Thursday, May 29th 2003 - 21:00 UTC

Regional News.

Headlines:
US market open to Uruguayan beef; Punta Arenas flooded;
Is Chilean reconciliation possible?; DAP helicopter rescues oil workers; 23% tourists enjoy night life.

US market open to Uruguayan beef

As of next June Uruguayan beef will have access to the United States market after a two years ban following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Mercosur country members. The decision was anticipated this week by the US Department of Agriculture to the Uruguayan Embassy in Washington, and cheered in Montevideo that was expecting the news since Canada reopened its market to Uruguayan beef last December. United States first opened to Uruguayan beef in 1995 after the country was declared free of foot and mouth without vaccination and granted an annual quota of 20,000 tons. Any additional volume must pay a 26,5% tariff. This week the annual general assembly of OIE in Paris, declared Uruguay free of foot and mouth with vaccination.

Punta Arenas flooded

Extraordinarily heavy rains flooded several areas of Punta Arenas forcing the closure of schools and limiting traffic. The Minas river that crosses the city clogged with debris, garbage and sediment was mainly responsible for the overflow of water during the past weekend. Heavy equipment and trucks from the Ministry of Public Works, Punta Areas municipality and the Chilean Army Engineers Corps helped clear the bed of the river but in the lower areas of the city emergency pumps had to be installed so people could return to their homes. The local meteorological office located in Punta Arenas airport reported that this has been an exceptional wet year, almost 50% above average, with rainfall in the first five months of 2003 reaching 235 millimeters, when the normal is closer to 160 millimeters. In the worst moment of the downpour it rained 52,5 millimeters in 48 hours. The Regional Emergency Committee indicated that the situation in the city was now under control but even so limited the crossing over the river to certain pedestrian and vehicle bridges since the foundations of others was considered precarious and even dangerous. Punta Arenas mayor Ana María Díaz said that the task now is to request funds to rebuild the protection along the bed of the river, much of which was washed away, and ensure that "in the future this does not happen again; we must keep the river bed free of garbage and sediment, this is a permanent task. We shouldn't be reminded about our municipal shortcomings only when the city is flooded". Partly confirming Ms. Díaz statement, meteorologist Patricio Mansilla Santana from Magallanes University said that there was nothing extraordinary about the current weather, "it's quiet normal for this time of the year; yes there is a surplus of water but rainfall has been quiet weak in intensity compared to 1998 when in less than 24 hours 53,5 millimeters were recorded". Mr. Mansilla Santana added that if the weather had been colder water could have turned into snow, "but this did not happen; I believe local authorities have been rather slow in reacting and preparing for the situation. What has happened is nothing comparable to the alluvium of 1990". May 9, thirteen years ago Punta Arenas was overrun by an alluvium of water and mud that flooded 5,000 homes. Schools were closed down to give refuge to a thousand homeless, phone communications went down and an air bridge from Santiago with blankets, bunkers, food and medicine was rapidly established by military authorities. The water supply was restricted and had to be boiled for human consumption. By May 22 schools were reopened and the city gradually recovered. However much infrastructure in rivers and basins in rural areas was completely lost.

Is Chilean reconciliation possible?

A German television crew of four spent several days in Punta Arenas preparing a documentary with a recollection of live testimonies for the coming thirtieth anniversary of the violent military coup that overthrew elected Socialist president Salvador Allende in September 1973. The project financed by German and French television stations pretends to understand with European eyes the events of 1973 and how people have lived and coped during these last thirty years with memories of what happened. "It's a traumatic experience that many have preferred to forget. Many people were tortured in this place", said Wilfred Huismann, director of the documentary project who revealed that he was able to collect testimonies from several military prosecutors of the time. "We consider it a prudent approach to a traumatic issue, maybe not complete, but which has revealed, to us Europeans, the existence of two very marked experiences, different, that makes us think that reconciliation is not yet possible in Chile", indicated Mr. Huismann. While in Punta Arenas the crew filmed the big military parade of May 21 that recalls Chile's naval glories when the country sunk the Peruvian Navy and defeated its two northern neighbors, Perú and Bolivia in 1879. Mr. Huismann said it hasn't been easy to convince people to talk before a camera but he believes the project will be concluded by August in time for next September. "Over 1,500 people were tortured in this area, and actually very few died, something that did not happen in other areas of Chile. We've been to Santiago, but Punta Arenas has been most interesting since it's like a microcosm of the country and events in the last thirty years". The German producer last year finished another documentary, also scheduled to be aired next September, titled "Treason in Santiago", and refers to the actual death of former president Salvador Allende, "when he was abandoned by General Pinochet who had promised him loyalty". "It's controversial as well as the one we're producing now, and it's possible we'll be doing copies in Spanish so they can be aired in Chile. It will be our contribution to Chile's recent history", remarked Mr. Huismann.

