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.

 

 

Raul Castro in Chile, 1959

Browsing the New York Times online archive, I found this curious item:

“Chile gives snub to Major Castro”

It is dated August 19, 1959 and describes how Raul Castro, commander-in-chief of the Cuban armed forces, landed a plane in Santiago after a conference of foreign ministers had ended, ostensibly to take Cuban Foreign Minister Raul Roa Garcia home.

“After a delay in debarking because no suitable ramp could be found, Major Castro was taken to the customs office like any tourist.

The only leading Chilean greeting Major Castro was Senator Salvador Allende, unsuccessful 1958 Presidential candidate of a coalition of extreme Left-wing parties.

At a news conference tonight Major Castro declared “We confess we made an error” in sending a military  aircraft here with soldiers.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The Caravan of Death

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Retired General Sergio Arellano, charged with some of the most egregious human rights violations during Chile’s military regime, died without ever going to prison.

General Sergio Arellano Stark, sometimes referred to as “the butcher” for his role in a series of summary executions in wake of Chile’s 1973 military coup, has died. Here’s part of the story from his notorious tour.

The northern city of Calama, located near Chile’s massive Chuquicamata copper mine, was relatively tranquil on the morning of September 11, 1973, the day the country’s military overthrew the socialist government of President Salvador Allende. The commander of the local army regiment, Colonel Eugenio Rivera, was meeting with a municipal government official to discuss plans for Chile’s two-day fiestas patrias celebrations to be held the following week. When the radio broadcast news of the military uprising, that meeting ended abruptly and Rivera telephoned the army general in charge of the region for instructions. As it turned out, neither he nor the general had been informed of the plans for the coup, as was the case with a number of senior Chilean military officers.

There was little open resistance to the coup, and many of the prisoners arrested in its aftermath had complied with radio and television announcements ordering them to report to authorities. Detainees were prosecuted by a provincial military court, which sentenced them to jail terms but found no evidence of weapons or armaments. One of the shorter sentences, sixty-one days,  was for the director of a local radio station, who had defied orders to shut down the station on the day of the coup.

But the Calama military court’s handling of these cases did not satisfy the authorities in Santiago, and the tribunal’s commander was ordered back to Santiago, where he was arrested, court-martialled and held in three different military installations where he was interrogated and tortured. On October 19 the Calama army base was visited by a senior army general from Santiago, General Sergio Arellano Stark. No one had been told the reason for the visit, and in an interview years later Colonel Rivera told this blogger that he had prepared a schedule for the general that included a formal luncheon and a visit to the copper mine. The Calama troops were standing at attention and the regiment’s band was waiting to perform when a Puma helicopter landed. General Arellano and his committee emerged, dressed in combat uniforms and brandishing their weapons “as if they expected to be met with enemy fire,” Rivera recalled.

Arellano showed Rivera a document designating him as General Augusto Pinochet’s delegate, and asked to see the files on political prisoners held at the base. After looking through the papers the general announced that a military tribunal would be convened after lunch. One of Arellano’s officers asked for and received permission to interrogate the prisoners before the tribunal met, and Rivera took the visiting general on a tour of the Chuquicamata copper mine.

When they returned to the base Rivera asked about the war tribunal and was told it had finished. There was a dinner for General Arellano that evening, and Rivera noticed that one of his officers seemed agitated. When the general and his committee left in the helicopter, the official told Rivera that the war tribunal had convened but when they ordered the prisoners to appear they were told that the twenty-six men had just been executed on the orders of Arellano’s officer. He and the other officers at the Calama base seemed in a state of shock, Rivera recalled, and said that one of the executed prisoners happened to be the brother of one of the regiment’s non-commissioned officers.

Calama was the last stop on what would become known as the Caravan of Death, a seven-city tour in which 97 prisoners were summarily executed. In 2008 Arellano and six other officers were sentenced to prison for their role in the killings, but by then Arellano was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was spared jail time. He ended his days in a Santiago nursing home.

Here’s a link to a radio interview by my friend and colleague Lezak Shallat with Zita Cabello-Barrueto, the sister of one of the men killed by the Caravan of Death: https://soundcloud.com/lshallat/zita-cabello-barruetos-search-for-spring-how-the-sister-of-pinochet-victim-prevailed-in-a-us-court The interview will air on March 15 at 7 pm in the show La Raza Chronicle on KPFA 94.1 FM.

And a link to Zita’s book, In Search of Spring: a sister’s quest to unearth the truth about her brother’s assassination by Chile’s Caravan of Death:http://www.amazon.co.uk/Search-Spring-sisters-brothers-assassination/dp/1500256757/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457627941&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=zita+cabello+barrueto+arch+of+spring

 

Wonder-Makers

tapalibromaravilladoraspoesia

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

A special prison in Chile, now full to capacity

iu

Chile’s Punta Peuco prison, the special prison that opened in 1995 to house inmates convicted of human rights abuses during the military dictatorship, is now overcrowded, according to justice officials. The news came as six retired military officers were sentenced this past week for their role in the notorious Caravan of Death case, a series of summary executions of prisoners in several cities in the Atacama desert in wake of the 1973 military coup.

According to Chilean officials, the prison was built to hold 112 inmates and was already filled to capacity before this most recent judgement. And more prisoners are expected when the Supreme Court rules on another infamous case later this year. La Tercera has this story http://www.latercera.com/noticia/nacional/2016/02/680-668050-9-ingresan-seis-internos-a-punta-peuco-y-penal-excede-limite-maximo.shtml

Some haunting images, and an old bank heist

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A woman begging on a city street, part of Marcelo Montecino’s photographic essay in Chile’s urban cultural journal Bifurciones.

Marcelo Montecino has a photographic essay entitled Indiferencia in the Chilean journal of urban culture, Bifurcaciones http://www.bifurcaciones.cl/2016/01/indiferencia/ . In one photograph an exhausted-looking woman cradles her child on the steps leading to the Santiago metro while an older child sits behind her. Another shows a street musician sitting on the ground with his guitar, little noticed by pedestrians. There are ten black and white photographs in all. Bifurcaciones began publishing in 2004 and its stated mission is “to support and promote critical and rigorous reflections on contemporary urban life.

The news site OZY (which takes its name from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” published a piece by Jose Fermoso on a 1981 bank robbery in northern Chile http://www.ozy.com/flashback/the-heist-that-broke-pinochets-back/65254 committed by two of the Pinochet regime’s security agents. The case gave Chileans a brief glimpse of the criminal elements operating within the secret police organization, the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI). It’s a good read.