On getting kicked out of a political rally in Chile

Felipe Antonio Palma Germany Destacado Jurista,Lider,Guerrero y Estratega y su partido favorito Avanzada Nacional.Por Siempre.

Watching the scenes of scuffles and journalists being kicked out of Donald Trump’s political rallies made this blogger recall something that happened to a colleague in Santiago way back in the 1980s. In 1984 the Pinochet regime created its own political party, the Avanzada Nacional (AN), whose members usually had ties to the military. Tim Frasca, who had arrived in Chile the previous year, attempted to cover one of their gatherings, and offers this account of an “uncomfortably rapid education in Chilean politics” during this period:

The regime’s grip was weakening by 1983 in the country when I arrived, but it was still very much in control when I attended a rally of Avanzada Nacional in Santiago’s Caupolicán Theatre the following year, thinking I would get a taste of the ultra-right worldview by direct observation. AN was one of the dozens of political groupings then in existence, including all the banned leftist parties now functioning more or less openly despite the ongoing risks. I knew they were fanatically loyal to the military regime but was entirely unprepared for what that meant.

 I didn’t show my press badge when entering as it didn’t occur to me that I would need to huddle with other reporters. (I later learned that none of the openly opposition Chileans I had become friendly with would be caught dead at an AN rally—though perhaps that is an unfortunate turn of phrase.) 

 I climbed to the bleachers in an upper tier and pulled out my notebook to collect my thoughts on paper while waiting through the warm-up acts for the Big Guy. There were pro-Pinochet performers and minor political figures, and I casually noticed that the mostly male audience was populated with a lot of burly types you’d more expect to see standing outside the entrance to a popular nightclub.

 When Pinochet arrived, the crowd erupted. It dawned on me that this was not a routine event when a crowd of men just to my right, all wearing sunglasses (inside, at night), stood and roared while giving the general the Nazi salute.

 It soon became clear that the fact that I had remained seated and was writing something on a pad was attracting a lot of attention. Two of the cheering group came over to ask me who I was and what I was doing, looked at my press pass, and promptly snatched the notebook out of my hands and began to read it with great interest. They didn’t touch me but made it clear that I might want to leave now. I did make a futile effort to recover the notes through the security guards who simply laughed in my face.

My Chilean colleagues laughed at my innocence but also were alarmed and concerned. They told me to be more careful in the future, to ask their advice about where to go, how and with whom. It was only afterward that I realized that AN had a heavy presence of members of the regime’s secret police who were used to acting with complete impunity.

 Over the years I quickly learned to recognize the particular barely repressed fury bubbling around a pinochetista march or rally—the instant threats, the demands that you bow to their position (by cheering Pinochet), the hatred of the press (“Tell the Truth!” was their constant chant since it was an article of faith that media hostility was the only thing weakening their hero), and eagerness for violence against the nearest scapegoat. I suspect these are shared characteristics among all authoritarian movements. Isolated protest at a Trump rally is therefore not recommended or tactically appropriate though challenging his backers for control of the streets is another matter.  

Postscript: A year or so later, I put together a feature story on Chile’s Jewish community and interviewed the head of the local branch of B’nai B’rith. The Chilean dictatorship—unlike its viciously anti-Semitic counterparts in Argentina and Uruguay—was not particularly hostile to Jews though of course there were Jewish victims of the repression. But when the B’nai B’rith figure expressed mild approval of the dictatorship for its managerial performance, I told him about seeing the Nazi salute at the pro-Pinochet rally. He replied that it was impossible and that it could not have happened. As Upton Sinclair wrote, “It is extremely difficult to make a man understand something when his livelihood depends on not understanding it.”

Chile’s state controlled television stations covered AN rallies, but their broadcasts tended to avoid wide shots, which might have revealed the party’s small membership. Pinochet himself seemed to believe the party was a growing force, for its adherents appeared wherever he did. “I have seen this Avanzada Nacional grow from a small child to a man, but we must sow enough energy into it so that it becomes the first, the first among the political parties, the greatest of all,” he told supporters in 1987.

The following year Pinochet lost a one-man presidential plebiscite and in 1989 free elections were held for a new president and congress. Avanzada Nacional failed to win any seats in either the Chilean Senate or Chamber of Deputies.


