Strategic alliance with Argentina, Chile's top priority
Consolidating relations with Latinamerica and most particularly with Argentina, plus Peru and Bolivia are foreign relations top priorities of the incoming administration of elected Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.
Alejandro Foxley, Chile's Foreign Affairs minister as of next March 11 described relations with Argentina as "excellent" and anticipated that "our task will be to continue and strengthen that strategic alliance".
With Argentina Chile has advanced in the consolidation of a "general integration process" which includes such sensitive issues as border issues and the intensification of a "frank and direct" dialogue between both governments, added Mr. Foxley.
Another area where both countries have significantly advanced is in defense affairs with an increase in the number of joint military exercises involving all services, as well as peace operations under the command of United Nations.
During a recent visit to Argentina incoming president Bachelet assured President Kirchner that Chile is committed to a strong Mercosur "political integration, beyond trade and tariff issues, which also concentrates on jointly developing much needed infrastructure and energy projects for the region".
This is crucial for Chile since Argentina supplies over half of its oil and natural gas consumption and has lately been exposed to an insufficient winter gas provision disrupting local industries production and working hours.
With Bolivia Chile has a difficult relation since the landlocked country is claiming back the Pacific outlet which it lost in the 1879/1883 war. However in the last twelve months Chile has eliminated most tariffs on Bolivian goods and both countries have addressed pressing issues such as the use of water from shared rivers, the port of Arica, Customs paperwork and the destruction of antipersonnel mines planted in border areas during the seventies.
Besides, an even more sensitive issue, the provision of Bolivian natural gas to Chile and discussing Bolivia's outlet to the Pacific are no longer taboos and are on the bilateral table for consideration. Chile's historic policy has been that no trade back on these two issues is possible.
Furthermore, in an unprecedented event Chilean president Ricardo Lagos recently participated in the taking office ceremony of Bolivian president Evo Morales, --in spite of the fact the two neighbouring countries have no formal diplomatic relations since 1979--, and forecasted a "promising future" for bilateral links.
"During these six years I've tried to agree on an agenda, with no exclusions and to work hard on the maritime issue", said president Lagos who admitted that the presidents with whom he most met were Bolivians, "but with not much success".
Bolivian president Evo Morales has stated that no gas will be sold to Chile until an agreement has been reached for the recovery of his country's "maritime condition", but nevertheless he will be one of the privileged guests next Saturday when Ms Bachelet takes office as Chile's first woman president.
"Our Indian culture teaches us reciprocity", said President Evo Morales.
With Peru the Bachelet administration will have to address a maritime border dispute and establish clear rules for the Armed Forces re-equipment. Peru complains of an "arms race" every time Chile acquires frigates or aircrafts to replace obsolete material.
Nevertheless this week Chile and Peru resumed talks on economic complementation and top level contacts in defense and military issues were re-established. But a controversial matter which could turn sour remains: former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori's currently under arrest in Santiago whom Peru wants to extradite to face charges of human rights abuse and corruption, which must be decided by Chilean courts, the most independent and less politicized of South America