SANTIAGO – President Sebastián Piñera honored 12 Carabineros (local police) for their service during the Beagle crisis in 1978, when Argentina was about to invade Chile. Argentina’s failure in the Magellan Strait became the prelude for the catastrophe in the Falklands, which also affected Chile’s security. Monday’s ceremony was clouded in embarrassment because officials acknowledged the Carabineros’ contribution only after a high-ranking general complained.
Flanked, among others, by foreign minister Roberto Ampuero, President Piñera honored 12 Carabineros on Monday for their service during the Beagle channel crisis. According to a foreign ministry press release, Piñera said during the event in government palace La Moneda, “Chile and Chileans owe a lot to a group of Chileans of the armed forces, but also of Carabineros de Chile, who when the country called them because it required their assistance, their commitment, their courage and their sacrificial spirit to defend our sovereignty, were present and knew how to fulfill their duty.”
He added, “none of you will ever forget what [you] had to live through 40 years ago. And I want to tell you we, too, will never forget.”
Local media reports add a somewhat bitter taste to the president’s words. The press release curiously lacks the ministry’s usual grandstanding, neither mentioning the place of the ceremony nor the Carabineros’ specific role. It seems designed to minimize attention and shield officials from embarrassment.
Biobiochile news site reported that Piñera visited the region in early January to commemorate the armed forces’ performance in 1978 when they faced Argentine aggression. Piñera honored 10 members of each branch of the military for their service during these grueling days.
Shortly after the commemorations, however, Reinaldo Ríos, president of the retired Carabineros generals association sent a letter to defense minister Alberto Espina. The general lamented “forgetfulness and error.” Biobiochile quoted him as saying, “both the organizers of the event in question, and the authorities present, forgot or did not want to include in this tribute the members of Carabineros de Chile, an institution that mobilized several thousand” during Argentina’s incursion.
Recognizing that, indeed, the country had forgotten this mobilization the government organized Monday’s separate event.
In 1978, Argentina tried to invade Chile and conquer three small islands in the Magellan Strait to further its imperial ambitions and unlock a claim on Cape Horn. This way, Argentina would control the South Pacific and access to Antarctica, both key objectives of its foreign policy.
Christian is Managing Editor at Chile Today, where he curates the foreign policy blog Teatinos One/Eighty. Christian is also Lead Editor of E-International Relations, co-editor of an open access textbook on International Relations Theory and Director at the Chilean Association of International Specialists (ACHEI).