Posts Tagged ‘Chapters’

Aunque los pasos toquen
Mil años este sitio
No borrarán la sangre
De los que aquí cayeron
Y no se extinguirá
La hora en que caíste
Aunque miles de voces crucen este silencio.

(“Even if this place is touched
for a thousand years by footsteps,
they won’t erase the blood
of those who died here.
Nor will the hour in which you met your death
be extinguished,
even if thousands of voices cross this silence.”

Illapu, Aunque los pasos toquen

Casa Memoria, ´Avda. José Domingo Cañas no. 1367

Casa Memoria, ´Avda. José Domingo Cañas no. 1367. One pole for every person killed at this former torture centre.

One of my more memorable excursions whilst in Chile was to the memorial that has been built at Avenida José Domingo Cañas no. 1367. This address, in the heart of a well-to-do residential part of the Santiago district of Ñuñoa, was once one of the most feared places in Chile’s capital. While the pleasant-looking suburban home (complete with in-ground swimming pool) that once stood there might look to some like an address anyone in Santiago might count herself lucky to call her own, the screams that could regularly be heard emanating from inside for thirteen years (1974 – 1987) made it clear to the neighbours was a place to steer well clear of.

The “taboo house” – as some of the neighbours called it – at José Domingo Cañas 1367 was a torture chamber, one of many clandestine sites in Santiago and throughout the country operated by the “security” services of dictator Augusto Pinochet. For many of Pinochet’s political opponents, this was the last place they were ever seen, alive or otherwise. Many more physically survived the ordeal, but never truly recovered.



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Asymptote – n., a line or curve that constantly approaches nil without ever reaching it.

Si la presidenta no te cuenta la pulenta, lo hago yo
Chile está en venta desde que la Concerta ganó el NO
Aylwin, Lagos y también Frei dieron paso a Bachelet
Donde el mercado se hace rey y el subcontrato se hace ley

Mi canto no es de mala fe, tengo evidencia suficiente
Pa’ condenar a muerte a veinte dirigentes malolientes
Solamente basta con mirar las calles desde el Transantiago
4 millones de detalles cotidianos

Me confirman que la ciudadanía está pintada
Elección tras elección, la votación no cambia nada

If President Bachelet won’t tell you  what’s up, I’ll have a go:
Chile’s been for sale ever since the Concertación won one for NO.
Aylwin, Lagos, and then Frei made way for Bachelet,
where the market is king and outsourcing’s the big thing.
I’m not singing in bad faith. I’ve got sufficient evidence
to condemn to death twenty foul-smelling leaders.
All you need to do is look through the windows of Santiago’s buses,
4 million pieces of evidence every day,
confirming that the people are are the ones taking the hits,
we’ve had vote after vote, and the elections don’t change shit.

Infórmate, Subverso

"Fewer Political Prisoners - More Politicians in Prison"

“Fewer Political Prisoners – More Politicians in Prison”

The Chile that was now racing past my window on the bus was not the same country it had been just two years prior (and if we go back a bit further, say, 120 years, I would not even have left Perú yet, but that is another story). For the past year, the country had been undergoing a long-overdue thaw after roughly two decades of hibernation. To understand the Chile I was now in, we must go back about thirty years.

The 1980s were a time of escalating mass-upheaval in Chile. The economic “reforms” implemented by the Pinochet dictatorship under the tutelage of a handful of Milton Friedman disciples from the University of Chicago known as the “Chicago Boys” – for which the dictatorship was and is roundly praised by the business press – had brought the country to the brink of collapse. The privatised pension funds went bankrupt (by sheer coincidence, the pension funds for the armed forces and national military police, who ran the country, had remained public, and thus, intact), the deregulated and privatised banks had fallen apart (bringing a cool billion to Sebastán Piñera Echenique, then under investigation for bank fraud and now president of Chile). Protectionist policies were abolished, and Chile’s fragile domestic industries either folded due to unrestricted competition with their heavily subsidised foreign (read: US and European) counterparts, or were taken over by them. Wages went into freefall, and unemployment skyrocketed. Meanwhile, the faux plebiscite by which the 1980 constitution (which remains in force to this day) was imposed, had provided the spark that ignited a more assertive movement in opposition to the Pinochet’s reign of terror.

