Higgins begins South American tour
President Michael D Higgins started his three-country tour of South America today in Santiago with a visit to the crypt of Bernardo O’Higgins, the son of a Sligo emigrant who led Chile’s struggle for independence from Spain.
After laying a wreath with his wife Sabina before a statue of the “Liberator” the president then called at the Moneda Palace for a meeting with his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Pinera.
In statements to the media after their talks, President Higgins said his visit “reflects the bonds of family and friendship between Chile and Ireland” and “offers the valuable opportunity to explore how Ireland and Chile can develop further that relationship”.
Displaying the fruits of four weeks spent this summer on a language course in Spain, the president confidently delivered part of his remarks to the media in Spanish.
Mr Pinera said the president’s visit presented “a great opportunity to strengthen the links between our two countries” which he described as both having “diversified economies open to the world” and that Chile had much to learn from Ireland, especially in the areas such as education and innovation.
President Higgins, who will also be visiting Brazil and Argentina, is accompanied by Joe Costello, the minister for trade and development and projecting an Ireland keen to do business with Latin America’s leading markets which had previously been overlooked in favour of traditional trade partners will be a key theme of the ten day tour.
The president acknowledged the concern in South America about the situation in the euro zone, but reassured his host that the region’s ministers and institutions were working urgently to address the problem and celebrated Ireland’s return to growth last year. “It is a modest level of growth but for the first time since 2007 the graph is moving in the right direction,” he said.
The EU is Chile’s biggest trade partner and the country runs a trade surplus with Ireland, which is the seventh biggest consumer of Chilean wine in the world.