Diego Zúñiga is the editor of the Chilean magazine La Nave de los Locos (The Ship of Fools) where this article was first published. This translation appeared in Magonia 76, November 2001
Many people believe that in southern Chile there is an island inhabited by blond extraterrestrials. This story has been circulating in Chilean ufology since the 1980s, but only in 1998 did it generate wide publicity. The flimsy basis of the story rests on a false UFO case and it has now developed into a pseudo-religion, with its adherents permanently in contact with “angelic entities”. It is a complicated business, involving many hoaxes. Welcome to Friendship, (1) the fantasy island.
The afternoon of Saturday 17 August 1985 in Santiago (capital of Chile) was marked by an unusual event. At about 16:00 hours, thousands of people began to observe the passage of a strange object over the city. The upheaval was so monumental that the news department of Television Nacional de Chile, channel 7, used a special camera to record the object on videotape.
Although we now know that this “UFO” was a French stratospheric balloon, too many people refused to accept the sad reality and today they still insist that it was, in fact, a ship manned by inhabitants of Friendship Island. This incident is one of the fundamental pillars of the story about these supposed blond aliens who, according to the feverish illusions of some eager ones, are living in southern Chile.
A TELEVISION PROGRAMME UNLEASHES CHAOS
The story of Friendship Island had been known for many years, but it had not spread outside the closed circle of Chilean ufology. However, after the publication of some reports in commercial magazines and the broadcast of the last episode of the first season in the TV series OVNI (UFO), its name became widely known, taking it to levels that only irrational belief can generate.
That episode ended with a tarot card reader who asserted that the Armada de Chile (Chilean Navy) – which helped the program’s producers in their vain search for Friendship Island – had deceived them and consequently, the public, by changing the island’s geographical coordinates. In spite of him, the telephones of the producers and the channel “collapsed due to the number of people who called” (2).
This collapse was triggered when the report suggested that the Friendship people had cured Ernesto de la Fuente, an important person in this intricate case, of cancer. We have always considered that it is very dangerous to make such claims on television and in other mass media, because there is always a small part of the audience who believe such stories, with incalculable consequences .
Afterwards, there came several articles in magazines, full of speculations about the several origins attributed to Friendship, from Nazis hiding in the south of Chile to the unlikely “Nordic aliens”. Supposedly, the island’s inhabitants are blond, tall and of angelic aspect, conforming, surprisingly, to the ideal of beauty aspired to in our country.
FRIENDSHIP IS BORN
But the “enigma” really began in 1984, when the radio-ham Octavio Ortiz listened from Santiago to an SOS from a ship sighting a UFO in the south of Chile. The very day after listening to the complete account of the incident, including people whose skin was burnt, etc. (please don’t insist on demanding proof), Ortiz received a call from “Alberto” who claimed to have witnessed, from another ship, the whole phenomenon. Between Ortiz and Alberto a friendship developed. After disappearing for a short period of time, Alberto returned to narrate that he met some “strange” people living on an island, to where he would be sending some equipment and other materials, by ship. Soon after, in May 1985, and through Alberto, Ortiz got in touch with Ariel, one of the Friendship people.
All the Friendship people are said to be experts in different subjects and they have the faculty of knowing the thoughts of people they speak to and events which have happened to them. Because of this ability, without anybody prompting them, they began telling Octavio about his illness. As good aliens, they offered to take him to their island to heal him. Surprisingly, Ortiz didn’t dare, missing a unique opportunity to contact those aliens of angelic aspect and names: Ariel, Michael… I wonder, why is it always the same in ufology? Why does the evidence always vanish at the critical moment?
In August of this same year the UFO sighting described at the beginning of this article took place. Apparently, this UFO is the most solid evidence to support this story, but we have already shown that it was really very weak. Supposedly, the Friendship people, via radio, predicted the movements of the UFO flying over Santiago. Evidence? A recording of a conversation, full of ambiguities, that would generate doubts in any serious investigator with a modicum of common sense.
Finally, this sighting was explained as an MIR French stratospheric balloon launched from Pretoria (South Africa) in July 1985, which was also seen passing over Argentina. Ironically, this balloon deflated part of the Friendship myth, damaging the cause of several of its principal supporters who have won enough money by publishing more and more ridiculous stories about the island in many Spanish and Chilean commercial magazines.
Many believers have even tried to demolish the balloon explanation, with arguments as infantile as “it cannot be a balloon because they are launched at 7:30 in the morning…” (Riffo, a). Like all credulous ufologists, the ETH supporters Cristian Riffo and Jorge Anfruns associate this “UFO” with blackouts, people’s disappearances and combined military operations between Chile and the USA, insinuating that the aliens monitored such operations.
