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Chile protest remembered in Moray visit

By Leanne Murray

THE man whose act of solidarity potentially saved thousands of lives took a visit to a Keith distillery.

Stuart Barrie was a young man of 30 when he and his colleagues of the Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride refused to carry out repairs to Hawker Hunter planes from Chile.

A year earlier, in September 1973, those same jets were used for brutal military coup by the country's dictator, Augusto Pinochet which toppled the democratically elected socialist president.

The boycott of all the Chilean Air Force jets lasted a total of four years in what is considered to be longest single act of solidarity against the dictatorship.

Mr Barrie, who is now 75, worked as an aircraft inspector at the time of the union protest. He visited Strathisla Distillery last Thursday before a film showing at the Elgin's Eight Acres Hotel, where he took part in a Q&A.

The film is Nae Pasaran! (Gaelic for "This shall not pass.”), a documentary which tells the true story of the Scots who managed to ground half of Chile’s Air Force, from the other side of the world.

The film is directed by Felipe Bustos Sierra, the son of a Chilean journalist who was exiled to Belgium who had first heard of the Scottish workers' actions as a child.

It was recently shown on BBC Scotland's new channel and has been praised by acclaimed actress, Emma Thompson.

It also won best feature film at the Scottish BAFTAs, where Bustos Sierra was nominated for best director.

During his tour of the Keith distillery, Mr Barrie, said: "I have never been in Keith before and I am really enjoying it but I am ex-fan of whisky, I don't drink anymore.

"The film itself is a well-made film and its also quite inspirational, it is probably something that would not happen nowadays.

"The film defiantly caught the sentiment of what happened, which is of someone standing up and speaking the truth to power, which can make a difference anywhere at anytime."

It was Bob Fulton, Stuart's colleague, who first came to him and told him that they should "black" the Chilean engines after seeing images of jets bombing civilians in the country's capital, Santiago.

Stuart added: "I thought this is the thing to do, I had seen what had happened in Chile, the military bombing the civilians. It would have been like if the RAF bombed the Houses of Parliament, that is the equivalent. It was just the right thing to do.

"When Bob first came to me, I was quite excited because I thought we could really push the boat out her by blackening the engines."

The main union body factory supported the group of striking workers which allowed the workers to be free from repercussions from management.

The engines were then left to rust at the back of the East Kilbride factory, resulting in them becoming useless as they became rusted.

Stuart added that the rusted engines became a symbol as they refused to give the engines back. They were eventually stolen in the middle of the night and smuggled back to Chile.

A photo of Chilean protestors thanking the Scots for their solidarity.
A photo of Chilean protestors thanking the Scots for their solidarity.

The actions of the factory workers resulted in the South American country having very little aircraft, which potentially saved lives.

The film also reunites some of the Scottish factory workers with Chileans, but when he was given the chance to go to Chile, Mr Barrie turned them down due to the 16-hour plane journey.

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