On March 30, the Ambassador of Chile in India, Jorge Heine, conferred the Orden de Bernardo O'Higgins -- one of Chile's highest civilian honours for a foreign citizen -- on me.
At a formal ceremony, Ambassador Heine delivered a speech where he explained the origin and significance of the award, which is named after Chile's liberator and founding father who was of Irish descent. [This is what The Hindu reported the next day]
My speech in response.....
"My emotional association with Chile began as a university student in England in the 1980s, when the struggle against the Pinochet dictatorship was a cause that many of us at the London School of Economics saw as our own. We saw in the tragic but righteous personality of Salvador Allende -- and in the simple poetry of Pablo Neruda -- and in the determination of the mothers and families of the young desaparecidos -- the personification of all that is honest and pure and noble in human beings everywhere. It didn't matter that the tragedy was being enacted thousands of miles away. It could just as easily have been next door.
"In 1995, my wife, Nandini Sundar, and I had the chance to visit Chile. Those were happier times. The dictatorship was no more but Chileans were still struggling to undo the damage it had done to their country, their economy, their social fabric and sense of solidarity. At the main cemetery in Santiago, we witnessed the moving scene of a young man who had been killed by the dictatorship -- and whose body had finally been identified -- being given the dignity of a proper burial. We saw in Chile a proud country that was trying to start life anew. But we also wondered whether it would manage to confront the question of justice head on.
"Today, it seems to me that Chile is one of only a handful of nations which have had the courage to realise that the only way a people can be at peace with their past is if truth and justice are accorded pride of place. Not out of the desire for retribution, but because the victims of violence deserve nothing less. Today, Chile is clearly moving in that direction. And it was also Chile's desire for justice internationally, I believe, which led it to withstand, as a member of the UN Security Council, arm-twisting by the War Party in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"Chile may be a country which is small and distant from every continent but its people know that dignity and fidelity to truth often matter more in international affairs than size or political or physical proximity to the major power centres. And I consider it an honour, Mr Ambassador, to be associated -- through the Bernardo O'Higgins Order -- with the Chilean people and their country.
"For India, which is confronting anew the complexities of globalisation and world order, Chile and Latin America occupy a special place.
"For too long, we in India have been used to thinking about globalisation and strategic relationships only along predictable geopolitical and geographical axes. But Latin America is a region where exciting things are happening. From Cuba and Venezuela in the north, down through Brazil, Bolivia, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile in the south, America Latina is breaking free from the dogmatism which others around the world have been trapped by. The continent is helping once again to define the contours of modern democracy, of modern, inclusive economic policies and of modern diplomacy built around the democratisation of international affairs.
"In my writings I have argued that India can benefit in more ways than one in building links with this vast and exciting continent. These links will create economic and strategic space for both India and Latin America and help push the international system in a more positive direction. I don't think I have done enough to deserve the honour bestowed on me, but am grateful to Chile and its people for this very flattering recognition of my work".