A Chile news summary

The BBC Spanish language network, noting the 15-year anniversary of General Augusto Pinochet’s detention in London, asks what real effects his arrest had.  According to Amnesty International, the case gave a boost to the principle of universal jurisdiction in human rights cases: http://www.bbc.co.uk/mundo/noticias/2013/10/131015_chile_pinochet_arresto_vs.shtml

Bloomberg reports that a Pinochet-era business and investment system is being abused by very wealthy Chileans to avoid paying taxes, with only 0.3 percent of taxpayers paying the top rate: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-16/pinochet-era-investment-lure-at-risk-in-chile-election-taxes.html

The Financial Times reports on Chile’s presidential race, where former president Michelle Bachelet leads a field of nine candidates with 44 percent and her opponent Evelyn Matthei with only 12 percent. But the election is likely to go into a second round, as Bachelet seems unlikely to win a clear majority in next month’s voting. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/17c47e14-3266-11e3-91d2-00144feab7de.html#axzz2hvN2YX9M

The Heritage Foundation has an admiring article on Chile’s economic development over the past 25 years: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2013/10/chiles-path-to-development-key-reforms-to-become-the-first-developed-country-in-latin-america

The Christian Science Monitor reports on President Sebastian Pinera’s visit to the San Jose mine on the third anniversary of the miners’ rescue, an event which marked the high point of his administration. He attended the opening of a museum at the site, attended by 13 of the 33 miners and said the rescue changed the meaning of the “Chilean way.”

“Before, the Chilean way meant something half-baked and improvised. It transformed into doing something with faith, unity, and hope,” he said.


Another news roundup

The Economist has a long piece on Chile, the protests by students and other groups and Sebastian Piñera’s presidency: http://www.economist.com/node/21552566

National Public Radio has a review of the Chilean film “Post Mortem,” http://www.npr.org/2012/04/12/150283739/post-mortem-dissecting-chiles-social-trauma, whose protagonist works at a Santiago morgue at the time of the 1973 military coup.

Canada.com 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.http://www.canada.com/news/Chilean+miner+ventures+underground+first+time+since+rescue/6442859/story.html

Chile’s angry copper giant

The Economist’s blog on the Americas has a good summary http://www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2011/11/chiles-mining-industry of the dispute between two titans of the mining world–Chile’s state copper corporation Codelco (the world’s largest copper producer) and Anglo American plc (the world’s largest platinum producer).  Way back in 1978 the two companies signed a contract giving Codelco the option of buying up to 49 percent of Anglo American’s Sur project northeast of Santiago.  Codelco officials now want to exercise this option, using a price formula that Anglo officials says does not take into account the value of new mineral deposits recently discovered at the site.

Anglo American negotiated a deal with Mitsubishi to buy 24.5 percent of the project for almost double the price Codelco wants to pay for its 49 percent share.  Codelco officials are outraged, with one negotiator calling his Anglo American counterparts “English imperialists” who view Chile as something like Africa. The Chilean investigative journalism site CIPER has the following interview with Codelco’s Juan Villarzu:


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

And some more books on the mine rescue

There have been four or five books published in Spanish on the San Jose mine rescue, and one in English by a long-time Chile resident, Jonathan Franklin, who came through London this past week for the UK launch of his book, The 33 (entitled 33 Men in the US).

He said he gained his enviable behind-the-scenes access to the rescue efforts when he happened to run into an acquaintance at the Santiago zoo, who gave him the rescue team’s cell phone numbers. Upon arrival at the mine site, he filled out a form for a rescue team credential, stating that he was a writer, obtained a rescue team credential and for most of the period had a front row view of the operation. And he was responsible for obtaining the sunglasses worn by the miners as they emerged from the mine: Franklin happened to know an Oakley representative and sent an e mail suggesting the company ship 35 pairs of sunglasses to Chile—one for each miner and two spares.

He said most of the miners are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is hardly surprising. The one exception is Jose Henriquez, the evangelical preacher who led his trapped colleagues in prayer. Henriquez did a speaking tour of UK churches this month before joining 23 of the miners and their families on a trip to Israel.

I asked Franklin if there had been any serious safety improvements at Chilean mines since the accident.  He said that while the government has tripled its mine safety budget, such efforts are undermined by high world copper prices, which encourage illegal mining operations.

According to Chile’s Servicio Nacional de Geologia y Mineria, 44 mine workers were killed last year, up from 35 in 2009 and 43 the previous year.  The department’s accident chart lists two accidents in January of this year and two more in February, with four mine workers killed:(http://www.sernageomin.cl/index.php?.option=com_content&task=view&id=144&Itemid=209

And now, the first of many books

The San Jose miners have been above ground barely two weeks and already an enterprising Chilean publisher has brought out a book on their rescue. Underground–33 Miners who Moved the World is written by Francisco Leal Diaz, a journalist and professor at the Universidad Academia Humanismo Cristiano.  He says the 130-page book is written in the style of a novel, and reconstructs events from the tunnel collapse on August 5 to the successful rescue on October 13.

