Looking back, looking ahead

This blogger is going to be travelling over the holidays and will begin posting again in mid-January.

It’s been a good year. My second book, The General’s Slow Retreat: Chile after Pinochet was published in May and has been nominated for two awards: the Orwell Prize for political writing and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights book prize.

So happy holidays, and there’ll be new posts in 2012.

Chilean condolences to North Korea

The Chinese leadership sent condolences, as did their counterparts in Russia, Cambodia and Iran.  And so did Chile’s Communist Party, expressing its “condolences for the passing of comrade Kim Jong-Il.”

A letter posted on the party’s website (www.pcchile.cl) addressed to the North Korean people, the Workers’ Party and the late dictator’s family said

In this moment of pain for workers and all the people of the Popular Democratic Republic of Korea, the PC [Communist Party] is convinced that the struggle for the construction of a prosperous socialist society, the reunification of the country, the defense of the Korean people’s interests against the maneuvers of American imperialism, will continue to be pushed firmly by the one who replaces him in the leadership of the Party and the State.”

The letter prompted immediate criticism on Twitter from Chile’s interior minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter and Ignacio Walker, president of the opposition Christian Democrats.  “Does the PC [Communist Party] believe that human rights are respected in North Korea?” Hinzpeter demanded while Walker tweeted that the North Korean regime was a “mixture of military might and famine.”

Party president Guillermo Teillier said the condolences “were just that, and do not imply anything more.” But the party’s web site seems to have removed the condolence message, which suggests that perhaps not all Chilean Communists agreed with the gesture to North Korea.




Chilean men: take off those ties!

The Chilean government is calling on all men to take off their ties during the southern hemisphere summer, as a way to save energy.  According to energy minister Rodrigo Alvarez, such a gesture reduces the body temperature by two degrees and obviously helps cut the cost of air conditioning. The video link below shows several members of President Sebastian Pinera’s cabinet not only removing their ties but unbuttoning the top shirt button:


Environment minister Maria Ignacia Benitez has joined the campaign by suggesting that Chilean women start using fans—not electric ones, but the kind women used in bygone days, which she says are “inexpensive, pretty and feminine.”



His wake was held at the Chilean military academy, but Pinochet was not given a state funeral and honors traditionally given to Chilean presidents.

About 200 people attended a memorial service for General Augusto Pinochet on Saturday, December 10, the fifth anniversary of his death.  This year it was held not in Santiago but at the family’s estate on the Pacific coast.  His widow Lucia Hiriart spoke to reporters outside the property, saying that her late husband “should be left in peace.”  She also noted the absence of any government officials at the service, saying that President Sebastian Pinera “seems not to be a very good friend of ours.”

Most Chilean heads of state are buried in Santiago’s General Cemetery, but Pinochet’s ashes are hidden away in a chapel on the estate.  He did not receive a presidential funeral, with full state honors, but a funeral for a former army commander and his family reluctantly conceded that placing his remains in a mausoleum would attract vandals and public protests. So after a wake at the military academy, a Catholic mass and fiery speeches by his daughter and grandson, Pinochet’s remains were moved to a crematorium and then transferred to the seaside estate.

There are no public monuments to Pinochet in Chile, though there are dozens of memorial sites dedicated to his victims, including an open air museum at the site of a former detention center and an enormous wall of names in the General Cemetery. The Pinochet Foundation (http://www.fundacionpresidentepinochet.cl/), located in a rather modest house in eastern Santiago, opened a small museum in his honor three years ago. There are four rooms containing some of his personal effects, including several statues of Napoleon, and a recreation of the office he sometimes used at the Foundation.

What killed Pablo Neruda?

Pablo Neruda, received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1971, the second Chilean poet to receive the award.

The Chilean Communist Party has asked that the remains of poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda be exhumed to establish whether he was poisoned by an injection he received shortly before his death less than two weeks after the military coup which brought General Augusto Pinochet’s regime to power.   A judge who has been investigating Neruda’s death since June of this year will consider the petition, but the Neruda Foundation (http://www.fundacionneruda.cl/ ) says such a move would be “an act of desecration.”

Neruda was suffering from prostate cancer and was moved from his home in the coastal town of Isla Negra to a Santiago hospital, where he died on September 23, 1973. Earlier this year the poet’s former driver said Neruda—who up to that moment had been able to walk around his hospital room and receive visitors—had been given an injection shortly before he died suddenly.  The former Mexican ambassador to Chile, who had offered the poet asylum in his country, has signed a legal affidavit to the effect that Neruda was well enough to plan such a relocation. The Neruda Foundation’s president, Juan Agustin Figueroa, opposes any exhumation and said “we do not believe in any third party involvement in his death.”

Judge Mario Carroza, who also investigated the death of former president Salvador Allende, has sent the Mexican affidavit, along with the testimonies of Neruda’s former driver, a doctor and a nurse to Chile’s Servicio Medico Legal to determine whether there are grounds for an exhumation.



The whereabouts of Captain Davis

She won’t say which nursing home he is in, but Patricia Davis, wife of retired naval captain Ray Davis, says he has Alzheimer’s and that his condition is such that he no longer opens his eyes.  The Associated Press found the family’s phone number in Florida and managed to get a short interview after a Chilean judge requested his extradition for the 1973 arrest and killing of American filmmaker Charles Horman.

“He doesn’t speak…He doesn’t recognize me.  I don’t count anniversaries anymore.”