A Chilean news roundup

“Do Graves of Dictators Really Become Shrines?” is the title of a report in Foreign Policy http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/25/do_graves_of_controversial_leaders_really_become_shrines?page=0,9 surveying the funerals of over a dozen autocratic leaders, including General Augusto Pinochet.  The “tour of contentious burials from Qaddafi to Hitler” observes that Pinochet’s ashes were hidden away at a family estate, Los Boldos, located on the Chilean coast. Not only is there no public memorial to Pinochet anywhere in the country, but Los Boldos itself has fallen upon hard times and earlier this year police discovered a small marijuana plantation on the property, according to The Guardian newspaper. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/07/chile-pinochet

The Economist has yet another good article on Chile’s student protests and the stalled negotiations with the government: http://www.economist.com/node/21534785

The website Earthquake Report is posting updates on the Hudson volcano explosion in southern Chile, where at least 128 people have been evacuated: http://earthquake-report.com/2011/10/27/chilean-authorities-are-raising-hudson-volcano-cerro-hudson-to-red-alert-after-minor-eruption/

The Discovery Channel’s Spanish-language affiliate has produced a program on neo-Nazi groups in Chile as part of its “Mundos Extremos” series, which is scheduled to air December 7.  According to the channel’s web site, there are numerous youth groups in Santiago “which live under xenophobic and violent rules and chauvinistic dogmas” and find inspiration in Hitler’s national socialism. http://www.tudiscovery.com/web/mundos-extremos/episodios/

The Santiago Times published a report on emergency bioterrorism drills underway in Chile,  under the auspices of Organization of American States (OAS) http://www.santiagotimes.cl/chile/science-technology/22781-chile-hosts-oas-first-mock-bioterrorism-attack.  Chile was selected for the exercise in view of the amount of air traffic Santiago’s Arturo Merino Benitez airport receives, making the capital “highly susceptible to airborne contagions.”


Herman Cain and Chilean social security

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s praise for Chile’s private pensions system is getting more critical coverage in the U.S. media, with an article by the Associated Press,  “Fact Check: Closer look at Cain’s retirement model”  http://news.yahoo.com/fact-check-closer-look-cains-retirement-model-172348908.html appearing in several major newspapers.

Business Week says that Cain’s Chilean social security model risks miring the United States deeper in debt and notes that Argentina attempted a similar program in 1994 in which workers paid pension contributions into private accounts, causing the government to lose $37 billion in revenues. The Argentine government later nationalized the system in 2008.    http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-10-17/cain-s-social-security-model-risks-miring-u-s-in-deeper-debt.html

Tales from the lives of Chilean miners

Baldomero Lillo's short stories about the lives of Chilean miners are enjoying renewed readership, but the one translation of his work in English is long out of print.

It’s been a full year since the world watched the rescue of 33 men at the San Jose mine, and to mark the occasion here’s a look at the work of a Chilean writer who chronicled the dismal conditions in his country’s mines.

Baldomero Lillo was born in 1867 in the coal-mining town of Lota, a region which was—and still is—one of Chile’s poorest.  He never completed high school but read extensively (Dostoyevsky was a favorite), spent his teenage years working as a store clerk, met many of the mineworkers and heard their accounts of life underground.  Lillo moved to Santiago in 1898 and got a job at the University of Chile’s printing office.  His first short story collection, Sub Terra, was published in 1907 and Chilean president Sebastian Pinera recalls reading the book as a schoolboy.  One of the best-known stories, Gate No. 12, is a Dickensian horror tale about a father with the symptoms of lung disease who brings his eight-year old son to work in the mine.  An excerpt:

With one sweeping glance, the foreman’s penetrating eyes took in the weak little body of the boy. His delicate limbs and the childish innocence of the dark face with its wide-open shining eyes, like those of a frightened little animal, made an unfavorable impression on the foreman.  Although hardened by the daily contemplation of so much misery, he felt a twang o pity at the sight of that little fellow, yanked from his childish games and condemned, like so many others, to languish miserably in the damp galleries, next to the ventilation doors. The hard lines of his face softened and with assumed severity he addressed the old man who, concerned over the foreman’s scrutiny of his son, stared anxiously awaiting a reply.

