A Chile roundup

Olga Weisfeiler, whose brother disappeared on a hiking trip to Chile in 1985, is making her 13th trip to the country to press for a resolution in the case.  In August of last year an investigating judge ordered the arrest of eight retired police and military officials in connection with the kidnapping and disappearance of Boris Weisfeiler, a mathematics professor at Penn State University and experienced backcountry trekker.  But since then there have been no significant developments in the investigation, and Olga Weisfeiler is meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Santiago as well as Chilean officials to discuss the case. A story in the Boston Globe reports that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has taken an interest in the Weisfeiler disappearance:  http://bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2013/03/31/for-newton-woman-quest-for-closure-continues-brother-disappearance-chile-three-decades-ago/M20LMeXq9Z24sodZnNDMSP/story.html

The New York Times book review has an article on Chilean novelist Alejandro Zamba’s  three short works, “Bonsai,” “The Private Lives of Trees” and “Ways of Going Home.”http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/31/books/review/ways-of-going-home-by-alejandro-zambra.html?ref=books

The Centro de Investigacion Periodistica (CIPER) has a story http://ciperchile.cl/2013/03/06/empresa-de-la-universidad-de-harvard-es-procesada-por-tala-ilegal-de-bosque-nativo-en-chiloe/ on companies owned by Harvard University accused of illegal logging in southern Chile.   The I Love Chile news web site has the English version of the story: http://www.ilovechile.cl/2013/03/20/harvard-university-companies-accused-illegal-logging-chilo/83237

The New York Daily News has an article on harvesting water from fog in the Atacama desert, noting that “fog catchers” made of giant mesh nettings held by pipes are revolutionizing life in the world’s driest desert, “to the point where small-scale agriculture has become possible.” http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/world-driest-desert-chile-harvests-water-fog-article-1.1304082

Some good reads for the weekend

The new issue of ReVista, Harvard University’s twice-yearly magazine on Latin America, is all about the region’s universities and contains an excellent piece on Chile’s student protests by Wake Forest University’s Peter Siavelis. Subtitled “The Original Sin of Educational Policy,” the article http://www.drclas.harvard.edu/publications/revistaonline/fall-2012/chiles-student-protests looks at the origins of the protests, noting they began with a nationwide movement of secondary students during the government of President Michelle Bachelet and subsided somewhat for reasons having to do “less as a result of progress on the educational front than because of the personal popularity of Michelle Bachelet and her acumen in managing an economic crisis that threw most of the rest of the world for a loop.”  The election of a conservative, Sebastian Pinera, “re-opened the floodgates of protest,” he writes.

The Washington Post has a travel piece by Anja Mutic on northern Chile’s ghost towns http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/the-ghost-towns-of-northern-chile/2012/10/25/fa4adad0-16e2-11e2-a55c-39408fbe6a4b_story.html, accompanied by some stunning black and white photographs.

Forbes Magazine has an article on Refugia, a recently opened hotel on Chiloe whose architect designed the building with a nod to the island’s traditional architecture http://www.forbes.com/sites/heidimitchell/2012/10/26/travel/.  The hotel sits on steel pillars, mimicking the wooden houses on stilts typical of the area, and “every piece of furniture or pillow is locally made by hand, and there are no televisions—just acres of glass overlooking the seal-grey sea and the ever-changing weather.”

More on landmine clearance in Chile

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia region 

This month the Chilean army will begin removing landmines along the road from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine National Park http://www.torresdelpaine.com/ingles/index.asp in the country’s southern Patagonia region. The area is a prime tourist destination, attracting around 150,000 visitors annually, and this is what the U.S. State Department has to say about safety:

Minefields are found in Chile’s northern border region with Peru and Bolivia and around the southern border with Argentina in Patagonia. Minefields are generally marked, but markers may have shifted or may not be visible. Follow clearly identified roads and trails when traveling in minefield areas. Border crossings should only be made at authorized locations. Consult with park or other local officials concerning minefields and other hazards.http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1088.html#safety

And the British Foreign Office tells travellers:

Chile has a small but significant landmine problem. Landmine accidents mainly affect livestock and small numbers of local people crossing the borders at unauthorised crossing points. Minefields are located primarily in the border areas adjacent to Peru and Bolivia in the extreme north of Chile, Regions XV, I and II, and Argentina in the south in Region XII. Although most minefields are clearly marked, some signs and fences have been subjected to the effects of weather or vandalism and may be hard to recognise, particularly in the north of the country. Minefields are, in some cases, laid right up to the edge of highways. You should also be aware that there are mined areas in six government-protected wilderness areas in Regions XV,I and II in the north and XII in the south. You are advised to check with local authorities before travelling to these areas, stick to clearly marked roads and observe all warning signs.http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-advice-by-country/south-america/chile

