Saturday, May 14, 2011

Patagonia Sin Represas

The enormous HydroAysen dam project in Patagonia took center stage this week in Chile. It's about building 5 dams to try to address Chile's growing energy needs (the vast majority of the energy goes to the copper mines in the north, but they sell the project as helping average consumers. Indirectly it does help them as copper basically is the country's wealth. But why not just say that? After Japan, nuclear power plants have been shelved...thank goodness, this is earthquake central...more later on the famous drink, 'terramoto') The whole project has been badly mishandled by the powers that be..from Pres. Pinera who campaigned against it and has now switched... as it turns out his wife's family is heavily invested in the project (which is a whole nother enormous people in elected office ...we've seen how it's damaged our country and Pinera is doing the same here... aside from his wife, he is involved in sports, LAN airlines and the media, which is scary, sort of the Berlusconi thing..a media mogul as pres. is basically a disaster for free speech). Then they had this vote by 11 counselors (I'm not quite sure what a counselor is--they all voted for it, with one abstention) but apparently it was already a done deal. So obviously people are pissed. It's basically big business and the 'pretend' democracy involved was revealed to be a sort of hoax as far as I can tell, but I'm still trying to figure it out. Anyway, the students took to the streets every single day and it got violent a few times. The students chant 'Patagonia Sin Represas' (Patagonia without dams), so I think the central issue really is environmental, but of course, dams also destroy the towns and livelihoods of rural people so it's about more than the environment.. ...It's neoliberalism once again, our lovely unsustainable world economic culture which is a virulent enemy of the people, unless you happen to favor a Brave New World future complete with soma (I think we translate that as Gucci, iphone or Nike currently). People are also joking that it's the 'reconquista' as Spanish companies are running the whole thing.
I went to three or four of the demos and it's always hard to tell how things get ugly, but from what I saw it's the Carabineros (the police) who attack the students with tear gas and water cannons. It's no wonder it turns violent, with rocks and paint balls thrown. I really don't understand why the Carabineros are so heavy-handed, but apparently it's the Minister of the Interior, Rodrigo Hinzpeter, pictured above. His name certainly doesn't help as everyone makes the obvious joke, and though I try not to fall for the cheap 'nazi' label in such matters, there is a disturbing fascist tradition in Chile that keeps asserting itself...from the obsession with Prussian style military training to an actual attempted fascist coup in the 30s and the creepy fascist youth of the Allende years to a disturbing regard for all things German and orderly, and apparently a rather large neo-Nazi movement, that is malignant enough that Jewish people here are basically closeted about their ethnicity, or so a young man told me. He said Hasidic Jews could never walk around here. That's pretty awful. I'm not equating German with fascism, I hate when people do that, but I'm afraid there's a creepy Chilean connection to that part of German history--and yes, plenty of Nazis came and hid out here and were basically allowed to stay. In other words, there are people on the right here who seem to have connected to the dark side of German culture, and perhaps to the dark side of American culture as well (Milton Friedman, SUVs)?
Anyway, it appears that Hinzpeter is the problem as during the Bachelet years, students could march up to La Mondeda (the presidential palace). Under Pinera/Hinzpeter, no more....they are driven back a few blocks out with tear gas and water cannon. That is enough in my book to get rid of Pinera as soon as possible. This country seems to have one of the 'best' lefts and the worst rights. What a mix. Class I'm afraid, but you really have to admire the Chilean left, they've worked very clean from the start, and Allende remains the unassailable leftist leader of complete integrity. On the right, you don't have one...basically because it's not possible, I'm sorry to say and Chile drives that point home.
Back to the Carabineros...they are generally nice to people and don't seem to be at odds with the population (of course a lot of the population is pretty conservative and seems more than happy to watch the water cannons go off, and there's the disturbing reality that 'they follow orders', irregardless of the moral quality of those orders). It does get a bit comic, a sort of cat and mouse game of the guanacos and armored cars chasing the students who run down old skinny streets that the guanacos can't get down (such as Londres which has the names of all the young activists Pinochet killed embedded into the old bricks of the street....its pretty awful to look at dozens of names, with their ages ....22, 21, 23 next to them...I mean what kind of monster would kill a 21-year-old for his political  beliefs?). Reminded me of ACT UP demos in SF in the 80s/90s. Anyway, here are some pics, and not great ones, but I did get my first dose of tear definitely gets people to disperse and lingers in the air for hours. I've luckily avoided the water cannons which rumor has it contain chemicals, dirty river water or perhaps Carabinero piss...rumors abound.

water cannon courtesy of the guanacos

tear gas

armored vehicle

On a lighter note, I headed out to UNESCO World Heritage Site City extraordinaire, Valparaiso.
This was my favorite stop on my last trip through Chile and it's nice to have a chance to share some pictures of its charming architecture and winding streets....albeit on an overcast day:

one of the funiculars that take people up the hills...called Ascencores (elevators)

a perro callejero crashed out in a church
And now for the piece de resistance....a terremoto.... which is not a very good drink, but very's basically rotgut white wine with a bit of Fernet and a dollup of pineapple ice cream....and one of these will basically shift an afternoon into gear as it did with my class after we visted the big central market, "La Vega" and were encouraged by our sweet Danish classmates Luise and Astrid to have a go at a terremoto....I love Danish people, I've consistenly had great experiences with all of them I've met traveling, from a gent in Siena, Italy (1984) who insisted we drink Wild Turkey and talk about Ronald Reagan to a charming young man in Greece who made a long sea voyage a total delight....and Astrid gets major points because she told me my spanish is 'so good and she wants to talk like me'.....there is no greater compliment I could hope for, but sadly, I'm afraid it's not true... but it's nice to hear! Thank you Astrid! Another Great Dane! Bad joke, I know :)

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