The price of books in Chile

Chile, as most anyone who knows the country will tell you, has two Nobel Prize winning writers, poets Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. But the cost of buying a book is prohibitive for most Chileans: some 40 years ago the Pinochet dictatorship imposed a value added tax (VAT) of 19 percent on books sold in the country, the highest in the region and effectively pricing them out of reach for many Chileans. And until now, no one has managed to get the tax eliminated or even reduced.

But a 17-year old Chilean student, Fernanda Moya, started a petition on Change.org  urging the country’s Ministry of Culture to eliminate the tax and has already gotten over 19,000 signatures.

“It’s hard to imagine that in a country like Chile, where the average price of a book is equal to 5 % of the minimum wage, how parents can bring books into their homes to motivate their children to read,” she told El Mostrador.

Stay tuned.

 

 

Wonder-Makers

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A group of six women from Spanish-speaking countries, including two Chileans, have just published Wonder-Makers: Navigators of the Thames, a bilingual volume of poems whose themes deal with exile, migration, loss and memory. The book was printed in Chile and launched this month at London’s Instituto Cervantes, and will be followed by a collection of the same authors’ short fiction later this year. Here’s a link to a video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBwOE6thlP4 and an excerpt:

Houses

I built a stone house

“Nobody will destroy it,” I thought.

Water took it away,

Now it’s in the bottom of the ocean.

Neptune inhabits it.

 

I lived in a shanty dwelling of crystal

“Nobody will steal it,“ I thought.

One morning on waking up

I was alone under the sky

The government had seized it.

They made it into a national monument.

 

I came up with a mansion of straw.

“Nobody will take it away,” I thought.

But my neighbour’s cows

ate it one afternoon.

 

Now I live with the sky and the sea.

I know that no one can occupy my dreams.

Marijo Alba-Sanchez

Another book review

It’s been four years since publication, but this blogger’s second book, The General’s Slow Retreat: Chile after Pinochet, has gotten a rather favorable review in Cambridge University’s journal, The Americas: A Quarterly Review of Latin American History. An excerpt:

In The General’s Slow Retreat, Mary Helen Spooner reconstructs the private world of conflict, negotiation, and insecurity that marked the Chilean transition. Spooner takes her readers beyond the narratives produced for public consumption into the private meetings of military and civilian leaders, where deals were struck and positions that profoundly shaped the way forward for Chilean democracy were devised. Drawing on published interviews, news accounts, and memoirs as well as her remarkable access to dozens of key players—including presidents, senators, ministers, and military officials—Spooner has crafted a detailed and sophisticated account of Chile’s fragile transition, focusing with unfailing acuity on questions of Pinochet’s influence and the legacy of human rights abuses after the 1988 plebiscite.

https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/the_americas/v072/72.3.hutchison.html

Orwell in Chile

Grafitti on a wall in Santiago provided the cover picture for the Chilean edition of 1984.

Grafitti on a wall in Santiago provided the cover picture for the Chilean edition of 1984.

This month marks the 65th anniversary of George Orwell’s death, and here’s one of the lesser-known stories of the great writer’s legacy, courtesy of the Pinochet regime in Chile.

It was 1983, the military dictatorship had been in power nearly ten years and the first stirrings of protest on a national level were about to explode into demonstrations up and down the length of Chile’s narrow territory. Three young journalists—two Chilean, one American—began an afterhours project to translate and publish Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984.

There were plenty of copies of Animal Farm, Orwell’s bitter satire of Stalinism, on offer in Chilean bookstores, but 1984 seemed conspicuous by its absence.  A search around Santiago turned up a Spanish language copy in the British Council Library, an edition translated in Spain under Franco which had cut out the course language and sexual scenes in some of the passages, as well as the Newspeak appendix at the end of the book. Newer editions were unavailable, and if the dictatorship had not officially censored 1984, the implied threat of confiscation, along with high sales taxes, were enough to discourage most booksellers from importing any newer editions of the book.