A recent story by Mercopress states that the Chilean army is working to clear five minefields in the area, including 30 hectares owned by a rancher who has lost 26 cattle to explosions.http://en.mercopress.com/2012/09/24/chilean-army-begins-october-demining-of-route-leading-to-torres-del-paine-park

And the American defence magazine Dialogo has just published this report on landmine clearance along Chile’s border with Peru, where last February heavy rains dislodged several explosive artefacts and forced the temporary closure of the Panamerican Highway: http://www.dialogo-americas.com/en_GB/articles/rmisa/features/regional_news/2012/10/01/chile-landmines

Cops and journalists in Chile

Ever wonder what it would be like to be arrested during a demonstration in Chile? Read this account by Santiago Times photojournalist Jason Suder in the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-suder/chile-freedom-of-press_b_1324547.html

There’s a companion piece in the  Santiago Times on press freedom in Chile and elsewhere in the region: http://www.santiagotimes.cl/opinion/opinion/23515-one-step-forward-two-steps-back-press-freedom-in-chile


It sits on the top of the Chilean archipelago, that region of the country where much of the mainland seems to crumble into islands. Charles Darwin visited during the summer of 1834, and wrote about it in his diaries. Chilean novelist Isabel Allende used it as the setting for her latest book, Maya’s Notebook. Before he became president, Sebastian Piñera acquired 118,000 thousand hectares of land on the island’s south side and turned it into a nature park (http://www.parquetantauco.cl/). Now it seems Chiloe Island is going to have a large modern shopping mall, much to the disgust of many architects, historical preservationists and environmental groups.

The island’s unique architectural style has earned many of its buildings a UNESCO designation as World Heritage Sites. The mall is going up near the Iglesia San Francisco, one of Chiloe’s churches which UNESCO says “represents a unique example in Latin America of an outstanding form of ecclesiastical architecture” dating from the time of the Jesuit missions in the 17th and 18th centuries http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/971.

Here’s the Facebook page campaigning against the mall: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=198622940238261&set=a.105966459503910.6615.100002716698917&type=1&theater

And here’s an article from the Santiago Times on Chiloe’s buildings, food and folklore:http://www.santiagotimes.cl/travel/149-travel-news/23393-moving-house-a-centuries-old-chiloe-summer-tradition

In Patagonia

The protests in the Aysen region of southern Chile show little sign of ending soon, with roadblocks and demonstrations by local residents venting grievances that have been accumulating for years.  This past week the New York Times ran a background story http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/02/world/americas/in-patagonia-caught-between-visions-of-the-future.html and a photo feature by Jorge Uzon, who has been photographing the region during four trips he has made since 2008 http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/01/a-personal-landscape-in-patagonia/.

The unrest is having an economic impact, with over $50 million in losses to the salmon industry and an 80 percent drop in visitors to the region, according to the I Love Chile news web site http://ilovechile.cl/2012/03/04/cruise-ships-cancel-visits-due-aysen-protests/49658.

There is a stunning cruise ship route between the Chilean port of Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, with a stop in Puerto Montt, a passage through the fjords to Puerto Chacabuco—the port of entry to the Aysen region—and onto to the Argentine port of Usuaia, the Falkland Islands, Montevideo and the Argentine capital. But the unrest has prompted some ships to bypass Puerto Chacabuco, and those flying British flags or those from British territories which stop in the Falklands are now being banned from docking in Argentina. The Chicago Tribune carried this story by the Associated Press: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-bc-lt–chile-frustratedcruises,0,5230823.story

A road, a park, a controversy

You can’t drive all the way to the southern end of Chile, where the lakes give way to an archipelago and the narrow mainland becomes even narrower.  About 45 kilometers south of Puerto Montt, the overland traveller must take two ferries to reach Chaiten,  the town adjacent to a volcano that erupted in 2008 and forced the evacuation of its 3,000 residents.

There are plans to extend the Carretera Austral (formerly known as the Carretera General Augusto Pinochet) to connect the remote towns in Chile’s far south, but the land on this narrowest stretch of mainland territory is covered by the Parque Pumalin(www.parquepumalin.cl), a nature reserve created by American businessman and environmentalist Douglas Tompkins. The park’s defenders argue that building a road would damage the area, which supports small organic farms and eco-tourism. According to its website, the project “is aware of the need to include neighbours of the park to create a shared feeling for the need to protect wildlands and biodiversity, often a consciousness that is lacking due to the cultural and historical conditions.”

This week the Chilean minister of public works Laurence Golborne (former mining minister who oversaw last year’s rescue of 33 trapped miners) met with Tompkins to inform him the government was going ahead with the road extension and was confiscating the first six miles of territory inside Parque Pumalin.  Judging by Tompkins’ and Golborne’s statements following the meeting, the encounter was relatively civil.

The story in the Santiago Times: http://www.santiagotimes.cl/chile/environment/patagonia-times/regional-news/22249-park-expropriation-set-for-chiles-carretera-austral-extension