Cllr Peter Chowney, Leader of Hastings Borough Council
Went to a screening of ‘Nae Pasaran’ on Friday at the Kino-Teatr in St Leonards. It’s a documentary by second-generation Chilean exile Felipe Bustos Sierra about a group of Scottish trade unionists who boycotted Rolls Royce Avon engines destined for use in Hawker Hunter jets in Chile, following the military coup that had overthrown Salvador Allende’s socialist government and installed a fascist dictatorship under General Pinochet. It’s a wonderful film, long for a documentary but sustained by changes in pace and mood, and the unfolding intrigue around what happened to the boycotted jet engines. The screening was followed by a panel discussion, in which I took part, as well as others including Cllr. Antonia Berelson, Rosanna Leal, Felicity Lawrence from Hastings Community of Sanctuary, and the director himself.
The film is part of Kino-Teatr’s documentary season, but was put on in conjunction with the Hastings Community of Sanctuary movement, and the Hastings & Rother Refugee Buddy Programme. The Buddy Project has been organised by Rossana Leal, herself a former refugee whose family escaped from Chile during the systematic slaughter of Chileans that took place following the coup.
The Syrian Refugee Resettlement Programme has been co-ordinated through East Sussex by Hastings Council, who committed to accepting 100 refugees, rather than the 40 agreed by each of the other East Sussex districts. As council leader, I’m proud thatwe’ve so far rehoused 88 Syrian refugees in Hastings, so will easily reach our target by the end of the programme.
This has been made much easier by the volunteers in the Buddy Project, who have worked tirelessly with the refugees to help them settle in our borough and made them feel welcomed and at home. Indeed, Hastings has proved itself to be a welcoming town not just for the Syrian refugees, but for many other asylum seekers who have settled here as part of the ‘dispersal towns’ programme.
Events in Chile back in the 70s, in Syria today, and many other human catastrophes between, should make us all realise the importance of accepting refugees. Chile was the most politically stable country in Latin America, and one of the most stable in the world, with a long, unbroken history of democracy. If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere.
I’m old enough to remember the delight we felt when a socialist president was elected in Chile, then watched in dismay as the CIA infiltrated Chilean society and the trade union movement to destabilise Salvador Allende’s government (something we all knew was happening, but was never recognised by the British media at the time), then watched with horror and disbelief as British-built Hawker Hunter jets bombed the Moneda Palace, killing Salvador Allende and bringing in the fascist dictatorship of General Pinochet.
Most worryingly perhaps, we now have another right-wing American President who is again interfering in Latin America – let’s hope we’re not about to see history repeating itself. But at some point, there will be another humanitarian crisis somewhere in the world that none of us was expecting.
In Hastings, I’ll want to make sure we’re ready to welcome future refugees, wherever they’re from, whenever the need arises, and whenever displaced people are in need of a new home.
This review was first posted on Peter Chowney’s Facebook page, and is reproduced here with his permission.
You can watch the entire film on BBC iPlayer until 24th March, link here. (UK only)