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Post-war Spanish exile to Chile recreated in Valparaíso
By thinkSPAIN Team Thu, Sep 5, 2019
A CHILEAN port city has re-enacted the arrival of a boatload of Spanish exiles who fled Franco's reign at the end of the Civil War, in 1939.
Present-day Spanish minister of justice Dolores Delgado is on an official visit to Valparaíso, and was given her own role in the drama: that of being head of the authorities who met the post-war Spaniards as they docked on Tuesday.
Although at the time, over 2,200 displaced Republicans from Spain fled to Chile on the Winnepeg, the 80th anniversary version of the events saw 80 relatives of the original exiles – one for each year since – travelling into the harbour on a tourist boat.
The Winnepeg set sail from the French port town of Pauillac on August 4, 1939 after the fall of the Republicans saw the far-right Falangists gain power and General Francisco Franco made governor of Spain, hailing the start of a dictatorship that would not end until Franco's death 36 years later in 1975.
These Spanish refugees had been able to reach Chile a month later largely thanks to the impeccable organisation skills of the latter country's famous Generation of '27 poet, Pablo Neruda, who arranged the ship and the visas, 'crowdfunded' the cost of the voyage, and reunited families separated by the conflict so they could set off for their new lives together.
Dolores Delgado recalled that the Winnepeg was a French cargo ship which had been unused since the First World War and was only large enough to carry about 100 passengers, but was expanded to enable it to transport 22 times that number.
Unlike nowadays, where refugees are met by either medical workers, the Red Cross, charities and volunteers or, in some countries, by border police, forms to fill in and closed-room interrogations, the 2,200 Spanish exiles were met with bands playing Chilean and Spanish music.
The passengers were all of different trades and professions, social classes and political views, but with one thing in common: a sense of justice and desire for freedom.
“Among the exiles, the whole ideological spectrum which came out of Spain at the time was represented: communists, socialists, anarchists, nationalists, Republicans; there were people from Catalunya, the Basque Country, Andalucía, Galicia, Valencia, Madrid – all united by one idea, that of liberty,” Sra Delgado said during a commemoration ceremony in Valparaíso's Plaza Sotomayor.
“They were all united by a deep-rooted commitment to solidarity, companionship, and profound anti-fascist and anti-totalitarian convictions. Exactly what moves us and should move us looking towards the future.”
The majority of the 'Winnepeg generation' would go on to settle in Chile and establish roots, in most cases contributing significantly to everything from arts and culture to medicine and business.
Some of the most well-known in Chile included painters José Balmes and Roser Bru, the intellectual Víctor Pei, historian Leopoldo Castedo, and typographer Mauricio Amster.
Sra Delgado says Spain 'owes a debt of gratitude' to Chile – a debt never accepted by Spain when it was under a dictatorship, but which 'modern-day Spanish democrats need to recognise and appreciate'.
She admits that in Spain there is no 'complete story' in existence of the Republican exile, which means it is doubly important for awareness of the life histories of the 'Winnepeg generation' to be raised across Spanish soil.
As well as two other commemorative ceremonies of the Winnepeg's arrival, in the Senate and in the Chamber of Ministers, Sra Delgado's trip to Chile has included official visits to the Memory Museum and the Museum of Human Rights, a participation in a tribute to the Spanish exile and artist Roser Bru, and a meeting with her counterpart in the ministry of justice, Hernán Larraín.
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