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PHILADELPHIA -- Many key players in the Chilean fruit business were on hand Nov. 19 to honor Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp., at the 12th annual Friend of Chile award luncheon. Holt Logistics headquarters are in Gloucester City, NJ.

More than 300 people attended the Chilean & American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia event in Philadelphia's historic and elegant Union League Club. It was the last CACC event for the chamber's executive director, Sheryl Rothberg, who is retiring after 17 years in the position. In his award acceptance remarks, Mr. Holt described Ms. Rothberg as "the indefatigable and charismatic face, voice, right arm, left arm and backbone of the chamber for many years." The CACC's Ricardo Maldonado will move from his position as manager to executive director of the chamber.

Robert Palaima, president of the CACC and president of Philadelphia's Delaware River Stevedores, opened the meeting, which featured greetings from Pennsylvania Sen. Michael Stack and Jos? Go?i, Chile's ambassador to the United States.

Presenting Mr. Holt's award was Stephen Harmelin, managing partner of the Philadelphia law firm Dilworth Paxson LLP.

"Leo is articulate, energetic, occasionally abrasive, but always and endlessly the strongest supporter of international trade," Mr. Harmelin said. "The extraordinary success and growth of the Chilean fresh fruit industry has among its beneficiaries the citizens of Chile, the Holt family and the entire port community."

Leo Holt's father, Tom Holt Sr., is a previous winner of the Friend of Chile award.

Mr. Harmelin noted, "Those of you who read Leo Holt's spirited Philadelphia Inquirer editorial on Tuesday in support of dredging the Delaware River understand full-well why he is a most appropriate recipient of the Friend of Chile award. That country has no better 'ambassador at large' & and no more dedicated diplomat in support of increased trade between Chile and the port of Philadelphia than Leo. For four generations, the Holt family has led the effort to energize and enlarge port operations in this region."

Mr. Holt has traveled to Chile 50 times in the last 20 years, according to Mr. Harmelin.

"To be a friend of Chile, one does not need to travel to Chile, you do not need to learn Spanish, nor have an exhaustive knowledge of the huge variety of Chilean contributions to the world in terms of thought, art, culture, food and wine. You only need to meet a Chileno or a Chilena once," Mr. Holt said. "My acquaintance with Chile began as so many things in my life have: with my father and his incredible willingness to travel anywhere at any time in order help fulfill his dream to bring things through the port of Philadelphia and grow the legacy that he and his father and brother created."

He added, "Over time, I found my feet on my own and must say that of all of the many places in the world where I feel comfortable, I feel most like I am at home in Chile. That is without the benefit of any long period of time ever having been spent there. The people, places and things are so accessible, kind and friendly one should not ask the question, 'How do you become a friend of Chile?' but rather, "How could one not be?'"

Mr. Holt observed, "In Wilmington, Philadelphia and New Jersey, the cargo opportunities have been slim pickings for the last two years. The highlight and salvation of those missing man hours has been the Chilean business."

Of the aforementioned plan to dredge the Delaware River to accommodate larger container ships, Mr. Holt bluntly said, "There is solid evidence pro and con about dredging that you should recognize: With it, we can compete again; without it, we're dead."

After he reviewed the conflicting stances of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware regarding the deepening of the Delaware River channel, Mr. Holt concluded, "The fact is, our survival as a port is a regional opportunity and a regional disaster if it is not handled right. It is so simple and was put into words by Benjamin Franklin: 'Gentlemen (and now ladies), if we do not hang together then we will surely hang separately.' Why should we hang at all? We come together here as friends in a community, one that has reach, reputation and significance throughout the world. Nurture that and you will not only survive, you will thrive in the 21st century, and you will leave a legacy of opportunity for your children and your grandchildren that they will be proud of."

(Photos from the event appear in the Nov. 30, 2009, issue of The Produce News.)