  “Heavens, man, this child is still too weak to work.  Is he your son?”

   “Yes, sir.”

  “He’s so young.  You should have pity on him and rather than bury him in here,   you should be sending him to school for a while.”

  “But sir,” stammered the shaky, supplicating voice of the miner, “there are six of us at home and only one working. Pablo is eight already and should earn the bread he eats. As a miner’s son he’ll have to follow in the footsteps of his elders whose only school was the mine.”

     A sudden fit of coughing drowned out his trembling voice, but his moist eyes implored with such insistence that the foreman, won over by that silent appeal, raised a whistle to his lips. Its piercing sound echoed down the deserted passageway.  Hurried steps were heard and a dark silhouette appeared in the doorway.

   “Juan,” exclaimed the little man, pointing to the miner’s son, “take this boy to Gate No.12. He will replace Jose, the hauler’s son, who was run over yesterday.”

Lillo wrote a total of 45 short stories before dying of tuberculosis in 1923. Sadly, little of his work is available in English. In 1959 UNESCO published a translation of Sub Terra, entitled The Devil’s Pit and Other Stories, but the book has been out of print for some time and I found only one copy for sale online.  Gate No. 12 was included in a collection of Latin American fiction edited by Seymour Menton, The Spanish American Short Story: A Critical Anthology, published by the University of California Press in 1980.  That book is also out of print, but can be read on Google: http://books.google.com/books?id=ApC9epzJXgMC&pg=PA106&dq=”baldomero+lillo”&hl=en&ei=BGe8TIGcEsP48AaWypDWDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CDsQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q

More on Chilean education

While student protests continue in Chile, it seems a good time to examine the quality of higher education in the country.  The educational consultancy Quacquarelli Symonds released a ranking of the world’s top 700 universities (http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings). Chile’s Pontificia Universidad Catolica was ranked at 250, the Universidad de Chile came in at 262 and seven other institutions in the lower third of the list.  In QS’s rankings of Latin America’s top 200 universities (http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/latin-american-university-rankings/2011) Chile was better represented, with 25 universities listed, and the aforementioned institutions were listed in the region’s top five.

A link to a good background story on Chilean university funding:  http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=416035.


Whither the Concertacion?

It was 23 years ago today that General Augusto Pinochet lost a one-man presidential plebiscite that would have extended his rule for another eight years, and a remarkable campaign for a “no” vote against him managed to hang together in a center-left coalition that would win four elections. But times have changed, a crafty and energetic businessman/economist now occupies the presidency and the leaders of the Concertacion de Partidos por la Democracia are meeting to discuss the future.

Socialist Party president Osvaldo Andrade told Radio Cooperative that his coalition’s governments marked the end of dictatorship, but were not able to muster enough energy to seriously address Chile’s social inequalities.  October 5, the anniversary of the dictator’s electoral defeat, should produce a renewed commitment to do so, he said.

While the Concertacion’s leaders are mulling these matters, representatives of Chile’s student federation were due to meet with education ministry officials.  Whatever the outcome, they and the teachers’ union were going ahead with plans for another mass demonstration this week. The Associated Press reports that University of Chile student president Camila Vallejo “handles a microphone as if she were born with it” and has a Twitter audience of nearly 300,000.  http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jj5MtpfAn19p7YWlOIxU5OaTo52w?docId=70f2008f5bbd4c8ea1c31f5efda07e2e

It is worth remembering that the first nationwide student protests began under the last of the  Concertacion governments, with little resolution. To make matters worse, the education minister was impeached when it was revealed that her department had such sloppy bookkeeping practices that it could not account for $600 million in public funds.

Meanwhile, President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings have registered a slight improvement—from 27 percent to 30 percent, according to the latest Adimark poll. His defense minister Andres Allamand, whose public profile was raised during last month’s rescue operations following the Juan Fernandez air crash, has become the most popular cabinet minister, with a 78 percent approval rating.  The same poll revealed that an increasing majority of Chileans back the students’ demands—79 percent, a three point increase since August—but are less supportive of their tactics, with only 49 percent approving of the mass demonstrations. http://www.adimark.cl/es/estudios/documentos/0_9_ev_gob_sept2011_.pdf.