Paraguayan ambassador to Chile visits Pichilemu hacienda after 'slavery' controversy

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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Barracks on the San Antonio de Petrel farm in Pichilemu.
Image: Diego Grez.

Paraguayan Ambassador to Chile Terumi Matsuo visited Pichilemu as a denouncement of trafficking of persons from Paraguay in the Pichileminian hacienda of San Antonio de Petrel, currently property of politician Francisco Javier Errázuriz Talavera, prompted an investigation. The investigation is being conducted by the Government of Cardenal Caro Province, and the Immigration Department of the Investigations Police of Chile (PDI). Errázuriz Talavera is also known by its nickname, Fra Fra.

Paraguayan media was the first to report that a 'slavery regime' was taking place in the former presidential candidate's hacienda, after former workers 'managed to escape' from there. According to Pichilemu News, it was reported that the workers "were only given one meal daily, and salty water," and "[Errázuriz] had promised to give them 750US$, about 350,000 Chilean pesos as salary." Pichilemu News also reported that at least 150 persons were victims of the 'slavery regime', as it has been called by the Paraguayan media.

Matsuo arrived at Pichilemu at 11:00 local time (15:00 UTC) on Saturday, and after reuniting with the governor of Cardenal Caro Julio Ibarra Maldonado, both went to the Cabañas Santa Irene, where the affected Paraguayans were staying. According to Jorge Nasser's Radio Entre Olas, the ambassador "invited the workers to the [Pichilemu] municipal gymnasium for a meeting, in order to coordinate the actions to get them back to their country of origin or, as some have preferred, to stay in Chile."

Evelyn Matthei in 2009.

"Nothing surprises me of Mr. Errázuriz, I think the whole country is tired of him too. This man believes he's the owner of Chile, [he's just the] owner of a farm, I think it's not worth it to respond him. But I assure you we are going to fiscalize everything that needs to be fiscalized," Minister of Labor and Social Providence Evelyn Matthei told Radio Universo on Tuesday. According to Matthei, "six Paraguayans and one Brazilian" were found at the Petrel hacienda, "working without a contract and without proof of payment." "It's totally and absolutely unacceptable to bring undocumented workers [here], to have them working without a contract and to not know if they have been paid or not. We aren't going to accept that," Matthei added.

Photograph taken near the entrance to Pichilemu, looking forwards to San Antonio de Petrel vineyards, on April 16, 2011.
Image: Diego Grez.

In response to actions taken by the Chilean government, Francisco Javier Errázuriz wrote an open letter on Tuesday which he sent to several media outlets in Chile, titled "A la ministra Evelyn Matthei y a los chilenos" ("To Minister Evelyn Matthei and the Chileans"). "Matthei argues that the Ministry of Interior has denied that I knew the income situation of the Paraguayans, in circumstances that I have stamped letters from that ministry [which would demonstrate] they always helped to facilitate the arrival of those citizens from a sister nation, which then would be hired and may assist in the development of Chile, [I was] even recommended that the Ministry of Interior would give them the MERCOSUR visa, because it's quicker, and [they] instructed that way the Governor of Pichilemu [sic]," Errázuriz said in the letter. Errázuriz also accused Matthei of being racist towards immigrants: "The Labor Minister does not want immigrants to work in Chile to strengthen our motherland. [She] demonstrates with that that her roots aren't found here —but in the origin country of her family—, which isn't Chile, and that she as descendant of German immigrants, the 'jus sanguinis' prevails over the 'jus soli'."

The Labor Department fined more than 14,000,000CLP (30,002 USD) to the company of Francisco Javier Errázuriz, Frutales y Viñedos Errázuriz Ovalle, on Thursday. María Cecilia Sánchez, Director of Labor, said "the situation is being investigated by the Prosecution Office [Fiscalía]," and that "26 persons who were working at Errázuriz's company were brought back to their origin countries [Brazil and Paraguay], and other 46 are staying at cabañas in Pichilemu." Sánchez added that "[an investigation] needs to be consolidated on what happens in another Francisco Javier Errázuriz's company, Bosques de la Costa S.A."

On Friday, Minister Matthei reunited with Paraguayan Ambassador Matsuo, "who thanked the government efforts to clarify the laboral abuses," El Mercurio reported. "This is a laboral case that ashames us as a country. It really ashames that something like this occurs in Chile," Matthei said. "This is one of the worst things I have seen and what actually happens is that it ashames," she added. Matthei also said Francisco Javier Errázuriz would not be paying anything to the Paraguayans because "they have to pay him firstly, because he brought them [to Chile], and according to himself he trained them."