Archive for January, 2010
A high-profile mishap involving an experimental electricity project near one of Chile’s top tourist attractions has exposed serious shortcomings in the country’s laissez-faire approach to energy production.
Last year environmental authorities in Region II, an area of northern Chile that contains the high-plains Atacama desert, gave energy company Geotermica del Norte (GDN) permission to conduct exploratory drilling on what promised to be the country’s first geothermal electricity plant. Geothermal facilities harness energy from underground hot springs (steam) to push conventional turbines. Considered a renewable and environmentally friendly energy source, the technique is used in more than 20 countries worldwide but accounts for just a tiny fraction (0.3%) of the planet’s total electricity production. Read the rest of this entry ?
Two decades after the end of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year military regime (1973-1990), the “other” Sept. 11–the anniversary of Chile’s bloody 1973 coup–continues to evoke a painful past, aggravate old wounds, and expose the country’s enduring political and social divisions.
The scene in several of Santiago’s impoverished outer districts was sadly familiar: along bonfire-lit streets, police and protestors marked the inauspicious date with violent confrontations that culminated in more than 200 arrests and left three civilians dead, the Ministerio del Interior reported.
Two days later, some 3,000 demonstrators made their annual march to Santiago’s Cementerio General. Led by family members of the regime’s many victims, the protestors gathered in front of the Memorial Detenidos Desaparecidos y Ejecutados Politicos, where their ceremony was broken up by riot police wielding tear gas and using water cannons. Read the rest of this entry ?
A flurry of prisoner deaths has brought renewed attention to a distressing yet often-ignored reality in Chile–that left behind in the country’s “miracle” rush toward First World status is a troubled prison system that the Corte Suprema de Justicia (CSJ) calls “inhuman, degrading, and cruel.”
In late April, fire broke out during a riot in Colina II, a large and typically overcrowded prison on the northern outskirts of Santiago. The blaze killed 10 inmates. Less than two weeks later, in the same facility, a fight between rival gangs left two more prisoners dead.
The deadly fire prompted an investigation by the CSJ, which subsequently released a report confirming what human rights groups have claimed for years–that Chile’s prison system is bursting at the seams, more or less incapable of rehabilitating its inmates, and extremely dangerous. The author of the report, prosecutor Monica Maldonado, described the system as simply “inhumane, degrading, and cruel.” Read the rest of this entry ?
A slick-haired upstart with limited political experience is making a surprising run at Chile’s presidency, squeezing his way into what until recently looked to be a two-horse race between graying veterans former President Eduardo Frei (1994-2000) and Sebastian Pinera, the runner-up in the 2006 election.
Two months ago few took Marco Enriquez-Ominami seriously as a legitimate challenger. A first-term deputy known as much for his foray into filmmaking as for his public-service record, the 36-year-old Enriquez-Ominami barely registered in national surveys. Critics were quick to dismiss him as too young, too inexperienced, and more a show-business figure than a serious statesman. Read the rest of this entry ?
As climate change, pollution, and industrial consumption place increasing pressure on Chile’s freshwater supply, a growing chorus of voices is beginning to demand serious reform to the country’s privatized water system, first instituted during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).
Critics point to numerous water-based conflicts to argue that the current system of privately owned usage rights favors the interests of large corporations–particularly mining and energy companies–over the needs of regular citizens. Evidence that Chile’s many glaciers are rapidly receding suggests that, in the years to come, the country’s “water wars” are only likely to intensify. Read the rest of this entry ?
Ida Huenulef has neither seen nor spoken with her son in three weeks, not since the night an overwhelming contingent of police burst into her Santiago home, pointed machine guns at her head, and dragged Miguel Tapia Huenulef away by his long black hair.
After learning nothing more about her son’s whereabouts than what she could glean from snippets on the television news, Huenulef now at least knows where he is–locked up inside a high-security prison in Valdivia, more than 800 km south of Santiago.
She has also learned that Tapia, a 45-year-old construction worker of Mapuche descent, is the first Chilean since President Michelle Bachelet came to office three years ago to be processed under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law (Ley 19.027), a relic of the Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) dictatorship. Read the rest of this entry ?
Triggered by the outbreak in 2007 of a deadly fish disease, Chile’s long buoyant farmed-salmon industry is suddenly sinking, dragging thousands of area jobs down with it.
Although authorities have yet to agree on an official figure, estimates suggest the country’s once-healthy salmon companies have laid off somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 industry workers since Infectious Salmon Anemia, or ISA, was first discovered in Chilean waters.
With production levels expected to drop significantly in 2009, the number of unemployed is likely to spike, bad news indeed for southern Chile’s salmon-dependent economy.
“Salmon is what moves this area,” said union head Doris Paredes of the Llanquihue chapter of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT). “It’s the only industry that provides widespread employment, that is able to absorb the work force. Because everything around here depends on salmon. Maybe on a national level, the layoffs taking place here aren’t that significant. But in their local impact, they’re huge.” Read the rest of this entry ?
Chile’s center-left Concertacion may finally be losing its magic touch. In last month’s municipal elections the governing coalition–which has dominated Chilean politics for the past two decades–suffered what is widely considered its first “defeat,” losing to the conservative Alianza partnership. It now faces an even bigger challenge in the Alianza’s Sebastian Pinera, a wealthy businessman and former senator who enjoys early front-runner status ahead of next year’s presidential contest.
The Alianza, representing the conservative Union Democrata Indpendiente (UDI) and Pinera’s center-right Renovacion Nacional (RN), won 40.5% of votes cast in the Oct. 26 mayoral contests, edging out the Concertacion (38.4%) for the first time ever. The four-party governing coalition still holds a slight advantage in overall mayorships: 146 to the Alianza’s 142. That lead is tiny, however, compared to the 203-104 advantage it enjoyed after the last municipal elections, in 2004. Read the rest of this entry ?