Higgins urges closer ties with Chile


President Michael D Higgins called for Chileans to participate in next year’s The Gathering festival of Irish culture and heritage to renew “deep and binding ties” between the two countries.

While saying he “can offer no guarantee of sunlight”, the President assured his audience of a warm welcome.

Speaking last night at a reception in Santiago for Chile’s small Irish community, the President also paid tribute to the “proud tradition” of Irish people who “have worked far from home to support the development of other nations”.

The reception, which included a recital by Irish pianist Mícéal O’Rourke, was attended by members of the local Irish business and religious and communities as well as Joan Turner Jara, the widow of murdered Chilean folk singer Víctor Jara, with whom the president had an emotion reunion at Santiago’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights yesterday afternoon.

The evening’s event was the culmination of the second full day of the President’s trip to Chile, which is the first stage of a tour of South America that will also see him visit Brazil and Argentina.

The day’s engagements included a private meeting with Patricio Aylwin, who served as Chile’s first democratically elected president following the Pinochet dictatorship.

At the reception for the Irish community Mr Higgins paid a warm tribute to the former president’s son Miguel, who has been Ireland’s honorary consul general in Chile for 12 years.

In the morning, Mr Higgins paid courtesy calls to the heads of Chile’s senate and chamber of deputies. Senate president Camilo Escalona Medina raised Chile’s concerns over the crisis in the euro zone, receiving an assurance from Mr Higgins that the euro would survive and with the ECB playing a “central role”.

Earlier, the President presented a paper at a seminar organised by CEPAL, to the UN’s economic commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

In it he returned to the theme of his first speech in Santiago and attacked the extreme free market ideology, saying “unacceptable levels of unemployment are part of the price that is being paid for the failed model of unregulated markets”.

To replace it, he called for “a new and rich tapestry” which included a great commitment to social justice and equality.

During a full day of engagements, the President was also presented with the keys of Santiago. With city hall still closed because of damage suffered in the 2010 earthquake the ceremony took place in Santiago’s neo-classical municipal theatre. Acting mayor Jorge Alessanchi said the location was appropriate considering the president’s fame as a man of letters and his wife Sabina’s career as an actress.

After the presentation the President and his wife were entertained by a display of traditional ‘cueca’ folk dancing, symbolising the mating ritual of a hen and a cock.

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