The Falklands crisis
When I visit Ushuaia, a little Patagonian town, I always take coffee with a very special friend.
He says he is an academic now, but his military stance reminds everyone that he was once a full
captain in the Argentine navy. His name is Juan Grieco, and 40 years ago, he locked me in a cell for long
Back in 1982 I had been working in India as a journalist when the call came from the Sunday
Times foreign desk in London. They asked me to return home immediately because something had
come up. I flew home that night, thinking that my expenses, the curse of any correspondent, had
caused some problems. But it turned out to be something entirely different.
My editor told me of a developing story about Argentine and British warships manoeuvring
against each other on the seas a few miles off a British-claimed island called South Georgia. The story
had not been covered in the Indian press and so it was quite new to me. It now seemed possible that
the long argument over who controlled the Falkland Islands might finally get out of control. The paper
wanted me to go to the islands in case a conflict started. For me it was a perfect story. A small war in a
British place was guaranteed to be on the front page. So I flew to Buenos Aires that afternoon.
The only person I knew in town was a spy I had gone to school with. He worked undercover in
the British Embassy. I only had one question for him: “Can I get to the Falklands?” He looked at me
curiously. “Get to the islands? Yes. But you might have problems getting back." That was the signal I
needed. The Argentines were going to invade, and he knew it. Obviously, so did other British
The next day I flew down to the Falkland capital of Port Stanley. Two days later I watched with
fascination as the Argentine soldiers landed on the beach. After a short fight with the British Royal
Marines, which left some Argentina's troops dead on the beach, the Argentine soldiers took control
over the islands. They raised their flag over the territory which had been British for the previous 150
The new authorities quickly forced the British governor and the Royal Marines to leave the
islands. But they let me stay, mainly because my firsthand reports were useful. There was no violence,
and they wanted somebody to report this peaceful behaviour abroad. The invader-commanders
thought it was good for their image. But it did not last long. After three days, they ordered me to leave.
I returned to Buenos Aires, where I saw Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri who had prepared the invasion
plan. When I asked him if an English reporter could still write about his country, he said: “You can go
anywhere, write anything you want. This is a free country."
After my interview with Galtieri, I told my two colleagues, a reporter for the London Observer,
and his photographer, that we could travel around the country. We decided to go round Argentina to
examine war preparations. We wanted to look at every military base, every ship, every squadron of
aircraft, to show our readers what the British armada would confront.
Two days later, we were in Ushuaia. As we had enough film and information about how the
nation was readying for battle, we wanted to fly back to Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, it did not happen.
At the airport three heavily armed sailors approached us. They said we were under arrest and took us
to a police station. We were interrogated, charged with espionage, and sentenced to an indefinite
period of detention in the city jail. Then we met Juan Grieco, a navy captain. He escorted us into the
cells and locked the doors behind us.
Everybody tried to get us out of jail. The Swiss government, which was the official protecting
power for Britons remaining in Argentina, brought some diplomatic pressure. The United Nations
secretary-general complained to General Galtieri about our detention. And so did the Pope. But
nothing worked. Finally 77 days after we had been arrested, the cell doors opened. British soldiers had
recaptured Port Stanley. The Argentine flags came down, and the Union Jack went up. The governor
returned, thousands of Argentine soldiers left, and we could finally go home.