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LATIN AMERICA | 30-01-2021 08:51

Fernández calls for closer ties during visit to Chile

President flies to Santiago for two-day visit, taking in meetings with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, a host of opposition politicians and businessmen.

President Alberto Fernández called for a closer fraternal bond between the nations of Latin America in the face of the coronavirus pandemic this week, as he closed off a successful trip to Chile.

Fernández flew to Santiago on Tuesday for a two-day visit, during which he was hosted by Chilean President Sebastián Piñera. Despite the ideological differences between the Peronist and his conservative peer, the duo both spoke of their desire to forge closer ties between the neighbouring countries.

"All of Latin America has to be a brotherhood during this time that we have to live through,” said Fernández at a press conference. “Because the pandemic has subjected each one of us, in their own way, to facing the unknown and sometimes I think that if we had been closer together, more united, surely we could have coped better with things.”

He argued, however, that the coronavirus pandemic – responsible for more than 570,000 deaths and 18 million confirmed cases across Latin America – had also granted the region an “opportunity” to recognise the importance of “unity among Argentines, Chileans and also Latin Americans."

Piñera said that there were "important lessons and learnings" that both nations could take from the crisis and said the best way to face up to the challenges ahead were together.

State visit

The trip to Santiago (which was delayed after Piñera went into isolation) was Fernández's first official overseas visit since assuming the Presidency in December 2019. Previous trips outside the country, such as the president’s recent visit to Uruguay to meet President Luis Lacalle Pou, have been informal, lacking the trimmings of a state visit.

The two leaders held talks on a number of issues over the two-day visit, including healthcare, shared border crossings and an agreement that allows drivers’ licences to be used in both nations. Piñera also offered his support for Argentina's sovereignty claim over the disputed Malvinas (Falkland) Islands.

Talks also took place on potential ways to boost trade between the country, which has dropped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Chile is an importer of Argentine corn, natural gas, beef and automobiles, while sending copper, tomatoes, salmon, avocados and cardboard the other way.

Analysts, however, speculated that ties weren’t quite as warm as Fernández and Piñera made out – Argentina’s president has previously been critical of his Chilean peer’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and he met a number of opposition politicians during his brief stay.

In one moment that made headlines across the Andes, Fernández declared during a videoconference call with Piñera’s political rivals that he hoped to “reunite” with Chile’s opposition and “settle differences in order to regain power in favour of Chileans.”

Fernández sought to head off some of that criticism at Tuesday’s press conference. "Sometimes the media are so careful about what are the differences between two men who lead countries and in truth they never look at where they coincide," he said.

The Argentine leader also paid a visit to the office of late former president Salvador Allende at the La Moneda presidential palace, attended a meeting at ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) headquarters and met with local politicians and businessmen, including former head of state Ricardo Lagos and former presidential hopeful and ally Marco Enriquez Ominanmi.

Constitution debate

During his trip, Fernández also hailed Chile’s move to rewrite its Constitution, describing it as “historic.”

"They have the possibility of writing a unique historical page. I hope they are wise and write for the times to come," he said at a separate press conference on Wednesday. 

Chileans voted by an overwhelming majority to redraw the Constitution in a referendum last October 25, with 79 percent voting to scrap the existing one, which dates back to the era of dictator Augusto Pinochet.

"I will celebrate what Chile should truly celebrate: that Chile has a Constitution written by the representatives of the Chilean people," said the president, describing the process as a "unique and unrepeatable moment." 

‘Quarantine belly’

One of the more bizarre pieces of news to emerge from the trip related to Fernández’s partner, Fabiola Yáñez. 

Argentina’s first lady was greeted by rumours that she was pregnant upon arrival in Chile, sparked by the wearing of a tight red dress.

After one of the press corps accompanying the president of the trip posed her the question, she responded with a self-deprecating touch of humour. 

“It’s a quarantine belly,” she told the reporter.

– TIMES/AFP/TÉLAM

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