Pinochet’s military junta had been able to keep the majority of the population in on the defensive since taking over the country in

"The Resistance to Pinochet's System is Rising Up: The Struggle for the People's Rights Continues"

“The Resistance to Pinochet’s System is Rising Up: The Struggle for the People’s Rights Continues”

1973 with a combination of extrajudicial executions (though Attorney General Holder informs me that these are in fact perfectly legitimate “targeted killings”), hellish torture (sorry, “harsh interrogation tactics” is what the New York Times would like me to call it), and “disappearances” (a practise recently codified in the US when Obama signed the NDAA), all in the name of national security and “protecting freedom” against “terrorists” and “extremists”. Any segment of the population deemed a threat to Pinochet’s rule – principally poor people and anyone who worked with them to improve their lives – systematically decimated in a vicious campaign of state terror (sorry, “counterinsurgency”). It was, as you can see, not exactly a propitious climate for independent political organisation.

By the 1980s, however, people were increasingly fed up. Over that decade, large segments of the population defied Pinochet’s goons to organise 22 national days of protest, as well as countless less visible forms of protest and resistance throughout the country. At one point, Pinochet was almost “targetedly killed” himself. The poblaciones (slums) of Santiago, full of people with generations of experience with brutal repression, became foci of militant resistance.

Even a number of prominent supporters of the coup and the régime that rode in on it jumped ship and joined the opposition for various reasons. Some, such as ex-president Eduardo Frei Montalva, whose speech against the 1980 constitution was one of the first public acts of protest, did so on principled grounds. Many coup supporters had assumed that this coup would be more or less like the other (rare) military coups in the country’s history, in which the military more or less immediately handed power over to the Congress and held new elections, only to be sorely disappointed when the junta shut down the Congress, effectively banned all political parties, dotted the land with concentration camps, and started making people “disappear”. This camp also included Tucapel Jiménez, the popular leader of ANEF, the public sector workers’ union, who had trusted the coup plotters when they promised a better deal for his membership, only to find public sector employees subjected to a massive attack by the dictatorship’s economic policies.

Both Frei and Jiménez met bad ends during the 1980s. Frei went to hospital for routine surgery before a planned trip to Europe, and died in a freak “therapeutic misadventure” later to discovered to have been something to do with weaponised botulism being injected into his body.

"Mapuche in Prison for Defending their Ancestral Lands"

“Mapuche in Prison for Defending their Ancestral Lands”

Jiménez, who had been forced out of his position as head of ANEF due to his opposition to the dictatorship and declined a substantial “severance” payment offered to him on the condition that he shill for the dictatorship’s private pension scheme (“I’m not going to deceive the workers.”), was murdered whilst driving the taxi with which he was left to try to make a living. The murder was staged by the CNI (secret police) to look like a robbery. The CNI actually went to the length of finding an alcoholic, unemployed construction worker by the name of Juan Alegría, filling him up with wine, and forcing him to write a suicide note confessing to the murder of Tucapel Jiménez. The whole thing probably would never have been uncovered had Alegría’s mother not remembered that he had repeatedly told her about people following him, and noticed that the wine bottle found with his body was white wine (Alegría only ever drank red wine).

Others, such as Patricio Aylwin, had no real quarrel with the coup or the policies of the dictatorship, and simply felt that Pinochet had outlived his usefulness. He had done everything they wanted him to do, and now stood in the way of new faces (i.e., themselves) moving in to manage the house that Pinochet built.Aylwin went on to become Chile’s first post-dictatorship president, and just recently, in early June 2012, gave an interview praising the Pinochet régime.

Eventually, the disaffected coup supporters joined forces with the members of the political class who had opposed the coup and the régime all along, the Socialist Party (founded by Allende), the Communist Party, the Radical Social-Democratic Party, and the newly formed PPD (Party for Democracy), to form the Concertación de partidos por el NO (Coalition of Parties for the NO Vote), which campaigned against keeping Pinochet in office during the 1988 plebiscite.

The NO vote ultimately won, but it was in many respects a Pyrrhic victory for average people. The Concertación agreed to what

"The People, United, Are Being Fucked by the Parties"

“The People, United, Are Being Fucked by the Parties”

eminent Chilean historian Gabriel Salazar describes as an “institutional transition”, which left the fundamental structures of the dictatorship intact. This meant that the 1980 constitution imposed by the dictatorship, which carved into stone the far-right social and economic policies of the régime, remained in force. The Senate was packed with “designated” senators, hand-picked by the executive branch, as well as “senators-for-life” (including Pinochet himself). A certain number of seats were set aside for unelected military officers, the backbone of the dictatorship. The national police force, Carabineros de Chile, itself part of Pinochet’s junta, had substantial autonomy from the courts and the elected government. The “binominal” electoral system crafted by the dictatorship made it next to impossible for any party to gain a majority in the Congress, whilst ensuring that the phenomenally unpopular right-wing parties would always have enough seats to control the legislative agenda no matter how the people voted.

