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Hot News from Chile.

Monday, November 24th 2003 - 20:00 UTC
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Delay in Magallanes lamb season; NZ expert visits Tierra del Fuego; Former political inmates visit detention centre; Tourism promotion in southern Chile; Mine clearance along Bolivian border;

Delay in Magallanes lamb season

Growing concern among Magallanes sheep farmers since one of the two main abattoirs, licenced to export to the European Union, has yet to announce when it will officially begin the lamb season.

"So far we know that Sacor is planning to begin the lamb season January 4, and might be doing some previous purchasing during December. But since the full season normally begins in mid December, this year's delay could have a negative influence for the market and prices", said Pablo Sapunar president of the Magallanes Association of Cattle Breeders, Asogama.

Magallanes Region has two main abattoirs, both licenced for the EU, Simunovic which is private and absorbs half the local lamb production and Sacor, government managed, which takes 35%.

However a recent attempt to privatize Sacor failed and since then, in spite of local authorities' insistence that the abattoir will be operating normally, there's growing concern about the future of the plant.

Magallanes farmers argue that Sacor plays a vital role helping to avoid a private sector lamb purchasing monopoly, "which could very well happen if Sacor is privatized", indicates Asogama.

"Simunovic has announced it will begin the lamb season December 15, but since Sacor has not confirmed any date, we have no idea of prices, and Sumonovic refuses to talk on the issue", said Mr. Sapunar adding that "we'll probably have to adapt to the same prices of the previous season".

Mr. Sapunar pointed out that if this is the case "and we translate these prices into nominal Chilean pesos, it will be considerably less that last year because of the strong appreciation of the Chilean currency".

"It's time industry speaks out clearly and ends all the speculation going on".

NZ expert visits Tierra del Fuego

A New Zealand sheep expert is currently in Tierra del Fuego advising local farmers as part of a Chilean government farming promotion program.

"Introduction of new species and technologies for the development of sheep farming in Tierra del Fuego", as the program is described, is partly funded by the Santiago government and the Chilean Development Corporation.

NZ expert Tom Fraser explained that his country's success was based in "an appropriate management and improvement of the land and pastures".

NZ has a population of four million and forty million sheep, mostly geared for the production of big, strong lambs that are sold mainly to Europe and United States.

"It's essential to produced what the consumer wants and this must be applied to all the production line of lambs", stressed Mr. Fraser.

As to Tierra del Fuego's prospects, Mr. Fraser said sheep farming can and should be improved by "concentrating in the adequate quality in the different stages of the production line"

Former political inmates visit detention centre

A group of sixty former political prisoners and relatives visited Dawson Island, close to Punta Arenas, a Chilean Navy compound that following the violent coup of September 1973 was used as a detention centre for opponents of the military regime.

On arrival the visitors were received by a committee of the Chilean Navy and later participated in a religious ceremony to the memory of those who didn't survive the extreme conditions of imprisonment.

The delegation arrived in four Chilean Navy aircrafts together with Navy Under-Secretary Carlos Mackeney who at last moment replaced Defence Minister Michelle Bachelet who suffered a strained ankle.

The Dawson island detention camp held an average of thirty former officials of the deposed elected administration of former president Salvador Allende, among which the current Minister of Education Sergio Bitar, Senator Fernando Flores and the former Secretary General of the Chilean Communist Party Luis Corvalán.

"There are many memories, but we're happy we could come back", said Education Minister Bitar.

The Chilean government in its permanent reconciliation effort is pushing hard for the unveiling of the terrible years suffered by many Chilean citizens under the General Pinochet dictatorship.

Tourism promotion in southern Chile

Almost 60,000 hectares of fiscal land in Chile's southern Region of Aysen to the immediate north of Magallanes will be turned into conservation areas and developed for tourism attraction beginning 2004.

The announcement was made in Santiago by officials from the National Assets Ministry and the project is included in the "Great Territories, New Opportunities" program co-sponsored by the Chilean Development Corporation.

The development program equivalent to five million US dollars in its first stage contemplates the building of hotels, lodges, cabins, pathways, marinas and other facilities for sports and scientific activities, but with the greatest respect for the environment and conservation practices.

The areas to be developed will be either sold, given in concession or a mix of both.

Hanta virus.

Nine of Chile's twelve regions are under sanitary alert following the discovery of an unexpected increase in the number of camp mice that carry the deadly hanta virus. All regional Health Departments have been warned to redouble efforts and be particularly careful in the coming weeks when humans are most exposed to camp rodents.

Experts from the Biology Department of the Chilean Catholic University that regularly trap mice for sanitary reasons in the different regions of Chile have recorded an exceptional increase in the number of mice trapped, together with a higher percentage of hanta virus carriers.

"In the rodent population surveys we've found a greater number of trapped mice. With more mice around there could be a greater risk of hanta virus cases, although this year we've had fewer cases reported than last year. But since September the number of cases has grown considerably", reported Ximena Aguilera from Public Heath Epidemiology Department in Santiago.

Between September and November nine cases of hanta virus have been reported in Chile of a total 43 so far in 2003.

Chilean experts believe the increase in camp rodent population can be attributed to a greater availability of food, plus a rather mild and dry winter and a peak in the reproductive cycle.

The deadly hanta virus that causes internal bleeding, asphyxia and eventually heart failure in humans is transmitted in Chile by three different camp mice, the "long tail" oligoryzomys longicaudatus which is the most common; the akodon olivaceous and the abrothrix longipilis.

Camp mice are immune to the virus but carriers' excretions and even its odour is highly contagious for humans.

In spring and summer these mice are particularly risky for camp labour, campers and dwellers that don't make a good clean of their homes after a long winter.

Mine clearance along Bolivian border

The Bolivian government confirmed that Chilean authorities have begun the clearance of mine fields along the common border dating back thirty years.

Bolivian Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Ignacio Siles said that Chile, five years after its commitment in the framework of the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, effectively started to remove antipersonnel mines along the Bolivian border.

"Chile is committed to clearing all mine fields in ten years, following international treaties and agreements", indicated Mr. Siles.

Last May Chilean military personnel eliminated 72,600 mines in the Magallanes area next to Argentina and now have begun a similar program with the 97,773 antipersonnel mines buried in the north of the country next to Bolivia and Peru.

Many civilians, stranded illiterate Indian farmers and smugglers, have been killed or maimed because of the mine fields in border areas. The last incident reported by the Chilean Army was in March when a Bolivian and Peruvian were seriously injured by an antipersonnel mine while trying to cross into Chile with drugs.

To manufacture an antipersonnel mine costs between one and a hundred US dollars, however to unbury and destroy one costs between 400 and a thousand US dollars, according to Chilean military sources, "plus unfortunately sometimes the lives of explosive experts".

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