Britain should spend more helping its own poor than on defending the Falkland Islands, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said Thursday, responding to a recently announced budget increase aimed at protecting the contested archipelago.
Britain's government said last week that it would reinforce its military presence on the Falklands to counter the "very live threat'' posed by Argentina.
Fernandez, in a speech honoring soldiers who died in her country's failed 1982 invasion of the South Atlantic islands, dismissed the idea of Argentina being a threat, telling Britain to focus instead on fighting poverty within its own borders.
"What a paradox,'' Fernandez chided, "when there are more than 1 million Britons eating at the food banks they have had to open in one of the most powerful countries in the world.''
"Don't spend another pound sterling on defending the Malvinas,'' she added, using the Argentine term for the Falklands. "Spend your money on feeding the English, on providing jobs for your young people and a better quality of life for the British, because we are not a threat to anyone.''
Tensions over the Falklands still simmer more than 30 years after Argentine forces seized the islands and Britain sent a task force to retake them in a brief war that saw more than 600 Argentine and 255 British servicemen killed.
Fiery orator Fernandez has stepped up her international campaign to get sovereignty over the islands as oil and gas exploration in the region increases the stakes. She vowed that Argentina would eventually win the Falklands back through diplomatic means, not military action.
Earlier Thursday, in a move Fernandez called "almost provocative,'' Premier Oil Plc and Falkland Oil and Gas Ltd. said they made an oil and gas discovery at a well in the archipelago, the first in a nine-month drilling campaign.
The islands lie 300 miles (480 kilometers) off the Argentine coast and 8,000 miles (12,870 kilometers) from Britain. About 2,800 people live on the islands, where the main industries are sheep farming, fishing and some tourism.
Britain said last week that it planned to deploy two Chinook helicopters to the Falklands beginning in mid-2016, upgrade communications and renew the surface-to-air missile defense system that's due to come out of service in 2020.