The state of science in Chile

The most recent issue of Science Magazine, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, contains a letter from Chilean scientists decrying the lack of funding and support for research in the country.

The scientists, Pablo Astudillo, Carlos J. Blondel, Tomas Nrambuena and Katia Soto, writing on behalf of the organization Más Ciencia para Chile said Chile badly needed to update its science policies. They noted that Brazil and Argentina had Ministries of Science and that Peru was working on a new Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

“For years, Chile’s politicians and economists have talked about the need to increase scientific research to become a developed nation. However, indicators of governmental performance and research policy in Chile, especially when compared with other Organization for Economic Co-operation and  Development (OECD) countries—an organization that Chile has only recently joined—indicate poor performance in terms of investment, researchers, and even public promotion and attitudes to research,” the letter said.

The full text of the letter can be read here:

And the web site for Más Ciencia para Chile

Pinochet’s last will and testament

Some of the multiple identities Pinochet used to open accounts at U.S. banks, uncovered by a U.S. Senate investigation into money laundering.

It was something of an anticlimax, the opening of General Augusto Pinochet’s last will and testament.  Officials from Chile’s state defence council were hoping it might shed light on the size of the late dictator’s fortune and where he might have stashed it.

In 2005 a U.S. Senate money laundering investigation discovered that Pinochet, his family and associates had an extensive network of over 125 bank accounts and securities in the Riggs Bank and other U.S. financial institutions to move millions of dollars (

The U.S. Senate report prompted the Chilean Supreme Court to conduct its own investigation, which revealed that Pinochet had at least $21 million at the time of his death in 2006, but only $3 million could be explained by his earnings as head of state and army commander.

Pinochet is known to have drawn up his will in 2000, following his release from detention in Britain.  A newer version of the will was drawn up in 2005, and this is what was opened in a Santiago court, in the presence of a notary and two witnesses, both friends of the Pinochet family.  But the document’s contents only changed the executor, from Oscar Aitken—whom the U.S. Senate report describes as Pinochet’s financial advisor and conduit for questionable payments—to one Julia Hormazabal.  There was nothing about beneficiaries or legacies.

So now authorities are seeking the original will, drawn up in 2000 following his return to Santiago after his detention in London. Stay tuned.

The anti-poet

Cristobal Ugarte, grandson of Nicanor Parra, deposits the Chilean poet's old typewriter into a vault at Spain's Cervantes Institute.

For half a century

Poetry was

a solemn fool’s paradise.

Until I came along

with my rollercoaster.

Climb aboard if you want.

Though of course I can’t be responsible if you get off

bleeding from the mouth and nose.

His official web site,, contains only the poem above in the original Spanish, set alongside a childlike drawing with the words, “You’re asking me?? Anti-poetry is you!” He was too fragile to make the trip to Spain but sent his grandson to collect the prize and to hand over the ancient typewriter he has used to write his poetry. That typewriter has just been deposited in a vault in Spain’s Cervantes Institute, which this week awarded Nicanor Parra the Spanish language’s highest literary honor. The typewriter holds an unpublished poem which may not be read until 50 years from now.

Parra is the third Chilean to win this award, following essayist Jorge Edwards (1999) and poet Gonzalo Rojo (2003). And Chile has two Nobel Prize-winning poets, Gabriela Mistral (who became the first Latin American winner in 1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971).

Parra, who turns 98 this year, was born into a family of folklorists and musicians in southern Chile, but distinguished himself as a scholar, studying physics at Brown University and cosmology at Oxford.  He counted San Francisco Beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg as friends and influences, and on this site there’s a photograph of him with Ginsburg at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York:

And here’s one of his best poems, “The Last Toast.”


Whether we like it or not,
We have only three choices:
Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three
Because as the philosopher says
Yesterday is yesterday
It belongs to us only in memory:
From the rose already plucked
No more petals can be drawn.

The cards to play
Are only two:
The present and the future.

And there aren’t even two
Because it’s a known fact
The present doesn’t exist

Except as it edges past
And is consumed…,
like youth.

In the end
We are only left with tomorrow.
I raise my glass
To the day that never arrives.

But that is all

we have at our disposal.

An extradition request

Last November Chilean judge Jorge Zepeda, who has been investigating the case of two American citizens killed during the country’s 1973 military coup, said he was seeking the extradition of former U.S. naval attache Captain Ray E. Davis in the case. The Americans, graduate student Frank Teruggi and filmmaker Charles Horman, were arrested and taken to the National Stadium in Santiago where they were both executed. Horman’s case became the basis for the 1982 film Missing, directed by Costa-Gavras.

Davis, now in his mid-80s, is known to have met Horman and his wife in the days following the coup. But Davis’s wife, when contacted at their home in Florida, said he was suffering Alzheimer’s and living in a U.S. nursing home.  She would not say which one.

Then everything seemed to go quiet. Zepeda has a considerable backlog of unsolved human rights cases in his files, including that of missing Penn State mathematics professor Boris Weisfeiler.  But this past week Zepeda asked Chile’s Supreme Court to approve the extradition request for Davis, who is known to have been in contact with one of the dead Americans, filmmaker Charles Horman.  The judge said that Horman’s killing “happened during secret operations against American citizens and was part of Ray E. Davis’s intelligence activities.”  According to the Chilean Supreme Court web site (, the extradition request will be considered within the next few days.

For more on the Charles Horman case:

For more on the Boris Weisfeiler case:

Another earthquake

Chileans are used to tremors and earthquakes, but even so, the nonchalant demeanor of TVN anchor Cristian Pino during a powerful 6.7 magnitude quake this week is worth watching:

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Santiago on an official visit when the quake struck, but he and his delegation were unaffected.

The quake’s epicentre was 26 miles northeast of Valparaiso, prompting the National Emergency Service ONEMI to order the evacuation of communities along a 400-mile stretch of coastline. According to ONEMI director Benjamin Chacana, some 13,000 people had been evacuated.

It was the second strong quake to hit central Chile since March 25, when a 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck. And two years ago the country suffered an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and a tsunami that destroyed much of the southern coastal city of Constitucion.

Another news roundup

The Economist has a long piece on Chile, the protests by students and other groups and Sebastian Piñera’s presidency:

National Public Radio has a review of the Chilean film “Post Mortem,”, whose protagonist works at a Santiago morgue at the time of the 1973 military coup. has this piece on a visit to a Saskatchewan potash mine by Jose Henriquez, one of the 33 miners trapped in an underground copper mine in Chile’s Atacama Desert in 2010.  It was his first time underground since the rescue and he told his hosts he was impressed with the safety measures and operational procedures at the mine.