ABU DHABI //The first Emirati embassy in Chile will open this year in Santiago, signalling a growing bond between the two countries.
That connection has been strengthened by an influential Chilean family with roots in Palestine and experience in the UAE.
Jean-Paul Tarud, Chile's ambassador to the UAE since 2009, was born here and has lived here almost all his life.
The ambassador's father, Jorge Tarud, formerly a diplomat himself and now a Chilean congressman, moved here in 1975 and did not return to Chile until after the end of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990; his son remained here and has lived here ever since, except for studies abroad.
The elder Mr Tarud was himself his country's envoy to the UAE from 1990-1993, when he was non-resident ambassador based at the Chilean embassy in Riyadh.
He arrived last week for a visit. This week, the father and son will be meeting Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
"Many new channels and opportunities are opening up between Chile and the UAE," said Jean-Paul, "and that is partly thanks to the fact I grew up here and have childhood friends who know me and trust me. Ninety-three embassies are competing with each other to meet the same people and to make similar agreements.
"Over the past few decades, [Chile was] known in the UAE just for our apples and wood," he said. "But in just a span of two years, we have signed several agreements, such as having direct flights to Chile from the UAE, as well as exporting to here millions of litres of water melted from our ice fields."
Jorge Tarud is the head of the foreign affairs commission of the Chilean parliament and a member of the country's defence committee. The family's political connections go back at least one more generation: Jean-Paul's grandfather was once a presidential candidate and senator.
"The UAE is our second home," Jorge said. "My children and grandchildren were born here."
The Tarud family migrated from Bethlehem to Chile in 1910. Chile has a community of more than 400,000 Palestinian immigrants and their descendants, the largest outside the Arab world.
This year has been special for the Tarud family, as Chile formally recognised the Palestinian state last month. Jorge, who is planning to visit Bethlehem this year for the first time, had lobbied for that recognition for many years.
"It was about time we recognised it. Something had to change to start things moving for the peace process," he said.
There are 260 Chileans living in UAE, most of them working in local airlines. Several Chilean civil engineers with seismic experience have been working to protect major projects, such as the Dubai Metro, from earthquakes.
The number of Emirati tourists to Chile reached 380 last year, up from 160 in 2009.
"While the actual numbers are small, it is still more than a 100 per cent increase," Jean-Paul said.
Total trade between the two countries comes to about US$200 million (Dh735m) per year, much of it in the form of wood imports to the UAE.
The embassy in Chile will be the UAE's third in South America, after those in Brazil and Argentina,