Chilean president Sebastián Piñera is expected next Friday in Punta Arenas airport en route to Antarctica with his Ecuadorean counterpart Rafael Correa, but will avoid all contact with locals, reports La Prensa Austral.
The President Piñera administration is only recovering from a full clash with the extreme south region of Magallanes over natural gas rates that led to a protracted conflict and a several days’ regional strike with some outbreaks of violence and harmful disruptions to trade, tourism and communications.
The coming trip was confirmed last week at Government House La Moneda, in Santiago and is part of the current Chilean government public relations campaign to increase relations with Ecuador a crucial partner in the sea-limits dispute with neighbouring Peru.
President Piñera and Ecuador’s Correa, in his first trip ever to Antarctica, are scheduled to land Friday in Punta Arenas airport and immediately board an Air Force Hercules to the Antarctic base of President Eduardo Frei.
If as happened in a previous attempt climate conditions delay the departure, the presidents will wait for a “window clearance” in Puerto Williams, and not in Punta Arenas. Apparently the Chilean government fears anti-Piñera demonstrations.
However the presidential decision has caused a most negative impact among Magallanes congressional representatives of all parties since “this is the worst possible mistake and message to the people of the region”, when the government’s image is at its lowest following the gas-rates conflict.
From Santiago government sources replied that the trip is “no formal visit” to Punta Arenas but rather making effective the promised Antarctica visit to President Rafael Correa, since the previous attempt had to be cancelled because of adverse climate conditions.
Branko Ivelic, president of Magallanes National Renovation branch, Piñera’s party, said that “it’s always good for a president to contact with the people. Let’s hope he has time and he can meet people. The more he comes, the better for the region and all Chileans because people like to meet their president and there’s nothing to fear. Let’s hope he finally comes to Punta Arenas”.