Earthquakes and borders

Now this is scary. Seismologists at the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado and the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam are predicting that northern Chile is due for another major earthquake, which will be much worse than the previous one.  Last April Chile suffered a magnitude 8.2 earthquake northwest of the port city of Iquique, killing six people and causing economic damage estimated at around $100 million. But this was only a prelude to something more serious, though scientists are unable to predict when this will take place.

This “seismic hot spot” is caused by the shifting of two tectonic plates: the oceanic Nazca Plate is moving under the Pacific Plate along the South American continent’s Pacific coast. According to Scientific American, “much of that fault is currently fully locked in position, building up stress.”

This territory was once controlled by Peru and Bolivia, and won by Chile after the War of the Pacific (1879-1883). Why go to war over an earthquake-prone desert with a coast vulnerable to tsunamis?  Mineral wealth is one reason; the region contains some of Chile’s biggest mines. Bolivia has never recovered from the loss of its sea outlet, and this has been a bitterly contentious issue ever since. Patricio Navia, writing in the Buenos Aires Herald, has this good backgrounder on the dispute:

And there are issues with Peru as well. The digital newspaper El Mostrador reports that Peruvian hackers managed to get into the Chilean air force’s computer network, extracting e mail correspondence with several U.S. and Israeli defense companies sent between February and May of last year. The newspaper quotes sources close to the Chilean air force as saying the e mail content is not a national security risk, while the hackers announced via Twitter that their actions were a “cybernetic revenge” for a similar attack by Chilean hackers five years ago. An investigation has been launched.


Chile scenes of winter

The view from an apartment building in eastern Santiago. Photo by Odette Magnet.

The smog is awful in Santiago this time of year, but when you can see the snow-capped Andes in the distance the Chilean capital is a delight.  CNN International has just given it third place, behind Shanghai and Tokyo, in its list of the world’s ten most loved cities.

“There are bigger Carnivals and Tango festivals on the other side of the Andes, but would Buenos Aires or Rio look nearly this poised after being rocked 28 centimeters to the left by an 8.8 earthquake?” the report asks. It calls Santiago “South America’s version of every fine North American left coast city, “except with nicer weather than Vancouver, happier music than Seattle, sexier cafes than Portland, better bar hours and caipirinha prices than L.A. and cooler-looking people in gray suits and shades than San Francisco.”,1


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.

Tsunami anniversaries

Here’s a good read:  In the Buenos Aires Herald, Chilean political scientist Patricio Navia has an interesting column on the one-year anniversary of Japan’s tsunami after a recent visit to that country.  He reports that reconstruction is moving much faster than in Chile, which suffered an earthquake and tsunami two years ago, and observes that the Japanese have more trust in their institutions.

A Chilean news roundup

“Do Graves of Dictators Really Become Shrines?” is the title of a report in Foreign Policy,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.

The Economist has yet another good article on Chile’s student protests and the stalled negotiations with the government:

The website Earthquake Report is posting updates on the Hudson volcano explosion in southern Chile, where at least 128 people have been evacuated:

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.

The Santiago Times published a report on emergency bioterrorism drills underway in Chile,  under the auspices of Organization of American States (OAS)  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.”



“No one deserves to die like that, especially when you’re extending a helping hand to others,” a Chilean colleague remarked to me.  She was referring, of course, to Friday’s air crash off the Juan Fernandez archipelago in which 21 people are presumed dead.  Among the victims were five journalists from Chile’s national television network who travelling to the Pacific territory to report on reconstruction after last year’s earthquake and tsunami.

The area was home for four years to shipwrecked sailor Alexander Selkirk, who may have inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel Robinson Crusoe. The earthquake that struck Chile generated a tsunami that killed eight people on the largest island, which has a population of approximately 630 people and lies 375 miles west of the mainland.

Chile’s defense minister toured the crash site and afterwards said authorities had concluded that the twin-propeller Casa C-212 plane would have crashed with such impact that all those on board died instantly. The pilot was considered one of the best and brightest, a 26-year old woman who had flown a number of difficult missions in the past and was a member of Chile’s elite Fifth Air Brigade. For more background, see

The tragedy prompted a postponement of former president Salvador Allende’s third funeral, scheduled for Sunday, the anniversary of his 1970 election.  His remains were exhumed in May and examined by a team of specialists who concluded that the Chilean leader had committed suicide.  A statement by the Fundacion Salvador Allende said the family wanted to extend its sympathies to the victims’ families and that a date for the burial would be announced later.