Presidents, Poets and Pop Stars

27 Feb 2006
Two special awards ceremonies happened Sunday, ahead of the show in Santiago. Chilean President Ricardo Lagos told Bono he should learn to play the 'charango' on awarding him the 'Pablo Neruda Artistic and Cultural Merit Medal' while later in the day President-elect Michelle Bachelet presented the band with Amnesty International's 'Ambassadors of Conscience' award. Edge took up the challenge and played the charango in the show.

When Bono received the Pablo Neruda Medal from President Ricardo Lagos at La Moneda presidential palace yesterday afternoon, he also gave him a gift of a traditional Andean instrument known as the 'charango'.

'When we were talking before, Bono told me that one must study throughout one's life,' said the President. 'So for his next concert here, I hope he's learned how to play the charango.'

Edge of course is a quick learner: a few hours later and he was playing the same charango onstage in front of 80,000 Chileans as the band performed an acoustic version of Mothers of the Disappeared, a song they wrote for the 'disappeared' victims of torture under the regime of the dictator Augusto Pinochet.

The arts medal, which followed a citation by the Minister for Culture Jose Weinstein, is named after late Chilean Nobel Prize laureate Pablo Neruda, someone Bono has long been an admirer of.

'He moved me very much,' said Bono, who described him as a 'complex poet' who taught him that the rhyme for poverty is not charity but justice.

It was 'extraordinary', he added, 'to be back in Chile after eight years and see how much it has changed.' Later that night, onstage, he picked up the theme, eight years to the month since the band were last in the country, remarking that 'the world can see that Chile is on a journey towards greater equality.'

Just before the show and another President, this time President-elect, Michelle Bachelet, the country's first women leader, was backstage at the Estadio Nacional to present Amnesty International's 'Ambassadors of Conscience' award to the band and Paul McGuinness.

'You are a reminder to all of us that the world is not changed only by politicians and governments,' said the President Elect, who was herself a political prisoner in the 1970's. 'The world is changed by all of us.'
Amnesty said it was recognition for a band who have for so long been using their music and celebrity to champion human rights causes.

Responding to the award, Edge pointed out that the band are remain selective about their charity work but 'have been behind Amnesty International for 25 years.' Today, he said, they were seeing ' a miracle of change in your country', human rights is now on the agenda and 'Amnesty has been part of the revolution in Chile.'

And there was another step to take, added Bono: 'There are still people in this country that are silent and they are sick with their secrets ... And I would just say to them, this is the moment, the beginning of the new Chile to set yourself free from those secrets and come forward.'

The show itself was incredibly moving, summing up the way that Chile has embraced the band. When the opening chords of Mothers of the Disappeared broke into the night air, the response was spine-tingling.

'In the wind we hear their laughter
In the rain we see their tears.
Hear their heartbeat,
we hear their heartbeat.'

Paul McGuinness, who has seen more U2 shows than anyone, called it 'one of the very best - the band were on top form and the crowd outstanding.'

Bono visited the Chilean Embassy in Dublin a while back in a precursor to this Award ceremony. If you are a U2.Com Subscriber you can check out this
archived news story, along with thousands of others, here.

More on the Amnesty Award here


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