Meanwhile, the years of dictatorship had caused the Socialist and Christian-Democratic Parties, once mass parties with a significant working-class base, to become élite organisations, alienated from the grass roots. Sharing power under the banner of the Concertación, they governed Chile for twenty years, from 1990 to 2010, and not only never once deviated from the dictatorship’s economic policies (which left working people utterly at the mercy of multinational corporations, with no meaningful social safety net) – they actually intensified these policies, handing control of crucial infrastructure – roads, public utilities, even the water – over to foreign corporations. For all their condemnations of Pinochet’s brutal repression, they proved quite enthusiastic users of the very institutional infrastructure of repression they had once (verbally) opposed. Protests by workers, students, and the indigenous Mapuche people were brutally repressed (the latter have seen quite a few activists killed by police with no credible pretext), and their organisations systematically crushed by the police and intelligence services. All this led, predictably, to that special blend of generalised discontentment and a sense of helplessness to do anything about it that his commonly known as “democracy”. People were so focussed on surviving in a hostile environment that they left politics to the small élite that owns the place.

The overall mood was nicely summed up by an acquaintance of mine on the twentieth anniversary of the “return to democracy”:

They say the NO vote won, but we have the YES constitution, the YES electoral system, the YES Labour Code, and the YES ban on therapeutic abortion. What the hell did we win?

"The Dictatorship Never Ended"

“The Dictatorship Never Ended”

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Los pueblos americanos
se sienten acongojados
porque los gobernadores
los tienen tan separados.

¿Cuándo será ese cuando,
 señor fiscal,
 que la América sea
 solo un pilar?
 Solo un pilar, ay sí,
 y una bandera.
 Que terminen las bullas
 en la frontera.

¡Por un puña’o ’e tierra
 no quiero guerra!

The peoples of America
feel suffocated
because their governments
keep them separated.

When will the day come,
Mr Prosecutor,
that America will be
a single pillar?
A single pillar yes,
and a single banner,
to put an end to the noise
on the borders.

Don’t go starting wars
over a handful of land!
-Violeta Parra, Los pueblos americanos

The endless Atacama desert

The endless Atacama desert

I’ve never really been one for tourism. Brief visits of no more than a few days have always left me quite unsatisfied, as I must invariably move on just as I am finally beginning to settle in. Nor have I ever been a fan of the standard guided tour, in which one is whisked from place to place in the less-than-thrilling company of the sort of foreign holidaymakers who are unlikely to be all that sorely missed in their countries of origin, and who distinguish themselves either by their overall sense of superiority to everyone and everything they encounter in the country they are visiting (“Oh, we’ve got one just like that in Peoria/Parramatta/Slough, but ours is much nicer.”; “Have your people come to Jesus yet?”) or by running commentary that makes the most asinine thing you’ve ever heard seem like a flight of erudition by comparison (“Look, honey, they’ve got BMWs in Germany, too!”). (more…)

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Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Cricket lovely Cricket,
At Lord’s where I saw it;
Yardley tried his best
But Goddard won the test.
They gave the crowd plenty fun;
Second Test and West Indies won.

–  Victory Calypso (“Cricket,  Lovely Cricket”)Egbert Moore, 1950

We don’t wave flags or make a sound,
 or we’ll be evicted from the cricket ground.
 We’ve got corporate boxes and the MCC,
 and we lose by an innings and forty-three.
 Cricket, English cricket
 at Lords, where we play it,
 we politely lose our wicket,
 unless the rain comes to delay it.

– Comedian Mark Steel’s parody

Fortunately, the Megabus luggage policy was not as strict as it had seemed two hours earlier. This was particularly lucky, as it turned out that the problem was not the weight of my suitcase, which I could theoretically have done something about, but its dimensions, which I was rather stuck with. I was allowed on the bus, but only after everyone else’s luggage had been loaded, in order to make sure there was enough space. This, while annoying, was a lot better than being stranded in Pittsburgh at 11:00 PM with no place to stay. (more…)

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Cuando se siente el fervor de cientos de miles y miles de hombres y mujeres, apretándose en las calles y plazas para decir con decisión y esperanza: Estamos con ustedes, no cejen, ¡vencerán!, toda duda se disipa, toda angustia se desvanece. Son los pueblos, todos los pueblos al sur del río Bravo, que se yerguen para decir ¡basta!, ¡basta! a la dependencia, ¡basta! a las presiones, ¡basta! a las intervenciones; para afirmar el derecho soberano de todos los países en desarrollo a disponer libremente de sus recursos naturales.

