Pope Francis has become embroiled in the debate over the ownership of the Falkland Islands, as he was photographed holding a sign calling for a dialogue on the island’s future. The picture soon gained widespread interest when the President of Argentina, Christina Kirchner, tweeted the image. Her tweet has been retweeted nearly 2,000 times.
According to news agency AFP, the photograph was taken at the Pope’s weekly general audience at the Vatican. However, it is not clear whether the pontiff deliberately picked up the sign, which reads in Spanish: “It’s time for dialogue between Argentina and the United Kingdom on the Falklands,” or whether it was thrust into his hands.
Kirchner tweeted two photographs of the Pope holding the sign along with the hashtag #MalvinasArgentinas. “Malvinas” is the Argentine name for the archipelago, located about 300 miles east of the South American coastline.
— Cristina Kirchner (@CFKArgentina) August 19, 2015
The islands were, at various times in the 18th and 19th centuries home to French, Spanish, British and Argentinian colonies, but in 1833 Britain asserted it’s claim to the island group, a claim that has been disputed ever since by the Argentines.
In 1982, Argentina and Britain went to war over the territory. The war ended with Argentina’s surrender after the death of 649 Argentines and 255 British troops. The following year, Falkland Islanders were legally declared British citizens. The islands’ 3,000 strong population, most of whom are native born Falklanders descended from British settlers, voted in a referendum on sovereignty in 2003. On a turnout of 91.94%, an overwhelming 99.8% voted to remain a British territory, with only three votes against.
Nonetheless, Kirchner has been vociferous in her campaign to reclaim the Falklands from Britain. In 2013 she sought a meeting with the Pope to ask him to intervene in the dispute, telling a press conference: “I asked for his intervention to promote dialogue between the two sides and to avoid problems that could arise from the British militarisation of the South Atlantic.”
She may have held high hopes of his doing so as, during a Mass to mark the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, Pope Francis, then known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio told the congregation of veterans “We come to pray for those who have fallen, sons of the homeland who set out to defend his mother, the homeland, to claim the country that is theirs and they were usurped.” However, in his role as Pope he declined to comment.