Visit of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet
Monday 25 May saw the visit to Leiden of President Michelle Bachelet of Chile, accompanied by Queen Beatrix and Princess Máxima. Following a talk in the Academy Building on strengthening democracy in Latin America, the President signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs).
In his welcome address, Rector Magnificus Paul van der Heijden talked of the long-standing relationship between the Netherlands and Chile, dating from before the time when Chile acquired its independence from Spain some two hundred years ago. Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Frans Timmermans, recalled the point in time when political awareness dawned for him, on one of the blackest days in Chile's history. He still remembers witnessing at the age of twelve the coup against the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende on 11 September 1973.
Bachelet, herself the first democratically elected female president in South America, spoke of strengthening democracy in Latin America. After her talk, she answered questions from the public. The questions were not prepared in advance and her serious, spontaneous responses often had a humorous undertone. Following the question and answer session, it was time to sign the MOUs.
In the interests of developing a high-level knowledge economy, Chile wants to give more Chileans the opportunity to study abroad. On 21 May 2008, President Bachelet announced an innovative and ambitious programme of study grants, ‘Becas Chili’, for which a sum of no less than six million American dollars has been reserved. The estimated interest of 4% will allow a considerable number of students to spend part of their study time abroad. Becas Chili is pleased to add the Netherlands to the list of countries where Chilean students can attend universities within the framework of this grant programme.
The MoUs that were signed in the Academy Building are a good example of the co-operation in the field of education between the Netherlands and Chile. This co-operation focuses mainly on the field of university and higher professional education. The agreement was signed for Chile by Minister of Education, Mónica Jiménez. She signed four different MoUs, along with Ronald Plasterk, Minister for Education, Sijbolt Noorda, Chairman of VSNU, Doekle Terpstra, Chairman of the HBO Council, and Paul van der Heijden, Rector Magnificus/President of Leiden University.
After the signing ceremony, Paul van der Heijden presented President Bachelet with the William of Orange medal of the University. The medal, that symbolises the motto of Leiden University, Praesidium Libertatis or Bastion of Freedom, was awarded to Bachelet for her role in the country's reconstruction and in the preservation of liberty.