Argentine public: more misgivings about Galtieri's Falklands invasion

The London Grill was full of late-evening diners.

Although news of the British recapture of the South Georgia Islands reached here a few hours earlier, Argentines enjoying the thick, juicy steaks for which this country is famous were more interested in local soccer.

In fact, war seems far away from this sprawling city of 12 million. It is talked about, to be sure. But the mood here is one of mingled disbelief that Argentina could be on the verge of war with Britain and a growing disgust with what one of the London Grill diners, a businessman, called ''this military government's folly, its utter vanity in trying to puff itself up by challenging Britain.''

Nearly a month after the seizure of the Falklands and South Georgia, some Argentines are beginning to have doubts about the exercise.

Another diner, this man an Argentine lawyer with international arbitration experience, added: ''Sure, the Malvinas (the Argentine name for the Falklands) are ours. ''But it isn't worth going to war over some tiny speck of real estate. There comes a point where national honor can best be served by solving national problems rather than in taking on new problems.

Those views were typical of remarks by diners at the London Grill - and elsewhere in this city.

Britain's recapture of South Georgia after a two-hour battle and few, if any, casualties, is, of course, the headline stories in newspapers and on radio and television here.

The military high command has issued nearly a dozen communiques in the last 24 hours dealing with South Georgia fighting and with Argentina's cutoff of mediation talks. (Argentines are being told that isolated groups of Argentine troops continue to fight on the island, and will fight to the end.)

For the Argentine government, the scene has shifted to Washington, where Foreign Minister Nicanor Costa Mendez is presenting Argentina's case for invoking the Rio de Janeiro Treaty of Mutual Assistance to a gathering of hemisphere foreign ministers.

Lost amid the headlines and column after column on the whole dispute with Britain are stories about the worsening Argentine economy. This past week, for example, two auto manufacturers, Ford and Renault, suspended operations due to poor sales. That shoved more than 6,000 additional workers onto Argentina's already high jobless rolls. Unemployment, according to a government report this past week, is running at 15 percent.

Argentina's galloping inflation, which has pinched almost everyone as it clipped along at more than 100 percent a year, did slow a bit in March - but at the expense of rising unemployment. It is likely to go higher as a result of the Falklands dispute. In addition, business bankruptcies are running at an all-time high.

In the midst of this, Economy Minister Roberto Teodoro Alemann admitted last week that the Falklands takeover April 2 has cost Argentina more than $200 million. Privately, government sources say the cost is pushing toward half a billion dollars - and growing.Most of these details are lost on the Argentine public, which is fed a diet of news about the cost of the dispute for Britain, but given little information on the cost for Argentina.

Yet some of the public, if unaware of the cost in pesos and to the economy overall, seems to think the dispute simply is not worth the emotional strain. And there is now also some incipient concern that things are getting out of hand. The generals are getting the blame.

Foreigners are frequently stopped on the street and asked what they think about the situation. As they hem and haw a bit, choosing words carefully, the Argentine in typical fashion rushes in with her or his own opinion.

''I say it is crazy and foolhardy to do this. The cost isn't worth it,'' opined a well-dressed businessman. A street sweeper, broom in hand, joined one conversation: ''I'd send all the generals to the Malvinas and let them fight the British rather than those boys of 17 and 18 who are there.''

''I agree,'' chimed in a fashion model on her way to work. ''If I had a say in this, I would let the world know that we ought to settle this peacefully and if the British retake the Malvinas, let them do it without a drop of Argentine blood being shed.'' Meanwhile, back at the London Grill, everyone knew of the recapture - but few caught the irony in the name of the street on which the restaurant is located.

It is ''Calle Reconquista'' - Recapture Street.

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