The leak of an audio message with no kind words from the Chilean foreign ministry top staff and advisors towards the Argentine ambassador in Chile, Rafael Bielsa, triggered a severe incident between the two neighboring countries which was finally contained by both sides with a cascade of compliments for the top figures involved.
According to the six minute leaked audio, Chilean Foreign minister Antonia Urrejola, discussing with advisors how to reply to ambassador Bielsa who before the Chilean Senate foreign relations committee complained, with sarcasm, about the country's attitude in several bilateral issues, Ms Urrejola can be heard saying, Enough, he does what he wants whenever he feels, and, what is the answer I am given, 'he's nuts'
The ambassador, a politician and diplomat, belongs to the Bielsa family long identified with Peronism, has a brother, Marcelo, former soccer player and later Leeds City coach (nick named Loco 'nuts' because of his erratic character), and a sister Maria Eugenia, an architect, who was until a few months ago a member of the current cabinet of president Alberto Fernandez.
Before the Chilean congress Bielsa complained that Argentina was not informed of an unanimous decision by the Chilean government to reject the Dominga mining and port project to the north of Chile, with an investment of US$ 2,5bn, which was to be also used by Argentina and its mining activities. The reason, the environmental impact on a region rich in bio-diversity, with among other species nests penguin rookeries in the so-called Humboldt archipelago.
Bielsa complained that since the overall project was somehow of bilateral interest, it would be only natural to have informed Argentina of the decision, since it is understandable that the government of president Gabriel Boric is faced with tough decisions, development or the environment. Even when the project had already been rejected in 2017 by the government of Michelle Bachelet.
However Bielsa commented to the Chilean senators with a degree of sarcasm, I imagine five species woke up joyfully celebrating because they are not going to disappear. He also complained about the way the Chilean media refers to vice-president Cristina Kirchner ('thief', 'corrupt' and coarser abuses), and mentioned the differences with Chile referred to the extension of the continental shelf.
In 2021 when the second government of president Sebastian Piñera we were not informed about the extension plan, we were snubbed, was it necessary to leave us as a bunch of morons? so naturally I complained, and will complain as many times as necessary. The night before the official announcement I was invited for dinner by then foreign minister Andres Allamand, and he never told me a word of the continental shelf announcement the following morning.
This is not the first time Bielsa is summoned to the ministry. In effect last September, the ambassador, on request from members of congress, had to explain comments referred to the Chilean right, and the 4 September constitutional referendum which was rejected by the Chilean electorate.
”The right says things that are not true, but despite not being true, they are easily understood, but for the progressive parties saying things that are true, it's hard to explain them, and much attention is needed, but this has not happened here (Chile) on this occasion, Bielsa was quoted in a radio interview in reference to the referendum and the overwhelming victory of parties that Rejected the constitutional amendments.
Another issue of controversy was Royal Navy vessels calling in Chile for which apparently there is some understanding between the government of President Gabriel Boric and Argentina, banning such visits and/or docking.
In this context as can be extracted from the taped leak, one of Chile's foreign ministry advisors Alex Wetzig recalls that Chile has had great gestures towards Argentina such as impeding access of British navy vessels to the country's ports or shipyards, but if Bielsa insists that it is an understanding signed by both countries, just tell him we have been much pressured to drop the understanding, and that such accords are agreed to be later dropped.
However the question is, which English vessel was effectively banned and to what agreements did the ministry advisors refer? According to Chilean media the vessel involved it OPV HMS Forth, the Falkland Islands patrol vessel, which in October 2022 was prevented from docking in Chile following on the request from Argentina referred to the Falklands/Malvinas issue, ratified by president Boric, and included in the joint declaration signed by the two presidents, (Alberto Fernandez from Argentina) last April.
As has been tradition since the return of democracy, supporting the fair, legitimate and dignified claim of the Argentine people and their State referred to Malvinas, has been the official policy of the Kirchner governments since they monopolize the political stage in Argentina. This means enclosing, surrounding the Islands, and impeding Royal Navy vessels from being supplied and provided with fuel in any South American port. But the fact is that several countries of the region have historic links with the British going back to the days of independence from Spain, with a fluid reciprocity. Chile in effect is celebrating two centuries of close relations with Britain this year, and HMS Forth, mentioned by Wtzig, is the standing patrol of the Falklands since 2020.
And despite the fact that the Boric government denied HMS Forth to call at Chilean ports and shipyards in September 2022, the OPV participated of the naval parade organized by Brazil to celebrate 200 years of Brazilian independence and the Brazilian navy. In other words the aspiration of Argentina is not always complied and could be reconsidered by the Chilean Executive, with the purpose of not tarnishing the historic relations of Chile with Britain later this year. Furthermore the main Chilean frigates and backbone of their nay were purchased from the UK in 2008 at a cost of 134 million pounds.
Finally let us say the Chilean ministry announced that ”the incident which motivated the situation has been overcome (with the sacking of the Communications officer from the Chilean foreign ministry), and in no way represents the excellent bilateral relation between Argentina and Chile, built on the foundations of trust and historic friendship
Likewise Argentine president said he was not aware of the content of the leak, and it is irrelevant. Argentina and Chile are going to continue working together, as has been during this meeting and we will continue to grow together. The rest are gossip and the ill intended use of private conversations. I have the highest respect for the Chilean foreign minister
However despite the roses and marsh mallows exchanged by the two governments, the Chilean congress is not satisfied with the overall incident, the lack of professionalism of the foreign ministry, the leak of a private conservation between the minister and aides, and the attitude of the Argentine ambassador who has been described a thick and hot tempered”