President concludes 'emotional' Chile visit


ON A rugged, windswept coast that recalled his former Connemara constituency, President Michael D Higgins ended what he called an “emotional” visit to Chile on Saturday with a tour of the home of Chilean poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda.

Speaking after he and his wife Sabina laid a wreath at the grave of Neruda, the president said he had come to pay his respects “not only to one of the great poets of the 20th century but to one of the great public voices of democracy and . . . a radical democrat who truly believed in every fibre of his being that every life mattered, every man, woman and child.”

The tour of the home at Isla Negra of the poet, diplomat and lifelong left-wing activist followed a visit to the grave of Salvador Allende, the world’s first democratically elected Marxist president, who was overthrown in 1973 by Gen Augusto Pinochet.

There he met Allende’s daughter, senator Isabel Allende, who said her family was “profoundly moved” by the President’s visit, describing it as “a homage to all those Chileans who gave their lives so that we could maintain our democracy”.

During his four-day trip, President Higgins spoke frequently of his long connection with Chile and of his happiness to be back in a country he first visited in 1988 as an international observer of the plebiscite that signalled the end of the Pinochet regime.

President Higgins also made several attacks on extreme free market capitalism that he blamed for the crisis in the euro zone, saying Latin America’s progress over the past decade in promoting growth while combating poverty offered an example for the EU as it battled to maintain social cohesion in the face of austerity.

The president left Chile yesterday for Brazil, where today he starts the second leg of his South America tour with a series of meetings with political and business leaders in South America’s financial capital, São Paulo, before travelling to the capital Brasília for a meeting with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff tomorrow.