Does Chile have a frontier history? While no Turnerian “ever-moving line of settlement” applies, nineteenth-century Chileans did leave long-established ecumenes to look for opportunities in such sectors as the Atacama desert, windswept Patagonia, and the tangled woods of Aysén. This study, another in the series by Editorial Francisco de Aguirre, treats one of those harsh Chilean frontiers: the extreme extension of Tiena del Fuego, the islands to the south of the Beagle Canal.
The author eschews analysis and reviews the history of the Fuegian islands. With this, his fourth study of austral Chile, Martinić Beros considers particularly the islands of Navarino, Lennox, Picton, and Nueva. After a standard synopsis of the Yámana people, using as a prime source Martín Gusinde’s work, the author introduces briefly explorers such as Le Maire, Cook, and Bougainville. He then defines the nine-teenth-century work of the Christian missionaries among the Indians as “un capítulo de la historia humana en las regiones del sur de América escrito con honor, abnegación y heroísmo” (p. 44) and acknowledges the roles of the raqueros, seal-hunters, and whalers in opening up the lands south of the Beagle Canal.
Once Intendant of Magallanes, and most recently the Director of the Institute of Patagonia, the author knows the area well. He correctly evaluates Manuel Señoret’s term as Governor of Magallanes (1892-1897) as “uno de los más notables que registra la historia provincial” (p. 76), while considering simultaneously the 1890 arrival of many foreigners, particularly Yugoslavians, to pan for gold in the frigid waters of the continent’s distant south.
The flowering of the southern settlements was short-lived; soon both the gold and the miners had disappeared. Government inaction contributed further to the atrophying of the Fuegian colonies. Briefly here the author moves from a factual recitation to complain about the lack of official aid to the southern settlers; he laments also the early failure of Chile to explore and to claim the antarctic. From this querulous position Martinić Beros reports happily that in the 1950s, particularly with the second Carlos Ibáñez administration, the Chilean government began to intervene positively and forcefully in the south. This led to a “colonización sui generis” (p. 163) and to the protection of Chilean territorial hegemony against the growing importance of Ushuaia, the Argentine settlement in Tierra del Fuego.
The navy assumed greater interest in the area, and in 1965 the Frei government initiated the “Navarino Plan” to assist campesino communal settlement on the Fuegian islands. By its very contemporaneous nature this section is the book’s most valuable. The final chapter summarizes the Argentine-Chilean boundary dispute about the islands of Lennox, Picton and Nueva.
Use of personal papers of the Fuegian settlers would have contributed to a three-dimensional picture of the life and outlook of the men at work on the southern islands. This study neither asks nor answers whether a sense of Turnerian independence might be developing south of the Beagle. A few simple line maps would have assisted the general reader who is unfamiliar with the area.