Cientos de miles y miles de chilenos me despidieron con fervor al salir de mi Patria y me entregaron el mensaje que he traído a esta Asamblea mundial. Estoy seguro que ustedes, representantes de las naciones de la tierra, sabrán comprender mis palabras. Es nuestra confianza en nosotros lo que incrementa nuestra fe en los grandes valores de la Humanidad, en la certeza de que esos valores tendrán que prevalecer, no podrán ser destruidos.

When you feel the fervour of hundreds of thousands and thousands of men and women, pressed together in the streets and public squares to say, resolutely and full of hope: We are with you, don’t back down, you will win! All doubt dissipates, all angst vanishes. It is the peoples, all of the peoples to the south of theRío Grande, who are standing up to say: Enough! Enough dependency, enough pressure, enough intervention! To affirm the sovereign right of all developing countries to determine freely how to use their natural resources.

Hundreds of thousands and thousands bade me farewell when I left my country and gave me the message that I have brought to this assembly of the world. I am sure that you, representatives of the nations of the world, will understand my words. It is our confidence in ourselves that increases our faith in the great values of humanity, in the certainty that those values must prevail, that they cannot be destroyed.

SalvadorAllende at the UN General Assembly, 1972



The Atacama Desert
(C) Élise R. Hendrick, 2012

  “Vengo de Chile, un país pequeño” — with these words, Chilean president Salvador Allende began his famous speech to the United Nations: I come from Chile, a small country. From these words alone, I can tell you with absolute certainty that Allende did not take the land route north.

No matter what the map might tell you – more on this later – and no matter what impression one might get from the surface area of Chile as compared to other countries, “small” is not the first descriptor that would occur to someone who has just travelled even half of the country by land. Having just recently done so twice – once to get to Santiago and once in order to return to Lima- I can tell you that the first descriptor that comes to my mind is: long. Interminably long. Painfully long. Assuming favourable conditions, Chile is so long that a trip from Santiago, in the central area of the country, to the northern border city of Arica, takes well over one full day. That kind of drive will take you roughly from New York City to Chicago, or by train from Barcelona to Berlin.


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Perpignan is for fuckersThinking about it, “fuckedness“ is truly a matter of degree. In the two days between starting my trip from Erlangen to Barcelona and my first full day there, I had ample opportunity to experience various degrees.

I experienced the first degree of fuckedness – where you`re fucked, but don`t realise it, or things can still be fixed fairly easily – at about 9 AM at Gare de Lyon in Paris. After staring at the table with the listing of all of the departing trains and not finding mine for about 20 minutes, I went to the information desk, where I discovered that the train had been cancelled, and I would have to wait for another one at 10:20 AM. This did not seem so bad. I could relax a bit, check my e-mail, and experience the joys of sitting still for a bit. I didn`t have to be in Perpignan, by the border with Spain, until around 5 PM. This cancellation was a blessing in disguise!

Unfortunately, however, I ended up having to run after all, because my train to Montpellier was leaving from a track that was rather far away from the rest of the tracks, almost hidden, and it took about ten minutes to find it. Even so, I found my reserved first-class seat, which had a point for my computer, and a window clean enough to take pictures through. The trip was comfortable and blissfully uneventful.

The second degree announced itself in Montpellier. There was one train leaving for Perpignan, the French town on the border with Spain from which I intended to take a train to Barcelona, but it was one of France`s high-speed TGV trains, and required reservations. The queue at the ticket counter was at least a hundred people long, and my only way to get to Perpignan in time was leaving in ten minutes. Despite there being six windows open, the queue didn`t seem to be moving at all. I looked at the people in front of me, and briefly, but seriously, considered knocking them out of the way one by one. Of course, they had no way of knowing that they were standing between me and my last hope of getting to Perpignan today, but fuck ’em. I did, wisely, reject this option upon realising that several of them could easily kick the shit out of me, and that an arrest would likely further delay my progress towards Perpignan, and ultimately Barcelona. (more…)

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