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Chile's new ambassador throws a party---and everybody came

Ambassador Arturo Fermandois, ready with the champagne. (Chilean Embassy)

Sometimes the best parties happen spontaneously. Arturo Fermandois threw open the doors of Chile's embassy Tuesday night ... and more than 300 people showed up.

The new ambassador, who arrived in Washington just four months ago, erected a jumbo screen outside the embassy on Massachusetts Avenue so everyone could watch the live broadcast of Chilean miners being rescued. Fermandois set up a guest book for people to write messages for the men. Then people started arriving -- and they kept coming.

The outdoor jumbo screen in front of the Chilean Embassy. (Roxanne Roberts/TWP)

"We didn't call anyone, we didn't invite anyone," he told us. "Someone advised me, 'Don't do that, ambassador, because we are diplomats. We celebrate inside a room, around a table, in a very formal way.' And I said: 'No. I need to share this with the city, with the country, with the people.'"

By late that night, the crowd swelled into hundreds. "When the first miner arrived to the surface, it was something absolutely impossible to describe," Fermandois said. Champagne flowed. The crowd chanted "¡Viva Chile!" and sang that country's national anthem. And, yes: "Some tears, too."

Quite a debut for the rookie diplomat, who left his life as a lawyer and professor of constitutional law (after stints as a Fulbright scholar and at Harvard Law School) to become ambassador. His first few weeks were packed with his country's earthquake recovery efforts, its bicentennial and a visit from new President Sebastián Piñera. Just when he expected things to slow down, news broke of the trapped miners.

The embassy here played a small but crucial role by getting a rotating drill head -- donated by a Pennsylvania company -- to the rescue site, which helped cut the estimated time of the rescue effort in half, from four to two months. Everyone in his country, he said, was united behind the safe return of the 33 men: "We haven't felt that way . . . I don't know, even for the soccer World Cup games!"

By The Reliable Source  | October 14, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
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