Taking part in the fourth meeting along with the hosts were representatives of the Croatian communities in Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. Not present, although expected, were representatives of Argentinean Croats, who are to host the next meeting.
The fourth meeting of Croatian community leaders in South America was staged in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil. The event kicked off with participant registration on the 26th of October. This year’s event again followed the custom of staging the meeting in rotating countries that are home to Croatian diaspora communities. The meetings are the brainchild of Franjo Kurtović from Lima in Peru and Robert Jakubek from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. The first meeting was in Lima, the second in Santa Cruz, and the third in Santiago de Chile.
There are an estimated 1,500 to 4,000 Ecuadorian Croatians living in Guayaquil, a city of three million inhabitants. Their ancestors came to Ecuador in the late nineteenth century, most having left the central Dalmatian region and the Dubrovnik area. Many did not travel directly to Ecuador, but made it to this country from other South American destinations, having realised that there was more money to be made gathering tagua nuts from ivory palms, at the time the chief Ecuadorian export product. Before the development of the chemical industry tagua nuts were used in the manufacture of buttons. They are still in use, but only for European haute couture fashion. Tagua nuts are used nowadays to create jewellery and souvenirs. The tree needs fifteen years to grow before harvest and the nuts are worked after drying in the sun for three months.
Croatians that had moved here later turned to other trades, including banana and cocoa cultivation and fishing. Tied to these jobs they live in the coastal areas and cities like Guayaquil, Manta and Machala, with significantly less living in the capital city of Quito. They are gathered there around the Ancelle, the handmaidens of charity, an Ecuadorian group that has been active for 33 years and was founded by nuns of Croatian extraction. At the head of the Ancelle is the nun Klementina Banožić. There are a further three missions in this country, including one in San Francisco de Oyacoto led by the nun Lenka Čović.
The ethnic Croatian community in Guayaquil is very active and connected. The Association of Ecuadorian Croatians is led by president Luis Aviles Uscocovich, whose family, on his mother’s side, has roots in Mokošice.
This fourth meeting of South America’s ethnic Croatians was organised in collaboration with the Croatian community of Guayaquil and the Croatian embassy in Santiago de Chile, which also covers Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
The event opened with a Week of Croatian Cuisine at the local Sheraton hotel, which hosted the entire event programme. The hotel restaurant featured Croatian dishes and there was a cooking workshop staged by Yasmin Saric of Guayaquil.
The event was opened on behalf of the Croatian community of Ecuador by Tomislav Topic Granados, president of the Telconet company. Nives Malenica, the Croatian ambassador in Santiago de Chile, was also on hand to greet everyone. The gathered were also welcomed by academician Vladimir Bermanec, the vice president of Croatia’s national science, higher education and technological development council. The event moderator was Lurdes Delgado Pandzic, an Ecuadorian woman married to Simon Pandzic, who has roots in Croatia. She owns a cocoa plantation and a chocolate factory and has been named woman of the year in her business sector. Two forums were staged, one on doing business and the other on education.
The business forum discussed the development of commercial relations between the Croatians of South America and companies in Croatia. Chilean Alex Tudor, president of CROCHAM, the Chilean-Croatian chamber of commerce, and a member of the Croatian government’s advisory board on Croats abroad, spoke of the opportunities to do business with Croatia. Jorge Kuljiš from the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, president of the Sintesis SA company, spoke of the Bolivian experience. The second part of the meeting discussed cultural identity and bringing our diaspora in South America in closer contact with Croatian culture. On hand to speak on this subject was Patricio Rodriguez Glasinovic, president of CPEAC (Circulo Profesionales Empresarios Ascendencia Croata), a group that pools professionals of Croatian ancestry. He also presented the future virtual museum and historical archive projects that have been funded for some time now by the Croatian State Office for Croats Abroad. Branka Bezić Filipović of the Croatian Heritage Foundation presented the current Dalmatian emigration virtual museum project and the Croatian language course organised in Split as a free Webinar for all participants in South America thanks to the funding provided by Split-Dalmatia County.
Jobert Jakubek, the Croatian honorary consul in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz de la Sierra and a member of the Croatian government’s advisory board on Croats abroad, and Yovan Trkovic of the Estadio Croata association in Santiago de Chile, spoke of their experiences. Jakubek proposed that monuments to emigrant Croats be erected in Croatia and around the world. Academician Bermanec eagerly seconded the motion and proposed that a commission be set up and charged with the task of seeing to the creation of these monuments. Ana Maria Kuljevan Peinovic, the honorary Croatian consul in Lima, spoke on the topic of cultural identity and presented a project she is working on that relates to collecting material for a book about our people who have moved to Peru. The moderator of this forum was Luis Aviles Uscocovich.
Taking part in this year’s event along with the hosts were representatives of the Croatian communities in Paraguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela. Not present, although expected, were representatives of Argentinean Croats, who are to host the next meeting.
Entertainment was provided at two venues. The first was the Teatro Centro de Arte and focused on classical music, with pianist Javor Bračić interpreting the work of Sorkočević, Mozart, Chopin and Kunc. He was followed by sopranos Olga and Karolina Šober and bass-baritone Bojan Šober, accompanied on the piano by Filip Fak, interpreting European classics and the work of Zajc, Radić and Kuntarić.
Light entertainment was provided by the Trio Gušt band out of Split and the Tri Sulara band from Antofagasta, both of which appeared at the gala dinner.
A visit was organised to the Victoria plantation where cocoa is produced by the family of Charlie Garcie. We were joined there by Vice Skračić, assistant to the Croatian foreign and European affairs minister Marija Pejčinović-Burić. At the gala dinner he read the minister’s letter greeting the event participants. Nives Malenica, the Croatian ambassador in Santiago de Čile, said her goodbyes to the local Croatian communities as her term as ambassador will soon expire and she will take up other duties.
The event closed with a Roman Catholic mass on Sunday that was to have been celebrated by the priest Drago Balvanović from Lima, the delegate of the Croatian Conference of Bishops for members of the Church in Latin America. He was unable to attend due to illness and the mass was celebrated by a local priest, joined by the nun Klementina Banožić who made the trip from Quito for the occasion. The mass closed with the choir she leads singing Petar Perica’s Rajska djevo, kraljice Hrvata (Celestial Virgin—Queen of the Croats).
By: Branka Bezić Filipović