentina's claim to the islands - LUIS ROBAYO/AFP

Argentina’s president Javier Milei has vowed to establish a diplomatic “roadmap” for the United Kingdom to hand over the Falkland Islands to the South American nation.

Mr Milei criticised previous administrations and promised to develop a plan to return the territory to Argentina, in a speech that disappointed hardliners in Buenos Aires.

“I want to reiterate our unwavering claim for the islands, and I commit that during our government we will have a clear roadmap so that the Malvinas return to Argentine hands,” Mr Milei told a small crowd gathered for a scaled-back “Malvinas Day”.

Mr Milei’s speech came after he cancelled a Malvinas Day parade in the Argentine capital, claiming it was a cost-cutting measure. He failed to namecheck the UK, an unusual omission for a speech by an Argentine president about the islands.

In a swipe at his predecessors, Mr Milei added that the diplomatic push needed to be more than “mere words in international forums with no impact on reality and that only serve the politician in power to impose a false love for the country.”

Mr Milei visiting a Falklands War memorial
Mr Milei visiting a Falklands War memorial - NATACHA PISARENKO/AP

Despite the promise, many Argentines – especially veterans of the war – remain highly critical of what they regard as Mr Milei’s failure to press London over the sovereignty of the islands, which the UK occupied in 1833.

“I was never clear on the president’s stance on this basic national issue,” Carlos Retamozo, who fought in the war as an 18-year-old conscript, said, after listening to Mr Milei’s speech. “Today, I am still not clear.”

A libertarian economist, Mr Milei has two big obsessions, deep-cutting free market reforms, to restructure Argentina’s listing and heavily subsidised economy, and culture war issues, above all his hostility to gender and LGBT rights or “wokeism.”

He rarely talks about Argentina’s Falklands claim and has even showered praise on Margaret Thatcher, who remains a bogey figure for many Argentines.

Mr Milei was referencing her free market policies rather than the war. Nevertheless, most Argentines principally know the late British prime minister for sending a Royal Navy convoy to retake the islands in a war that cost the lives of 649 Argentine soldiers, 255 British troops and three islanders.

The president’s apparent disinterest in the Falklands does not just mark him out from most of his compatriots. It also separates him from his own vice president, Victoria Villarruel, whose father, a lieutenant colonel, served in the war.

She publicly campaigned this year to expand, not cancel, the Malvinas Day parade. Ms Villarruel has also frequently defended the military junta that ordered the invasion of the Falklands in a desperate – and briefly successful – bid to distract from its human rights abuses and Argentina’s collapsing economy, including a 10-fold devaluation.

The UK has long insisted that the fate of the Falklands will be decided by the island’s residents. A referendum of 1,500 islanders in 2013 showed 99 per cent support for remaining a British territory.

A dock and homes on the Falkland Islands
The Falklands are home to around 3,000 people - ANDREW PEACOCK/GETTY

Visiting the Falklands in February, David Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, vowed that the UK would “protect and defend” them as long as the islanders “want to be part of the UK family.” He added: “I hope that’s for a very, very long time, possibly forever.”

Argentina’s provincial governors decried Cameron’s trip as an outrageous provocation. Mr Milei, who has stressed the need for a diplomatic solution respecting the will of the island’s 3,000 residents, stayed silent.

“We see (Milei) as kneeling before the British empire, as totally dedicated to laws and decrees that hand over our border lands to big businessmen,” Ramón Robles, president of the country’s main veteran association, told the Associated Press.

Mr Milei also invoked the cause of Malvinas sovereignty to boost his plans to lower trade barriers — including with the British — and take a shot at his rivals.

“For a sovereign nation to be respected, it must be a protagonist of international trade,” he said in Tuesday’s speech, lambasting previous leftist governments as “serial defaulters” whose claims to the islands couldn’t be taken seriously.