Ortiz’s testimony contains many other commonplaces of the most credulous ufology: the aliens make predictions, NASA is interested in the case – and gave him a booklet and some pencils inscribed “U.S. GOVERNMENT” – the military listen to conversations and, of course, a book is promised describing all his adventures. What a surprise!
All those classic components of “conspiranoia” invite us to reflect about the power the media can have over popular credulity, even feeding people evident lies with an air of enigmatic reality. The inherent incoherence of the Friendship story forces us to think that we are dealing with an invention or an elaborate soap-opera plot rather than an enigma. Shifting boxes, telepathic contact, military surveillance? Ugh!
There exist more than 1500 tapes recording conversations with the inhabitants of this mythical island , although they have only published a few which are as emotionally moving as a badly acted television serial.
THE FRIENDSHIP ENIGMA
What is Friendship? In spite of the fact that nobody has been able to give us a precise geographical location, Ernesto de la Fuente does claim to have been to the island, which is said to have advanced technology, lifts to underground bases and many temples (?). Its inhabitants “radiate peace” (OVNI, 1999). All this allegedly happens on one of the thousands of islands along the fragmented coastline of southern Chile.
De la Fuente, a heavy smoker in his old age, suffered from lung cancer that he was cured of, according to him, thanks to the help of Friendship islanders, as we have indicated above. It is no mystery that nowadays cancer can be cured in most cases by appropriate medical treatment. Is it necessary, then, to attribute his happy improvement in health to the Friendship people?
Besides, ufologist Rodrigo Fuenzalida assures us that De la Fuente was sick, but of a lung oedema and not of a terminal cancer, as De la Fuente himself pointed out on TV, where he also added that the Friendshipers healed him “in just four days” (OVNI, 1999).
Others, such as the ETH believer Hugo Pacheco, have given more military touches to the matter, pointing out that Friendship “is a training field to prepare terrestrial men and women for the conditions of outer space” (Guijarro, a).
It is difficult to understand the ufological connection that has been made to this case. Except for the false connection made with the August 1985 UFO and the UFO sighting in southern Chile reported by Ortiz, other connections are pretty vague. Rodrigo Fuenzalida, a ufologist who has devoted much time to this topic, avers that the connection was made in Conozca Más magazine, distorting the case. For him, Friendship is anything but ufological. He adds that the story about NASA’s books is false: “An official at the NASA offices in Santiago gave those books to Ortiz, but personally and not on behalf of NASA.”
The case has gone on degenerating with time, and has acquired undeniable contactee features. Trying to elucidate them leads us to throw light on several “curious things” about the alleged mystery island. The first question that we need to ask ourselves is why they chose Octavio Ortiz and Ernesto de la Fuente. They themselves answered that it was because they have… a special genetic constitution (?), according to the information given to them by the “assistants of the Lord’s angels”, as the alleged Friendship island inhabitants call themselves.
Doubts invade the mind of anybody who goes into this story. Authors who are anything but critical doubt. For instance, a Chilean ufologist living in Spain, Raúl Núñez, remarks that the Friendship people speak as any Chilean would, even using the same idioms (Núñez, 1999). Jorge Anfruns, a strong alien believer and follower, doubts its extraterrestrial origins, thinking that we are dealing with a sociological experiment. About De la Fuente, Anfruns has declared that he “is vastly imaginative” and even added that he “is crazy” (Guijarro, c – b). Fuenzalida differs: “De la Fuente is extremely intelligent and very well educated. I doubt, anyway, that he could be behind everything, because there are aspects of the case that he couldn’t manage”.
Also doubtful is Octavio Ortiz, a manipulable person according to Fuenzalida who, during his investigations of this case, deceived him by imitating the voices of the Friendship people using a radio.
Evidently, the story has acquired much more imaginative elements, being impregnated by the whole flying saucer mythology. For example, the most visible investigators of the case abroad, the Spaniards Josep Guijarro and Raúl Núñez, claim to have received threats to stop their investigations of Friendship.
Guijarro, who has taken advantage of the topic in conferences, radio interviews, and in several magazines, claims that many important Chilean people at high political and social levels are involved in Friendship, something that he has never been able to prove. He adds that the Friendship people have made important scientific discoveries although, regrettably, he doesn’t present the slightest evidence to support such ridiculous assertions.
