Another British cruise vessel had to cancel its visit to a South American port, this time in Chile but not because of political disputes with the UK, but rather as a direct consequence of local protests against the national government.
MV Balmoral from Fred Olsen Cruise Lines was scheduled last week to call for the first time at Puerto Chacabuco, in the Aysen Region, Chilean Patagonia, but decided to sail on because of the ongoing demonstrations and social unrest.
Aysen residents have been protesting for weeks in demand of cheaper energy prices (gas and wood) plus improved working conditions and salaries.
“The (Chilean) government has made great efforts to have cruise vessels calling back. The arrival of this cruise (MV Balmoral) with 1.350 passengers is the result of those efforts but given the current situation, the company decided to cancel the call. It was a trial visit, which means they were coming to see how it works out and to program new visits in coming seasons”, said Franciso Lazo, head of the Aysen Tourism Office.
“This means that 600 workers and their families have suffered considering all the network of services which implies the coming ashore of these tourists to the region, from buses to artisans, guides, students who make some money in the season to help finance their studies”, added Lazo.
Finally he warned that the situation will have an negative impact for Puerto Chacabuco, which will take a long time to recover, and overall for Chile, particularly from long distance markets such as those coming from Europe and the US.
Chilean Energy minister Rodrigo Alvarez was expected this week in Aysen with a package of proposals which “includes most of the demands” from the social leaders of the zone that have been demonstrating since mid February.
The Chilean Executive spokesperson Andres Chadwick said that the proposals include lower prices for fuel and mainly wood, which is the main demand from Aysen residents.
The Aysen region in Chilean Patagonia is rich in natural resources, but is quite isolated and decent work opportunities are limited.
“Wood is like gas for us in the cities, it has a tremendous social impact” said Chadwick.
“In spite the region, strangely enough, has been the most dynamic in expansion and with lower unemployment, maybe because of decades of abandonment it demands a greater effort to generate a more balanced development”, added Chadwick.
Aysen citizens organized under the Social Movement for the Aysen Region sent last week a memo to President Sebastian Piñera with their demands to unlock the conflict.
“If government comes up with clear, effective and real solutions regarding fuel, the other issues we are prepared to jointly address them with greater flexibility and opening options”, said Joel Chodil, president of the local organized labour chapter.
But with no solution for the fuel issue, “this will become more radical and the demonstrations and protests will continue”.