VALPARAISO, Chile – The Chilean city of Valparaiso recreated this Tuesday the landing of more than 2,200 Spanish republican exiles here 80 years ago aboard the SS Winnipeg, an event attended by Spanish Justice Minister Dolores Delgado.
Eighty direct family members of the Winnipeg passengers – one for each year since they arrived – boarded a tourist ship that then sailed around the Bay of Valparaiso to subsequently dock at Prat Pier.
As occurred with the Winnipeg steamer on the morning of Sept. 3, 1939, the 80 relatives of the exiles got off the ship and were greeted by the authorities, today led by the Spanish justice minister.
The Winnipeg steamer set sail on Aug. 4, 1939, from the French port of Pauillac carrying more than 2,200 Spanish refugees who had fled their country following Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).
The chief creator of that epic voyage was the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who at the time was consul for Spanish immigration in Paris.
The poet labored tirelessly to charter the ship, obtain visas, reunite families separated by the war, and obtain the necessary financing to pay for the tickets.
The Spanish justice minister recalled this Tuesday that the vessel, a French steamship abandoned after World War I, had room for approximately 100 passengers but was reconstructed to hold many more.
After a 30-day crossing, Delgado recalled, Valparaiso extended an “apotheosic” welcome to the Spanish refugees, with the pier and surrounding buildings packed with people and with bands playing Chilean and Spanish music.
The Winnipeg passengers were a melting-pot of exiles of different professions, backgrounds and progressive political leanings, but with one thing in common.
“The exiles leaving Spain formed an ideological spectrum: communists, socialists, anarchists, nationalists, republicans...there were Catalans, Basques, Andalucians, Galicians, Valencians, Madrid natives, all with one idea in common – that of freedom,” the minister said.
“All were united by a deep-rooted commitment to solidarity, comradeship and some strong anti-fascist, anti-totalitarian convictions. Exactly what motivates us now and must motivate us with a view to the future,” Delgado added at a ceremony in Valparaiso’s Sotomayor Plaza.
Most Spanish families who arrived on the SS Winnipeg 80 years ago put down roots in Chile and made outstanding contributions in the spheres of culture, medicine, art and business.
Delgado said that in Spain there is no “complete account” of the Spanish republican exile, so it is therefore important that the life histories of the Winnipeg passengers be made available to Spanish citizens.