So the three friends decided to produce a Chilean version of 1984, meeting several evenings a week and working on a typewriter. A  curfew was in effect, which meant they often held all-night translating sessions. Over eight long months the team debated how to best to translate the text. A reference to one character’s “thick negroid lips” made them pause, but if they softened the racist language in their Spanish translation, wouldn’t they be guilty of Newspeak as well?  They opted for a direct translation: gruesos labios negroides. About halfway through they decided that Big Brother should not be translated as Hermano Mayor (which could mean “older brother”) but Gran Hermano. This meant a time-consuming task of going over each typewritten page, using Wite-Out correction fluid.

My friend and colleague Lezak Shallat was one of the translators. “We had this romantic idea of samizdat circulation, underground,” she recalled. “But halfway through, the prior censorship restriction was lifted and publishing became feasible. Sammy (Samuel Silva, another friend and colleague) contacted some publisher who agreed to it, but only if we paid for it, which we did. I remember that my share was US $400, a huge investment for me at the time.”

The translators--Fernando, Lezak and Sammy.

The translators–Fernando, Lezak and Sammy.

In addition to paying for the publication, the trio had to produce their own publicity, a tricky undertaking under a dictatorship. They decided the publicity should consist solely of grafitti on walls around Santiago, and they drove through the city looking for walls to paint—a rather risky operation in itself. The grafitti idea was later adopted as the cover of the book. And the Chilean edition of 1984 eventually rose to the bestseller list of El Mercurio, the country’s largest newspaper, whose editorial policies supported the Pinochet regime.

A Chilean “beachhead” in landlocked Bolivia

Now this is interesting. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published a blog post on the case of Raúl Peñaranda, a Chilean-born reporter who has lived in Bolivia since he was a baby and whose book, Control Remoto, documents efforts by government authorities to control independent media outlets. These efforts include advertising boycotts, labor inspections, tax audits and the sale of newspapers and television stations to business owners sympathetic to the government of Evo Morales.

Earlier this year Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila called a news conference to denounce Peñaranda, saying he represented a dangerous “beachhead” for Chilean interests in the country. Chile and Bolivia have diplomatic relations at the consular level, and the sea outlet lost during the War of the Pacific remains a major issue between the two countries.

But it appears that the real issue was Peñaranda’s book, which was due to appear a few days later. “The government was very upset with me and the only way they could try to discredit me was to say I was pro-Chilean,” he told CPJ.

To read more:

https://cpj.org/blog/2014/09/critical-journalist-investigates-bolivias-silent-c.php

From Calama to Oklahoma

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The University of Oklahoma’s Center for Social Justice has honored Chile’s Association of Relatives of Executed and Missing Political Prisoners of Calama with an award named in memory of Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who helped identify victims of political violence in Argentina, Guatemala and other countries. The award committee said that the Calama group “embodies the spirit of the award, to recognize the efforts of those who strive to restore the humanity and dignity of communities that have suffered human rights violations.” http://csj.ou.edu/clyde-snow-social-justice-award/

Here’s a link to an earlier post on the case, which was the subject of a book by my friend and colleague Paula Allen: https://notesontheamericas.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/grief-in-the-atacama-desert/

A long delayed Freedom of Information request

Way back in 2007, when I began work on my second book (http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520266803) , I filed a Freedom of Information request to the U.S. State Department and other government agencies.  I was looking for material on Chilean arms trafficking in the 1990s, when General Augusto Pinochet was still army commander, holding various overseas bank accounts and rattling his sabre whenever the country’s new civilian rulers dared to question his activities.  The most outrageous incident occurred in late 1991, when a shipment of Chilean weapons, bound for Croatia in violation of a United Nations ban, was discovered in Budapest.  Here’s a link to a NY Times piece on the case: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/11/world/chilean-arms-shipment-to-croatia-stirs-tensions.html

I didn’t get any documents until this time last year, with a cover letter explaining that a search of the State Department’s Central Foreign Policy Records had dredged up 22 relevant documents, of which

14 could be released in full

6 released with excisions

1 “must be withheld in full”

There was one remaining document still under review, requiring “intra-agency or interagency coordination,” and was referred to another government office.  That document, with a cover letter dated December 23, 2013, arrived this month.

The documents cover the activities of Chilean arms dealer Carlos Cardoen, who sold weapons to Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s, along with the Pinochet regime’s  efforts to sell arms to Iran during that same period.  Much of this was reported years ago, but it’s worth another look and I’ll be posting on these cases over the next few days.