Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter has wrapped up his trip to South America by meeting the descendants of Swiss immigrants in the Uruguayan city of Neuva Helvecia and telling them: “you are Swiss at heart”.
The minister had been in South America external linkfor three days to strengthen bilateral relations with Argentinaexternal link, which he visited first, and Uruguay. He returned to Switzerland on Saturday afternoon.
“The aims of the visit could be fulfilled,” the Swiss foreign ministry told swissinfo.ch on Saturday. “The talks with Vice President [Gabriela] Michetti and Foreign Minister [Susana] Malcorra in Buenos Aires allowed a new chapter in bilateral relations to be opened, which will allow for cooperation in several different areas.”
A boost to bilateral relations with Uruguay came with a joint declaration signed with Uruguay Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa, the ministry explained in written comments.
“In future Switzerland and Uruguay will be able to discuss multilateral topics regularly on a higher diplomatic level.”
The two countries have traditionally strong relations. One of Uruguay's constitutions was based on the model of the Swiss Federal Constitution and twice in Uruguayan history, a collegial system of government was adopted based on the Swiss model.
Uruguay is often known as “the Switzerland of South America” and there are a large number of descendants of Swiss emigrants there, Friday's official media release on the visit explainedexternal link.
Swiss immigrants founded the city of Nueva Helvecia (New Helvetica) in the 19th century, and later developed the dairy industry, imported modern farming equipment and founded the cheesemaking industry in the country.
Burkhalter said that he was impressed by the descendants’ continued close ties to the land of their forebears. "You are Swiss at heart," he told them.
He also helped lay the foundation stone of a building that will provide shelter to people during future natural disasters.
Nueva Helvecia was affected by flooding in April. The Swiss Humanitarian Aid Department, the Cantons of Fribourg and Ticino and the Ticinese commune of Quinto are supporting the reconstruction efforts.
Around 130 years ago, descendants of Ticinese immigrants in Nueva Helvecia collected money for the people of Quinto after it was hit by a major fire. The people of Quinto have now collected money to help the city of Nueva Helvecia.
This is a wonderful testament to "the vibrant friendship and solidarity between the people of Nueva Helvecia and their Ticinese cousins", commented Burkhalter.
Argentina is Switzerland's third most important economic partner and fourth largest trading partner in Latin America.
On May 26 Burkhalter signed a declaration on strengthening cooperation between Switzerland and Argentina, marking a new chapter in bilateral relations. One of the matters discussed was cooperation in view of the possibility that Argentina will chair the G20 in 2018. Burkhalter also discussed this issue with Vice President Gabriela Michetti.
He told swissinfo’s Spanish serviceexternal link in written comments that Switzerland, “wanted to continue to deepen and intensify our good bilateral relations”. Other areas for possible cooperation were trade and the commitment to human rights or development cooperation, he said.