SANTIAGO – The presidents of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez, inaugurated the Santiago Book Fair at which Argentina is the guest of honor, as a prelude to both countries’ bicentennial of independence in 2010.
After signing on Friday morning the historic Maipu Integration and Cooperation Treaty, the presidents went in the afternoon to the Mapocho Station Cultural Center, seat of the 29th edition of the fair, which will be open until Nov. 15.
Surrounded by the crowd of reporters that followed them everywhere, Bachelet and Fernandez received books, did some wine tasting and visited the stands of the nearly 800 publishing houses at the exhibition, attended by more than 200 writers.
In the auditorium at the fair, Fernandez addressed the widow of Jorge Luis Borges, Maria Kodama, who was in the audience, where two Chilean winners of the National Prize for Literature, Gonzalo Rojas and Jose Miguel Varas, were also present.
The Argentine president also defended the government’s role as purchaser and distributor of literary works to promote the publishing industry, as a way of “reviving in the younger generations the pleasure of reading books.”
For her part, Bachelet recalled the verses of Chilean poet Gabriela Mistral, in which the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature reflected on “Argentina, or Universal Conscience,” and “Chile, or the Will to Exist.”
The president told the meeting that this fair is the fruit of “the South American venture” that united them 200 years ago, and closed her comments with a poem by Argentina’s Juan Gelman, winner of the 2007 Cervantes Prize, which makes a reference to torture.
Some 3,200 people died or disappeared at the hands of Chile’s state security forces and more than 28,000 were jailed and tortured, among them President Michelle Bachelet, during the 1973-1990 military dictatorship.
The performance of several tangos by Argentine singer Adriana Varela concluded the inaugural ceremony, at which the presidents were accompanied by their respective ministers of culture and foreign affairs.
Notable among the Argentine writers invited to the fair were Juan Gelman and Ricardo Piglia, winner of the 2005 Jose Donoso Ibero-American Prize for Letters, as well as Cesar Aira, Rodolfo Fogwill, Felipe Isidro Pigna and Luciano Sarracino.
Later at the literary event on the banks of the Mapocho River, the legacy of the brilliant Jorge Luis Borges will be delivered through photos and works by the author of “Ficciones” (Fictions), brought from Frankfurt in a suitcase by his widow, Maria Kodama.
Meanwhile one author conspicuous by his absence will be Federico Andahazi, who decided to cancel his participation after the Argentine ambassador to Chile, Gines Gonzalez, said that Argentina “at this time has no writers who have won important prizes.”
At the national level, the Antofagasta region will be this year’s special guest at the fair, which will have as its principal exponents of Chilean literature the authors Hernan Rivera Letelier from that northern part of the country, and Pablo Simonetti.
Also making an appearance at the fair will be the Mexican Carlos Fuentes, the Chileans Jorge Edwards, Gonzalo Rojas and Alberto Fuguet, Spaniards Vicente Molina Foix and Ray Loriga, Brazil’s Emir Sader, the Peruvian Rodrigo Rojas and Colombia’s Santiago Gamboa.
Close to 450 cultural events including concerts, plays, art exhibits, workshops and conferences, movies and even free tango classes will enrich the occasion.
Celebrated parallel to the fair as in previous years will be the Professional Days, Education Days, and the International Library Conference, which will bring together publishers, librarians, illustrators and booksellers.
The Argentine president left for Buenos Aires Friday evening and thus concluded her official visit to Chile, which began Thursday at a meeting with her Chilean counterpart in the La Moneda presidential palace.