Continuing Guijarro’s line, Octavio Ortiz also falls into contradictions and doubtful affirmations. In the TV programme OVNI (UFO) he claimed to have travelled to Chiloé Island (Southern Chile) to meet the Friendship islanders in order to be healed of an illness, but in another TV programme, Evidencia OVNI (UFO Evidence), he said exactly the opposite. He also points out that some Friendship people were at Santiago, to hold talks at government level, and that on the island there are human and extraterrestrial scientists working hand in hand to solve the ozone layer problem…
It is really interesting to hear that the Friendship people speak with the characteristic metallic voice tone of the aliens… And it is strange to hear that there exist more than 1500 tapes recording conversations with the inhabitants of this mythical island (3), although they have only published a few which are as emotionally moving as a badly acted television serial.
As predictable, little by little began to arise all kinds of “contacts” with Friendship: telepathic, by dreams, by radio, in person and also by Internet! From simple contactees up to some ufologists, all began to receive the Friendship influence. So, Michel Jordán, a self-proclaimed “scientific ufologist”, entered into regular contact with them, and nowadays he accuses Rodrigo Fuenzalida (much more moderate and critical) of being the head of a sect founded on this story, without presenting – up to now – any proof of his impressive accusations.
As we have seen, the topic has given the opportunity to several Chilean and Spanish journalists to write about their adventures and stories of unexplained events as investigators of mysteries, pretending to be Sherlock Holmes and being super heroes for a cause that – supposedly – will save humankind and at least , as they say, “has changed their lives” (4). It has also generated the appearance of a lot of pages on the Internet about the “Big brothers”, and even email lists that exchange experiences on Friendship.
But the delirium doesn’t stop. In sensationalist magazines like Revelación (Revelation), it has been written that the Chupacabras (Goatsucker) lives in Friendship (Varela, 2000). Josep Guijarro said that the contact would take place in April 2001… Obviously it never happened. Others have opened accounts at the Banco Estado de Chile (Chilean National Bank) so that people deposit enough money so that they, adventurers seeking the Truth (with capital letter), can finance a trip to search for the Island.
Some “apocryphal” Friendshipers even transmitted messages from a house in Santiago, where they were discovered by the team of the same OVNI (UFO) TV programme, who were thus redeemed from their previous season. The “fake Friendship” demonstrated that the topic had soaked deep and that it was easy to deceive those who were familiar with it. They had already prepared the payment of a fee and the publication of a text whose earnings would go to the “elect”, the same persons who had imitated the voices of the “original Friendshipers”.
If a shallow revision of the case leaves it wobbly – bordering death – let us imagine what would happen if the study went deeper. The diffuse connection with ufology seems so forced that it doesn’t withstand the least critical study.
The mythical and heavenly environment of Friendship is full of commonplaces about futuristic dreams, something that should already arouse our suspicions. The fact that De la Fuente has not seen a hierarchical structure on the island, but too many South American-looking people working on the extraction of metals (Guijarro, a), reminds us of the old axiom that the blonds give the orders and the South Americans do the dirty work. Does it sound familiar?
The aim of this article has been to outline several reasonable doubts about what has been narrated about Friendship, a story plagued by incoherences that has given rise to the most delirious speculations. However, none of them has a sustainable basis and everything seems to indicate that we are witnessing a great mess of stories, where myths, legends, hoaxes and, maybe, if we are magnanimous, something of reality, have converged.
Friendship is, today, the Chilean version of the remembered American TV series Fantasy Island. It is recommended not to buy tickets, because of the risk of being swindle
(1) Friendship is the original name of the island, and not its English translation. We wonder what is the reason for giving a name in another language to an island in the south of Chile. Could it be part of the Chilean tradition of worshipping foreign things?
(2) Rodrigo Fuenzalida, personal communication, July 1999.
(3) According to other sources, there are one thousand five hundred minutes of recordings. The difference is substantial.
(4) Josep Guijarro, in “Espacio en Blanco”.
a. “Bases extraterrestres en la Tierra (II)”, Internet.
b. “Contacto con los Friendship”, Internet.
c. “Quién se esconde tras Friendship?”, Internet. www.ctv.es/USERS/mulder
Núñez, Raúl,”Conversaciones con Friendship”, sent by e-mail to the author, June 1999.
a. “Extraños habitantes en Chiloé”, Conozca Más magazine, 9th year, No. 8, August 1998, pp. 6-12.
b. “Friendship en la mira mundial”, Conozca Más collection, UFO special, October 1998, pp. 16-23.
Varela, Patricio, “Invasión por especie genética bio-extraterrestre”, in Revelación No. 47, 5th year, 2000, p. 34.
Miguel Blanco, “Espacio en Blanco”, Spain, 10 February 2000.
Evidencia OVNI, Chilevisión, 30 January 2001.
OVNI, Televisión Nacional de Chile, 17 June 17 1999.
OVNI, Televisión Nacional de Chile, 27 October 2000.