On 18 September we commemorate the 205th anniversary of Chile’s Independence. In Chile our compatriots will be celebrating in the traditional style. Fondas will pop up throughout the country, attracting people with typical food and drinks such as chicha (a traditional apple cider) and, of course, red and white wine. Some will even try to practice some cueca steps, the national dance that emulates the courting ritual of hens. This is also a perfect time to ponder what we have attained as a nation, and what the challenges are for the future.
Undoubtedly, by any measure, the achievements have been many. Our founding fathers would be proud. The seeds they planted over 200 years ago have been fruitful. While Chile is one of Latin America’s fastest growing economies and has one of the highest GDP per capita in the region, the administration of President Michelle Bachelet is putting important reforms in place. They aim mainly to tackle inequality and improve education access and standards.
Chile and the UK have a long shared history. Each year we celebrate together the Dieciocho (Independence Day) as well as the birth of Bernardo O’Higgins, the hero of our independence, in a traditional ceremony held in Richmond, where he lived before taking the principles that formed our republic back to Chile. In May every year Westminster Abbey closes its door for a formal ceremony in honour of Lord Tomas Cochrane, Earl of Dundonald, founder of our Navy, who began a long and shared history with the British Royal Navy. This year we also remembered the 50th anniversary of President Eduardo Frei’s visit to this country, the first State Visit by any Latin American Head of State. In September, we once again will receive our top economic and financial authorities which will head the biggest business delegation outside of Chile in what has become a tradition at the City: ‘Chile Day.’ And a few weeks later, our Minister of Mining will return to London to participate at the LME Mining Week and meet British investors and entrepreneurs, to share what Chile is doing in this sector and look for new partnerships.
Trade and investment are important components of our relationship with the UK, such as receiving almost a quarter of all the wine exported by Chile and becoming the sixth foreign investor in our country. But our ties go well beyond that, and are intertwined with the beginning of our history as a nation. Every year the UK receives hundreds of Chilean students pursuing their masters and PhD degrees; actually this year more than 40 per cent of young Chileans studying abroad are doing so in universities across this very country. They are building networks, carrying out joint research and taking home the best of what the UK can give them. We want to expand those ties and increase the number of joint ventures between Chilean and British academic institutions. We also want our innovators to learn from British expertise, in order to create the proper environment conducive to technology development. We are working with our British counterparts to share expertise and increase cooperation, and in doing so, contributing to Chile’s development. In the past year, we have been working together on issues such as cybersecurity, citizens’ participation in local governments, PPIs, renewable energy and ocean conservation. As a maritime nation we have a sense of responsibility in protecting our waters. In a few weeks, Chile will host the international conference ‘Our Oceans,’ in which representatives from many countries – including the UK – will discuss how to ward off the threats to the oceans. But we also have a responsibility to save those at risk at sea. Next year we will celebrate one of the most memorable episodes of Antarctic Exploration: the rescue of the entire crew of the HMS Endurance in 1916, commanded by Sir Ernest Shackleton, which had been marooned on an island close to Antarctica. It was a Chilean Captain, Luis Pardo, who managed, under the most extreme wintry conditions, to save the lives of all 28 people onboard.
Salud for our heroes and leaders and for ongoing, rich and prosperous bilateral relations!