Chileans in Norway mark bicentennial

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GUEST COMMENTARY: Norway is home to thousands of immigrants from Chile, who will be celebrating their country’s 200th anniversary of independence from afar this weekend. Chile’s ambassador to Norway, Juan Aníbal Barría, marks the bicentennial with a commentary on his homeland’s resilience, not least during a year marked by natural disaster and drama.

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Juan Anibal Barria, Chile's ambassador to Norway, notes how Norwegian investment in Chile has been growing. PHOTO: Embassy of Chile

Chile: 200 years of independence

By Juan Aníbal Barría,
Ambassador of Chile to Norway

Tomorrow, the 18th of September, Chile celebrates the bicentennial of its independence.  Two hundred years ago, our founding fathers initiated the process of liberating a people who already had the hallmarks of a strong vocation for order and the rule of law, a spirit of service, solidarity, and perseverance – characteristics that among others would describe our personality.  Many of these traits are embodied by the 33 miners trapped in the San José mine in Copiapó.

Chile’s beautiful, long and narrow territory has periodically suffered from violent natural forces. This year, once again, Chileans’ capacity to adapt and overcome their natural disasters with vigor and bravery was tested by the earthquake in February. After all, in the words of our first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral, Chile is a “manifestation of the will.”

However the anniversary also invites us to look forward into the future in order to make Chile a better place. We must continue to design better and more efficient institutions, deepen our democracy and strengthen human rights and social protection.

In a recent interview in the US magazine Newsweek, President Piñera stated that in order to boost economic growth, “we are trying to change the way that we manage the public sector and create real, clear and effective incentives. We are providing more incentives for investment, and for innovation, so that entrepreneurs will take care of problems and not just sweep them under the rug.  We have lowered some taxes.”

He goes on to say that he believes “in a real democratic system with a state of law and freedom of the press. I believe in a free, open-market economy integrated with the world. And I believe in equality of opportunity.”  These are the recipes that are being used so that Chile may reach higher levels of material development and more efficient schemes of political participation.

The Chilean economy has entered a rhythm of sustained growth and internal confidence in its own evolution. Current figures clearly show an increase in industrial production, which encourages us to forecast an earlier recovery. Since March, the number of persons employed has increased by 165,000 and the Central Bank of Chile predicts that the economy will grow by 5.5 percent in 2010 and by 6 percent in 2011.

Chile and Norway are historical friends. Norway in the past has opened its doors and extended a helping hand to receive thousands of Chileans. Today there are nearly 10,000 Chileans and their descendants living in Norway.  They are integrated and contribute to different aspects of Norwegian life such as literature, architecture, medicine, journalism and academic research. Many others do important, yet unsung work both in the public and private sector.

We share the same political ideals, believe in the value of human dignity, a society where everyone has the same opportunities to get ahead and that supports the private sector. Our convergences are reflected in multilateral fora.

Norwegian investments in Chile grow and expand. Important companies such as SN Power, Marine Harvest, Western Bulk, DnB NOR, Austevoll Seafood Company, Q-Free, Pharmaq and families such as Odfjell and Vik have left their mark on different areas economy.

We are sure to continue benefitting from the innovation, social responsibility and best practices pioneered by Norwegian entrepreneurs.

(Ambassador Barría is a lawyer, specializing in human rights and international public law.)