Honorary Consul went high and low in search of Finns amidst earthquake destruction
Finns had a stroke of luck after a powerful earthquake hit Chile at the end of February. Honorary Consul Jorge Enríquez took on the task of seeking them out and helping them to safety. Thanks to his efforts, the Embassy was able to make contact with the Finns in Chile within a couple of days of the earthquake and relatives in Finland could be relieved of their worry. Enríquez has now received a Finnish medal of honour in recognition of his work.
President of the Republic Tarja Halonen awarded Honorary Consul Jorge Enríquez a First Class Medal of Honour of the Order of the Lion of Finland. The medal of honour was given to its recipient by Iivo Salmi, the Finnish Ambassador to Chile.
The distinction was granted to Enríquez not only in appreciation of his more than ten years of service as Honorary Consul of Finland in the Maule, Biobío and Los Lagos areas of Chile, but especially for his deeds after the major earthquake of 27 February.
The region where Enríquez serves was the hardest hit by the earthquake, and it has a considerable forest industry including Finnish companies and their staff. Owing to the earthquake, the region was without electricity for several days, phones were out of operation, the water supply was cut, and shops were destroyed, closed or had been looted.
The Embassy in Santiago de Chile received many queries from Finland, from both the media and family members. Contacts were difficult because the Internet and mobile phone networks were down. Text messages, too, were slow, with a delay of about one day.
Consul Enríquez drove his own car through his region, 500 km south of Santiago, determined the locations of Finns and what condition they were in, helped them move to a safer area and even accommodated some families in his own home. Thanks to his actions, contact was made with the Finns in Chile within a couple of days. There were in total about 200 Finns in the country.
In addition to aiding Finns, Enríquez also helped citizens of other Nordic countries and, in doing so, he contributed to strengthening the bond between the Nordic countries and Chile.
Finland has about four hundred unpaid honorary consuls throughout the world. One of the most important tasks of an honorary consul is to make Finland better known abroad. Their local contact networks in society and the economy are also important, for instance, in export promotion. Consular services proper, in turn, figure prominently in places with great numbers of Finnish residents.