The most obese toddlers of Chile

Magallanes Region has the highest proportion of obese children under six, according to the latest release from the Student Support Network that surveyed nutritional conditions in both public and private managed teaching institutions at municipal level. The report indicates that 27,3% of Magallanes toddlers, below six, are obese, well above the Chilean national average of 17,2%. Of a total of 2,192 children registered in schools of the region, 603 have an obesity condition. However the condition varies from 37,5% in Puerto Natales to 25,3% in Punta Arenas. In rural areas the situation is even more complex, given the low number of children. For example Timaukel community reports 100% of obesity, but there's actually an only student. Given the relatively small numbers in under populated Magallanes Region, the report also gives the list of schools with obesity percentages. In Punta Arenas top of the list are several schools managed by religious organizations.

DAP helicopter rescues oil workers

Two workers that were injured while working aboard and oil rig off the Argentine coast were rescued late Sunday, early Monday by a helicopter belonging to the Punta Arenas based DAP air services. The emergency occurred last Sunday at 20:00 hours when a cable from the oil rig AM-2, belonging to Repsol YPF and Sipetrol (the international branch of Chilean government oil company ENAP), snapped loose injuring two workers. AM-2 is operating in the Poseidon area and the DAP helicopter had to fly at night in dangerous conditions given the stormy weather and short visibility in the area. However the helicopter managed to land in the oil rig and by 0:30 hours Monday was safely back in Rio Gallegos hospital where the two workers are recovering from their wounds.

23% tourists enjoy night life

A recent poll of this last summer season Punta Arenas tourists surprisingly revealed that a significant percentage of them actually enjoy the city's night life, mainly clubs and discos. The survey from the National Chilean Tourist Office taken to help define the profile of Magallanes Region visitors indicates that 45% are tourists "on their own", that is they do not arrive with pre established tours or packages, most of whom are professionals, average age 34, and come looking for nature, clean air, some culture and history, night fun and wishing to meet people. According to the report the 45% who make their own plans usually spend longer time in Punta Arenas and their order of priorities is as follows: 99% enjoy city tours, museums and history; rookeries and the free shop area. However 23% also enjoy night life and spend time in Punta Arenas night clubs, discos and other entertainments. Other overwhelming favorite destination is Torres del Paine national park; 25% Porvenir; 14% Puerto Williams and 1% Antarctica. The poll also indicated that 64% of Punta Arenas tourists travel with friends, 17% by themselves and 12% in couple. Average residence in the area is 13,2 days, higher than estimated, and those who come "on their own" remain an average 17 days in Magallanes Region. Average daily expenditure in food is 9 US dollars and 15 US dollars for lodging, which for an average 13 days amounts to approximately 300 US dollars. As to how the visitors felt attracted to Magallanes or discovered the Region, 52% mentioned Internet; 50% relatives and or friends; 24% tourist agencies and last of all, 16%, different publications. People, food, entertainment, public services, lodging were among the positive sides of Punta Arenas; however transport, local and provincial, plus retailing received a negative opinion given the poor quality of coaches, deficient timetables and the inadequate opening hours of stores and limited supply of goods. A majority of visitors came to Punta Arenas to enjoy vacations, followed by studies, honey moon, and other activities. 88% arrived by air.

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