Idled packing plants resumed operations and ships were being loaded with tons of fruit Saturday, the day after the United States lifted a ban on imported fruit imposed by the discovery of cyanide-injected grapes.
Budget Director Jorge Selume said the government will invest $28 million in an emergency program to lessen the economic damage caused by the U.S. ban.Estimates of losses to the Chilean economy ranged from $100 million to $400 million. The losses to U.S. distributors and grocers were expected to run into the millions of dollars.
The emergency program was outlined the day after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lifted a four-day ban on Chilean fruit. The ban was put in place Monday night after the FDA discovered cyanide had been injected in two grapes in a shipment from Chile.
The cyanide was found in a stepped-up inspection program after the U.S. Embassy received two anonymous calls warning of the poisoning of Chilean fruit. A U.S. official said Saturday another call was received recently.
There were "similarities" between the third call and the first two and "renewed talk about Chilean fruit" that may indicate all three were made by the same person, said the official. She said the three calls were being investigated.
Tabloid newspapers announced the end of the U.S. ban with headlines saying "Chile Triumphs" and "End of the Boycott." One picture showed packing plant workers back on the job at facilities that had been idled by the ban.
Port officials said four ships were being loaded with fruit in the Pacific port city of Valparaiso. Navy Capt. Patricio Urbina said the marines, army and police were providing security at all stages of packing and shipping.
The newspaper La Tercera said in an editorial the ban showed the United States considered Chile "only another banana republic." The newspaper Las Ultimas Noticias called the U.S. action "irresponsible aggression."
Chile has become in recent years one of the leading suppliers of off-season fruit to the United States, taking advantage of the differences in seasons between the northern and southern hemispheres.
Nearly all grapes sold in the United States during the winter come from Chile, which also exports apples, peaches, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, nectarines and berries.
FDA Commissioner Frank Young said Friday the United States will try to inspect 5 percent of all Chilean fruit to ensure it is safe.
Japan, which also banned Chilean fruit sales, lifted its restrictions but said Chile had to assure it that its fruit is safe. Canada also had halted sales of Chilean fruit.
Selume said the nation's agriculture was in a critical situation in announcing the economic aid plan. He also said the government will ask the World Bank for a loan to help cope with the crisis.
The government will buy a million crates of fruit that cannot be exported, will create jobs for those left unemployed and will invest, along with the private sector, in a publicity program to promote Chilean exports abroad, Selume said.