Ambassador Fiona Clouder visited the port of Valparaíso to participate in the celebrations organised to mark the Queen’s birthday. The event, that took place in the Naval Club of Valparaíso, was attended by members of the British community of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, volunteers from the 11th Fire Brigade, George Garland, British diplomatic staff posted in Chile, local authorities and the British Honorary Consul in Valparaíso, Mr. Iain Hardy.
On the occasion, Mrs. Clouder delivered the following speech:
‘Arrived in Valparaiso’, Jeremy – my, now, husband – wrote to me nearly thirty years ago, when he came here on a navy ship. ‘You would like Chile’, he said. Little did I think then, that one day I would be here as Her Majesty’s Ambassador.
‘You must go to Valparaiso’, said my predecessor, Jon Benjamin, when I visited Chile two years ago. And I did, and met Iain Hardy, our Honorary Consul, and started to learn more of this vibrant and fascinating city.
With a previous career in science before I became a diplomat, the anniversary of the death of Charles Darwin was remembered last week. In July 1834 he wrote these words ‘The Beagle weighed anchor during the night in the city of Valparaiso. How delicious everything seems to be here! The atmosphere is so transparent, the sky is so blue and pure, the sun shines so, so much life seems impregnated with nature’.
‘In Valparaiso, everyone has shown affection’, from the writings of Maria Graham, the 19th century British traveller and writer. She was also one of the first people to record evidence of an earthquake and tsunami, which she witnessed here in Chile, and which helped developed understanding of the geological basis of such events. Although her observations were originally dismissed by the Royal Geographical Society in London, because how could they be valid, if recorded by a mere woman!
Her portrait hangs in the Americas Directorate of the Foreign Office in London, where I worked before coming to Chile. She was also, of course, a great friend of Lord Cochrane, whose legacy helped build a long history of naval links between UK and Chile, and whose portrait hangs in the Residence in Santiago.
These echoes of the history of the city further resonated, when one of my first official engagements as Ambassador, was to come here to Valparaiso at the end of March, to commemorate, together with the US Ambassador and the Chilean navy, 200 years since the Battle of Valparaiso between the US and Britain. We won. But there was a tragic loss of life during the Battle. It was a very moving occasion to remember the fallen, the values and principles they espoused, and to celebrate the strong links today both with the US and with the Chilean navy.
Little did I expect to return to Valparaiso only two weeks later, after the tragedy of the fire of the Jewel of the Pacific. I met with the firefighters of the 11th Company, George Garland, who have strong links to the UK and British traditions. I learnt firsthand of the devastation, including for one of the firemen, who had lost his home. I learnt of the bravery of those who had fought the fires, and the hard work and commitment of those bringing help to the community.
Today, here in Valparaiso, we are celebrating the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. I have the honour to bring a message from Her Majesty:
‘Prince Philip and I were saddened to hear of the loss of life in Valparaiso, following the forest fire, which comes so soon after the recent earthquake in Iquique. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those affected at this time. Please accept my deepest sympathies on behalf of the British people.’ Elizabeth R.
When I myself visited Valparaiso the other day, what also struck me was the hope and commitment to look to the future of this city. The hundreds of volunteers marching up and down the hills. People sending help from across Chile. My colleagues in the British Embassy, our contacts in the British Chilean Chamber of Commerce, all wanting in some way to help both now and to build links for the future.
My previous job in London involved the ‘Canning Agenda’ – the initiative by the Foreign Secretary to rebuild relations in Latin America, as set out in the Canning Lecture, William Hague gave in November 2010. This was named about George Canning, the great 19th century statesman. It was George Canning who appointed the first British Consul to Chile. The duties set out in a letter in 1823 were twofold:
- ‘To serve the British merchants in Chile as the diplomatic authority relating to the Chilean authorities and to assure commercial success for His Majesty.
- To serve as an informant about the country of residence. It will be your duty to gather and transmit reports about all matters of interest and importance in the state of Chile and its dependencies.’
Today, nearly 200 years later, my role is much the same. To promote business and other links between the UK and Chile, and to report on important developments. And much of my reporting in recent weeks has been about Valparaiso.
I hope that at future Queen’s Birthday Parties, we will both celebrate the long historic links between Valparaiso and the British community; but also that we will remember the fire, those affected, and the message from Her Majesty. And also that in the future we will be able to celebrate the resilience of this city and how links have further developed between the people of Valparaiso and the people of the UK.
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