What Else Lies Beneath

The proffered gifts and freebies for Chile’s 33 rescued miners keep coming, with Israel offering the miners and their families a Christmas trip to the Holy Land, flights, lodging, food and excursions included.  Four of the miners appeared this week on a Spanish television talk show, while Edison Pena, an Elvis fan and dedicated runner who forced himself to jog in a tunnel while awaiting rescue, has been invited to Graceland and to take part in the New York Marathon.  A jubilant Sebastian Pinera toured Europe this past week, presenting Britain’s David Cameron and the Queen with rocks from the San Jose mine.  He visited a primary school where he gave the head teacher a T-shirt with an image of the famous note the miners sent to rescuers, and received 33 kitchen towels for each of the miners.  In Germany Angela Merkel gave him a German soccer team jersey autographed by a player who happens to have the same name as one of the miners and whose number is…33.

There was a slight public relations hiccup during the trip, when Pinera is speaking to British reporters about the rescue.  He mentions the note, and his wife murmurs to him in Spanish that he should not pull it out yet again (“No lo muestres”).  The incident was widely reported in the Chilean media, with video links. http://www.emol.com/noticias/nacional/detalle/detallenoticias.asp?idnoticia=442749.

Back home, what kind of support are the miners receiving?  Not enough, according to their lawyer, who has questioned their rapid discharge from the hospital in Copiapo just a few days after their rescue. The athletic Edison Pena was readmitted, suffering from signs of severe depression.  The physician who headed the medical team treating the miners told El Mercurio that the men were still quite fragile, and that the frenzy of celebrations and parties, mixed with heavy alcohol consumption, was not helping matters.  Lawyer Edgardo Reinoso said the miners had begun legal action against the San Esteban mining company, which owns the San Jose mine, as well as the officials who allowed the mine to continue operating under dangerous conditions.   His clients, he said, were “modest working men who are not trying to become millionaires” and who just want to see justice done.

What Lies Beneath

The mine is already shut down or else they’re planning to close it and there isn’t even a hope of a job. On the road again, following another tip, passing through ghost towns where with luck there are a few old folks, a few kids and dogs still around. Or you’re out of luck, because all the tin shacks are gone and there’s not even a watchman left to guard the place, because the plant has moved away, skin and bones and all, and thieves have taken even the rusty nails so all that’s left are graves. There’s just a cemetery like an island in the middle of the desert.  A cemetery with dry, cracked crosses, no hint of color. A dead cemetery, slapped down there by some mysterious hand, offering you no protection from the noonday sun or the nighttime cold. A cemetery where, if you took it into your head to dig, you’d find a corpse as intact as if they’d buried it last week, even though the funeral was twenty years ago.

—Luis Alberto Acuna, Walking the Atacama 

The San Jose mine is closed, perhaps forever, and Chile’s exuberant joy at the miners’ rescue seems to beam itself around the world.  President Sebastian Pinera, a conservative who became president in March after a second round vote, observed that the near-tragedy had changed the country. “I hope that from now on, when people around the world hear the word ‘Chile’ they will not remember the coup d’etat or the dictatorship,” he told the BBC.  “They will remember how all the Chileans were united for the rescue.”  Pinera also promised to review the country’s mine safety regulations and their enforcement.

According to Chile’s National Geological and Mining Service, 34 workers have been killed in mining accidents this year, 35 in 2009 and 43 in 2008.  The Centro de Investigacion e Informacion Periodistica (www.ciperchile.cl), an investigative journalism center in Santiago, produced a lengthy report on the case of Manuel Martinez Vega, a 59-year old miner employed at the small, illegally operating Juanita mine in a part of the Atacama desert known as the Distrito Desesperado.  Two years earlier Chilean authorities, citing various violations, had ordered the mine closed, but the owner continued to operate it, selling the extracted ore to the state mining agency via another small mine he owned.  When a tunnel collapsed the other workers managed to escape, but Martinez Vega was trapped 300 meters below.  After five days the rescue was called off and Martinez Vega pronounced dead, though it was far from clear that he was.  The miner’s long-time girlfriend told CIPER that he had talked to her about crawl spaces and furrows in the mine, where workers might seek refuge in case of an accident.  And a year after the accident the Juanita mine’s owner received permission to operate yet another mine.

Here’s a link to the story (in Spanish):http://ciperchile.cl/2010/09/23/el-drama-del-minero-sepultado-hace-dos-anos-en-un-pique/.