Tales from Valparaiso (and beyond) No. 15

I thought you might be interested to know what the papers in Chile are saying about the Argentine actions to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Falklands war? I think the general consensus is that it is only polite (and politic) to lend support in principle to Argentina's claim to the Malvinas. However, some commentators think that president Piñera was too hasty and a little too assiduous in cooperating with Argentine demands. It is generally accepted that there's not much more that Cristina Kirchner can do. If she closes Argentine airspace to Chilean flights to the Falkland Isles from Santiago, then it will prevent the 300 Chileans, mostly contract workers, living in the Falklands at the moment from visiting their families without going via the UK – for Chileans, depriving people of contact with their families would be worse than pulling out their nails, so this would be seen as more of a slight to Chile than to London, and it therefore seems unlikely that she will pursue this course of action. Obviously military action is out of the question. The campaign is seen here as a smokescreen to hide her clawing back of public subsidies to utilities and public transport.

While on a ferry from Puerto Natales to Puerto Mont, we talked to someone in the Chilean Air Force. I remarked that Chile would be a rather large country to defend. He answered, “We could cope with the Argentines, the Bolivians and the Peruvians fine – but not all at once!” With serious talks scheduled later this year with Peru and Bolivia over longstanding border issues, the last thing the Chileans need is to find themselves at odds with Argentina. The last skirmishes between Argentine and Chilean forces were in the eighties. Some measure of support for their trans-Andean neighbours is seen as quite simply sensible.

We crossed Lago Pirehueico and got to San Martín de Los Andes in Argentina by the skin of our teeth (both ferries were broken down and there is no public transport running for ten or so kilometres, so we had to blag our way onto another smaller boat and then find an open van that was going in the right direction). On arrival at the Argentine border – in the middle of nowhere on a tiny country road where there could have been no more than a handful of people going through during the day – and, on being asked our nationality, I thought for a moment, “Ah, here we go!” The two officials at the crossing, after an opening of “Ah yes, the UK!” agreed with Ann that the Falklands/ Malvinas dispute was “complicated” and then added: “It's just politics, isn't it? Quite enough hurt has been caused on both sides already – they should just stop doing it!”

Reaching our hostel in San Martín, picking up the local paper - “Rio Negro” - there was a certain amount of coverage of the Malvinas row – a couple of pages or so. There was a short column of comment which was very dismissive of a recent speech which Cristina Kirchner had made – accusing her of stupidity in her accusation that the UK was “militarising” the South Atlantic.

The cultural differences between Chile and Argentina are huge – suddenly we find ourselves in a prosperous, easy-going country where waiters make eye contact and are fast and efficient. The serene sleepiness of rural Chile, adorable and frustrating as it is, is here replaced by a somewhat wired-up, urbane zippiness. For the moment we're enjoying it hugely!

Previous Next


A fiennes.org site

Mr McFall’s Chamber is a registered charity: SC028348

Design by fogbank.co.uk