Argentina and Chile defense ministers, Agustín Rossi and Jorge Burgos, attended this week a historic ceremony in which they signed a document declaring Tierra del Fuego free of anti-personal mines. During the meeting minister Rossi blamed the UK for not allowing Argentina to clear the mines in the Falklands/Malvinas Islands.
The explosives in Tierra del Fuego date back to 1978 when the two countries almost went to war over possession of Beagle Channel Islands but which was stopped at last moment by the mediation of the Vatican, then under John Paul II.
Cardinal Samore, special envoy of John Paul II patiently worked out a compromise operating from Montevideo, which concluded successfully in the Peace and Friendship Treaty of November of 1984 signed and ratified by Argentina and Chile the following year.
Precisely thirty years on and five since then Presidents Michelle Bachelet and Cristina Fernandez committed efforts to the elimination of all mines in Tierra del Fuego, this week's ceremony at the San Sebastian border pass confirmed the achievement of the goal, which opens a raft of opportunities for residents and other industries (tourism, agriculture) limited until now by the presence of the deadly explosives.
The ceremony was also attended by the mayor of Magallanes Jorge Flies, Tierra del Fuego authorities, religious hierarchy as well as representations from the armed forces of both countries, and special guests.
Bilateral relations in the last thirty years have been a milestone, with preponderance of dialogue and commitment to peace. Thus our decision to eliminate all these instruments of death that have been so harmful for innocent people, said Chilean minister Burgos, who also mentioned that the Chilean congress is in the process of passing a bill to compensate victims of mine or other military ordnance explosions.
Argentine minister Rossi said the cleared mines represented the last vestiges of something we avoided but is an example of the irrationality of the governments of the time that almost forced us into a war, among brothers, that who knows how many decades would have taken to heal those wounds.
Argentina has complied with all the demands of the Ottawa Convention in 2004 eliminating all mines, antipersonnel, anti tank that existed in our territory, except those in our Malvinas Islands, because Britain does not allow us to operate there, underlined Rossi.
The ceremony also included a display of Chilean expert personnel and mechanical equipment for the clearance of mines, and awarding several members of the special forces medals for their contribution to the 'humanitarian de-mining'.
According to the data made public at the occasion, Chile so far has destroyed 96.000 anti personnel mines which is equivalent to 54.94% of the total planted. In the case of Magallanes Region in the extreme south of Chile, the number destroyed is 9.900, equivalent to 78.03% of total number, liberating 55.02% of the area.
Chile also has mine fields to the north of the country neighboring with Bolivia and Peru, but the task there is taking more time, the number is far greater and one of the country's helping with the financing and implementation of clearance is Norway.
Chile has reported 177 victims from mines or ordnance explosions, of which 51 correspond to anti-personnel mines. Magallanes region just to the north of Tierra del Fuego should be cleared of all explosives in the 'next five years'.
At national level Chile reports to have eliminated 50% of 181.814 planted mines and expects to have cleared all fields and eliminated these explosives, including those stocked by 2020.
Finally it must be recalled that last year Chile was selected to host in 2016 the fifteenth meeting of the States Parties of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention or Ottawa Convention in merit to the country's ”efforts to peace, security and human rights'.
The Meeting of the States Parties is an international diplomatic conference that will see around 1,000 delegates descend on Chile’s capital to take stock of global efforts to eradicate anti-personnel mines and to guarantee the rights of landmine survivors.