Ezequiel Trumper, news director of Spanish radio station Austral FM, writes:

Chile is privately furious over a decision by John Howard to effectively snub the president of Chile, which has forced his three-day visit to Australia next week to be slashed to just 30 hours – and may be cancelled altogether.

President Ricardo Lagos – arguably South America’s most respected leader – was scheduled to arrive in Australia for a long-planned three-day visit next Thursday. But the program has been completely overhauled after Australia advised Chile that Howard will only be here on Thursday, before flying to Washington and Lord’s (sorry, London) the next day.

Chile has not taken this well. Chilean diplomats in Australia have shortened the trip to 30 hours, and privately they are furious. A dinner due to be hosted by NSW Premier Bob Carr was cancelled after Lagos learned that Carr himself wouldn’t be attending and would be sending his deputy instead. Now there are rumours in the Chilean press that Lagos may cancel his whole visit to Australia altogether. It is not pretty.

Would Howard have done this to any European or key Asian leader? The Chilean community in Australia (around 30,000) is the largest Spanish-speaking group in this country’s Latin community. How will they feel about the way their president is being treated by Howard?

This treatment compares starkly with New Zealand’s outstanding relationship with Chile, which includes a free trade agreement between the two countries.

But perhaps Lagos shouldn’t be so surprised by this snub, because it’s not the first time. In February 2003, Lagos was scheduled to visit Australia. Only five days before his arrival, with part of his delegation already in Australia and a full schedule of state dinners and other visits organised, the Australian PM advised Lagos that he would not be in Australia to see him. The reason? “Urgent” consultations with George W Bush and Tony Blair prior to the war in Iraq.

Peter Fray

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