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Marc Haefele: Who owes the real thanks to Maggie Thatcher?

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981. She died Monday, at 87. Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele says Argentina owes her a debt of gratitude.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1981. She died Monday, at 87. Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele says Argentina owes her a debt of gratitude.
/PA Photos /Landov

“She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefits crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong.”  -- Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Margaret Thatcher

On the whole, speaking as one who knew and deeply loved the pre-Thatcher England of the 1960s and 1970s, I agree with Livingstone. But there was another nation that benefited hugely from Thatcher’s tough-fisted leadership, a nation she saved, by her courage and against the advice of many of her own party, from a tyranny worse than anything Western Europe had experienced since WWII.

As a result of her actions, that nation reestablished at least a constitutional rule of law, free elections, and a free press. Many of the leaders of the death squads that had terrorized it were tried in fair and open court and punished. Yet, rather oddly, one might think, this is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere that refused to send condolences to England on Thatcher’s death. The nation is Argentina.
It was solely by defeating Argentina’s Falkland Islands invaders in 1982 that Thatcher’s military was able also to discredit the dictatorship that had seized that peaceful British territory. Hombre fuerte Admiral Jorge Anaya and his junta had done this purely to rally support for a regime that had by then “disappeared” some 30,000 of its own people.

Had Thatcher followed the advice of some of her advisors, and left the islands to the Argentines, who knows how much longer the junta would have survived.  It might well have endured to the late 1980s --  at least until the end of the Reagan administration that it had partnered with in the Nicaraguan “Contra” operation.  Had it endured, thousands more Argentines (and perhaps even some Occupied Falklands residents) might have been tortured and killed.

As it happened, of course, after the loss of some 900 military and civilians on both sides, Argentina surrendered the islands in June. The discredited junta collapsed. The next year, Argentina had its first free election in a decade.

Unfortunately, 30 years later, Argentina’s current Presidenta Cristina Fernandez has made retaking those islands  she prefers to call the Malvinas almost the sole plank of her embattled regime’s foreign policy. This is probably the cause of her unique surliness in refusing even to send a word of condolence to Great Britain on the death of the woman to whom her nation owes its political freedom.

Maybe she should consider the debt more personally: Had the Argentine dictatorship endured, she might never even have been elected president.