2021 Année Napoléon > Tribute to the Napoleonic soldiers who fought for the independence of Chile and Argentina

2021 Année Napoléon > Tribute to the Napoleonic soldiers who fought for the independence of Chile and Argentina
Place commemorating the independence of Chile and Argentina: Achupallas © Bicentenary Chile-France

The annual ceremony commemorating the independence of Chile and Argentina on 4 February pays a special tribute, in this bicentenary year of Napoleon’s death, to the former soldiers of the Grande Armée who fought for these independences after the fall of the Empire.

Here is a report from our privileged correspondent, Ambassador Jean Mendelson, roving ambassador, former ambassador to Cuba and former director of the French Diplomatic Archives, present in the Andes, not far from this particular commemoration which he attended via video link.

“Today’s ceremony, at the foot of the Andes, was particularly successful. The impressive site, the French and Chilean flags – and, in the margins, those of Argentina and Peru -, the Chilean “high mountain” regiment who sang the national anthems, the firemen of the “Bomba Francia” who wear the uniform of the Paris fire brigade (in Chile, fire stations are often attached to the nationality of the majority of the volunteers’ ancestors), the local authorities, our own [French] ambassador and his defence attaché. The demonstration [which] was broadcast live [made palpable] the moving and grandiose character that I felt in front of my screen, the pandemic having prevented me from taking part in the event.

There were several speeches, short, all ending with a kind of theatrical performance in homage to the soldiers of the “black regiment” commanded by Ambroise Cramer – very politically incorrect, because some of the actors were dressed in black: at the Sorbonne, that would have caused incidents! Here, it is rather the deputy minister of Defence who was, it seems, offended, because the “official history” of the Chilean army completely ignores this contribution of former African slaves commanded by an officer of the Grande Armée in the great battles of Chilean independence.

There was an unexpected incident at the end of the ceremony: the procession was blocked (and apparently still is at the time of writing) by a demonstration of Indians protesting against the lack of drinking water for a month, in their hamlet dependent on the municipality of Putaendo despite its remoteness. Napoleon made use of by a social demonstration in an Indian hamlet in the Andean altiplano on the occasion of the bicentenary of his death, that’s unexpected to say the least! »

Jean Mendelson, 4 February 2021

Watch a video of the ceremony (speeches start, in Spanish, from 35min24; total duration: 2h08)

February 5, 2021 – Updated: February 9, 2021