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Calmy-Rey hails common values with Chile

All in the same boat: Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (left) and Micheline Calmy-Rey on Lake Geneva Keystone

Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey has hailed Switzerland and Chile's shared values, including social justice, equality and interest in human rights.

This content was published on June 1, 2007 - 21:47

She was speaking in the Swiss capital, Bern, during a two-day state visit by her Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet, which started on Friday.

On Saturday Bachelet visited western Switzerland. Having been shown around the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, she travelled with Calmy-Rey by ferry to Geneva, where she met Jakob Kellenberger, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"Switzerland and Chile are a lot closer than geography would suggest," said Calmy-Rey in her speech on Friday.

"We have the same political priorities which are close to our hearts such as the fight against poverty, and the promotion of social justice," she added.

Calmy-Rey also highlighted how the two presidents were keen to protect human rights around the world and pointed to how Bachelet had tried to reconcile Chile with its past under the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990).

The Swiss president, who is also the foreign minister, said she was proud that Switzerland had welcomed many Chilean refugees during that period. She said that currently the Chilean population numbered around 4,000.

Around the same number of Swiss are resident in Chile.

Calmy-Rey said there were similarities as well in terms of the two countries' political position within their regions.

"In Latin America, Chile operates a policy which one could almost call neutral because it tries to maintain good relations with all the countries," said Calmy-Rey.

Talking business

She added that economically both countries were dependent on exports, but wanted a fair form of globalisation.

Exports towards Chile from Switzerland totalled almost SFr200 million ($163 million) last year and imports were SFr62 million. Swiss direct investments in Chile were around SFr1.2 billion in 2005.

For her part, Bachelet said she was honoured to be this year's state visit – Switzerland only has one such visit a year – and expressed her gratitude to Switzerland for having taken in the Chilean refugees.

Bachelet said that economic relations between Santiago and Bern were good, but she intended to step up business cooperation.

She said Switzerland's "high level of human development" was a model she wished to reproduce in Chile, with a more integrated and fair society.

Questions raised

However, a day before Bachelet's visit, non-governmental organisation Amnesty International called on Calmy-Rey to put human rights high on her agenda.

In particular, it called for Chile's Amnesty Law, which dates from the Pinochet period, to be repealed. The NGO claims this law allows immunity from prosecution for alleged violators of human rights.

In a statement, Amnesty raised questions about Chilean prisons, saying they were often overpopulated and people ill-treated.

It also highlighted the situation of the Mapuche indigenous group, whom the organisation said had limited rights in Chile.

On Wednesday, the NGO, the International Committee for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, sent a letter to Calmy-Rey, urging her to raise the Mapuche issue during her talks with Bachelet.

swissinfo with agencies

Chile

Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations. It is still recovering from the 17-year rule of General Augusto Pinochet. His 1973 coup was one of the bloodiest in Latin America and his dictatorship left more than 3,000 people dead and missing.

Chile has a population of 16.3 million and the main language is Spanish. Many people are of mixed Spanish and indigenous descent.

Chile's GNI per capita is $5,870 and its main exports are copper, fish, fruit, paper and pulp, as well as chemicals.

Michelle Bachelet was elected the first woman Chilean president in 2006. She is also a medical doctor.

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Bachelet's visit

On Friday Chilean President Michelle Bachelet met Swiss counterpart Micheline Calmy-Rey, with whom she discussed bilateral and international issues. She also met other members of the cabinet.

On Saturday Calmy-Rey will accompany Bachelet on a tour of the Lake Geneva region.

This is the first visit by a Chilean president since 1995.

Bachelet is on a European tour which also includes Norway and Finland.

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