Chile's President Gabriel Boric Font Tuesday left Argentina, after a two-day official trip which marked his first trip abroad since taking office last month.
In the morning he took part in a business forum with entrepreneurs from both countries, during which he stressed the importance of strengthening bilateral trade.
Speaking before some 50 businessmen at the Argentina-Chile Trade Committee, Boric pointed out that we have the possibility of starting a cycle of upward collaboration, and when I say starting I want to be careful because I am not saying starting from scratch. As a State policy we are starting our mandate on the basis of what those who preceded us did, he explained.
According to the Argentine Chamber of Commerce and Services, in 2021, when Chile was still run by the conservative Sebastián Piñera, bilateral trade exchange increased by 43% yoy, the highest since record-keeping began in 1993. Boric also highlighted Argentina was his country's second business partner in Latin America.
Boric then visited the Espacio Memoria y Derechos Humanos at the former Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), the largest detention center during the military dictatorship (1976-1983). The Chilean head of state pledged to support the building's induction into UNESCO's World Heritage Site list.
With the Argentine people we share a joint history both of joys and also of pain; and for us memory and unrestricted respect for human rights is fundamental, Boric told reporters.
We are going to continue working on that. If we are here today in the presidency of the Republic of Chile it is thanks to those who fought and fell before us, he added.
During the tour of the premises, which lasted for around 90 minutes, The Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo gave Boric one of their white handkerchiefs.
It was shocking, Boric said after walking through the site. There are those who believe that remembering this is putting your finger on the sore spot, and this is so that it never happens again!, Boric argued.
In 2015, the former ESMA was turned into the Espacio Memoria, a museum of the atrocities committed there in the dark years. Some 5,000 disappeared detainees were held at ESMA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The prisoners endured long torture sessions and spent their days hooded and isolated in tiny spaces. It is very uneasy to see the places where women gave birth, in that tiny space. It was [also]very moving, Chilean Defense Minister Maya Fernandez, granddaughter of former President Salvador Allende, admitted. Boric concurred.
The Chilean delegation was escorted inside ESMA by members of human rights organizations, survivors of the detention center and relatives of the disappeared.
Thanks to those who make memory remain vital, Boric said. Alberto Fernandez told me how was it possible that they didn't know what happened here. The rooms were there... One feels the horror and also the solidarity, and the story of the women who gave birth in two square meters, Boric said.
Detainees, their hands and legs shackled, wore a hood or cloth mask over their faces and slept on mattresses on the floor. As in Nazi extermination camps, they were identified with a number.
The contrast between the inside and the outside of the building was brutal. Life went on as usual on the other side of the fence of a building located on Libertador Avenue, although the upper-class buildings across the street were not there in the times of General Videla and his military successors.
In 1998, the government of Carlos Menem proposed the demolition of ESMA, in an attempt to turn the pages of the horrors of the dictatorship and relegate the confrontations of our recent history. But relatives of the victims succeeded in stopping the plan in the courts, arguing that there could be evidence of torture and murders still under investigation.
Boric stressed Chile will support the candidacy of ESMA as a UNESCO heritage site.
He also vowed to encourage collaboration with the Museum of Memory in Santiago and with the regions. We want that memory to cross the capitals. And we will work to promote human rights throughout the continent, he added. Chile's Museum of Memory is not located in a place where detainees were actually held. Hence the impact felt by the Chilean delegation at ESMA.
Later Tuesday Boric visited Buenos Aires' National Museum of Fine Arts, where paintings of Argentine artist Ernesto Deira were on display after being delivered to Argentina from the University of Chile after 50 years of holding them.
Deira died in 1986 in Paris believing that his paintings had been destroyed as ordered by dictator Augusto Pinochet after the 1973 coup d'état. The seven paintings will be on display for three years before being returned to Deira's family.
Boric also met late Monday with Argentine Parliamentarians and Supreme Court Justices. But Vice President -and Speaker of the Senate- Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was not there. Lower House Speaker Sergio Massa was and he gave Boric a football jersey as a gift.
Regarding his choosing Argentina as the first destination, Boric underlined that we have a huge shared border but also for a personal trajectory issue, I feel a deep brotherhood with the Argentine people. I grew up in Patagonia. In Patagonia there are no borders, said the Punta Arenas-born President.
Boric also addressed his dialogue approach at the Mapuche conflict and ruled out that the indigenous claims could call into question the territorial integrity of Argentina. This is not an issue that has to do with Argentine territorial sovereignty, it is an issue ... of a conflict between the Chilean State and the Mapuche nation people. And we are not going to ignore that. His remarks came after Interior Minister Izkia Siches caused a stir in Argentina for using the Mapuche term Wallmapu, which refers to territories claimed by the native people on both sides of the Andes.