President Michelle Bachelet was walking in Santiago de Chile’s Barrio Brasil, there were no street lights, she had loaded herself with bags from a recent shopping trip and she was assaulted, by Transantiago.
Todos al agua…con TranSanfiasco.
On a Monday night a twenty-something girl from Santa Barbara, California and her mother walking in the Santiago, Chile neighborhood of Barrio Brasil were accosted by four young assailants. It was ten o´clock at night and they were laden with shopping bags from a department store. Two months earlier someone had broken into their home and according to the daughter, tried to rape her mother. “I don’t know what happened,” she told me, “but we started to fight back.” They fought back with kicks and punches, two on four, with piercing screams and coursing adrenaline. The robbers took one of their bags and ran off.
(In a side note, I heard 7 gunshots from a large caliber handgun the other night, and the local upholsterer…who shaves at night and rarely closes his storefront, said that he witnessed three guys break a lock with a swift blow, enter the house, take something that he said it was apparent they were looking for and then leave, only minutes later) See Chileno for another recent Barrio Brasil gunshot (two to be exact) incident.
When I saw the couple, across the way from my home, the mother was clinging, wild-eyed, to a street sign and the daughter chattering energetically in a fluid yet rough Spanish to a group of Chileans who had called police.
This was also the night in which President Michelle Bachelet started to kick and punch in lets say, her way, making the third cabinet alteration in slightly more than a year, sacking her General Secretary, Paulina Veloso, Defense Secretary, Vivianne Blanlot, Minister of Justice, Isidro Solis, and the Minister of Transportation, Sergio Espejo. With this movement, she sets off-balance the gender parity which she had very publicly established at the beginning of her term and gets criticized the next day for it. Now there are 13 men and 9 women in her cabinet. For some it was seen as an instance of flexibility. El Mercurio called it “another promise not kept.”
The severely ailing transportation reform in the capital city of Santiago called Transantiago has begun to generate its political costs.
“Things have not been done well, not in the Government,” she declared in her television address, “nor by the businesses involved in the system.” The Administración Financiera de Transantiago (AFT) is a financial and technological conglomerate composed of the state-owned Banco Estado, SONDA, Banco Santander, Banco de Chile, BCI and CMR Falabella. There are fourteen concessionaire companies responsible for separate routes with Colombian, French, Spanish firms and Chilean firms participating. Bus companies and owners have been notoriously deficient up to date in keep float numbers high, especially highlighted by the activities of the intransigent former bus tsar Manuel Navarrete.
Transantiago is kicking her ass, and unfortunately it wasn’t even a problem of her design. This new system is based on Colombia’s TransMilenio and was designed over a period of five years under the administration of Ricardo Lagos. It is now cultivating bad moods, lack of confidence and frustration by the people outside the government, while creating instability within her government. The idea that she is a president of the people, the head of a “gobierno ciudadano,” which can have a real effect on people’s “hogares,” or homes, as she refers to in speeches, is coming under severe and dangerous questioning reflected in polled popularity levels tracking steadily downwards, a five point drop since early March (51-46) with an increase of people unhappy with her administration (36 – 41).
The overwhelmingly comprehensive transportation reform is trying to replace the chaotic private system characterized by its unruly drivers, poorly maintained and visually unappealing yellow buses and high speeds. It was also known for being fun, especially near Barrio Suecia at closing time around 4 am, slightly dangerous, unruly, relatively effective and an incredible study in anthropology. (see the trailer of the upcoming feature film on the yellow buses in Santiago, Microfilia, by Josh Cohen)
There are not enough new buses for the people because the concessionaires and owners of the buses have failed to meet their contractual needs. 5600 buses was the hoped for number and now only 4900 are circulating. On-board GPS systems and passenger counters, the designated technocratic keystones of efficient and timely bus routing aren’t working. The new bus routes seemed to be designed by people who don’t ride buses as they don’t cover the equivalent “last mile” from the main bus lines to the interiors of often dangerous and poorly lit neighborhoods, the geographic areas most needed by the people who use the bus. Lastly, bus drivers are complaining that its routes were designed without the input of people who most knew of buses, drivers and bus company administrators.
Go here for a photo of one of the numerous protests which occurred as the failings of Transantiago began to be made apparent, especially in outlying neighborhoods. (Many of these neighborhoods have no street lighting because robbers have stolen the copper cabling. Copper prices are at record highs and there are professional rackets which are sending it to China.)
Add these circumstances to an already tough week. The yearly celebration of the Dia del Joven Combatiente, (and in english) is a violent and fiery memorial to the deaths of the two brothers Vergara Toledo by police bullets in 1985. It is characterized by masked students facing off police with molotov cocktails and street barricades in the Arts and Humanities faculty of the University of Chile (La Piedragogica). A member of the encapuchados decorates his toddler son’s bedroom with images of gun barrels. This week, small explosives (some noise bombs, some inflammatory) were planted in various parts of Santiago (car dealerships, banks). They may be related (Much to my happiness the US Embassy has declared a “Warden’s Message” warning of travel in Santiago on the 29th.)
See La Nación Domingo for another take on the masked, armed revolutionaries.
Bus drivers are planning a work stoppage at around 7pm Thursday, supposedly due to the threat of damage to their buses because of these protests. Also, economic growth is down despite solid macroeconomic indicators, a mystery to economic whiz-kid and economic minister, Andres Velasco, a respected master of volatility conversations, and key advisers to the Central Bank and its head, Vittorio Corbo. Plus it is raining, a traditionally trying time for the transportation system here, with gutters overflowing and streets flooding.
Luckily, the right wing is in disarray, so real harm is unlikely.
A ride on Transantiago during rush hour is something I have yet to do, primarily because officials refer to the amount of space on subway platforms in terms of people-per-cubed meter. Studies have been popping up in the news indicating that oxygen levels are low due to congestion. A few people have fainted and one person died of a heart attack. Now, the union of subway workers has been publicly complaining to the press that they are being mistreated, yelled at and pushed, while trying to direct passengers on platforms. They cite a tense and impatient atmosphere. At least its cheap. Transfers between buses and metro is almost free within two hours, as registered on one’s tarjeta “Bip!” or smart card.
The subway system is being maxed out at peak hours, especially in the morning, as daily usage tops out at around 2 million people. Users have been trying to avoid the surface transit system, the emblematic buses, because their frequency is unevenly distributed and thus invariably slow and crowded. The overwhelming majority of transportation needs in Santiago has been filled by the buses. Some cite statistics of around 40 percent of the population of Santiago (6 million) moves in bus, and less than 10% in Metro.
A friend rode to the “Piedragogico,” a play on words between Rocks (Piedras) and the Teachers University (Pedagogico), and it took him an hour each way, a ride that should take an half that.
He described a chaotic situation. The articulated long bus, with what its point of articulation called an oruga (leading to the moniker “Transtortuga”) had a bottleneck at the front, with space in the back. Users shouted for those standing to move to the back…and then the shouting match began. The solidarity with your brother was forgotten, even though in this instance it was very reasonable. Back and forth, until people slowly filed to the back. And then a pair of pickpockets got on board to work the crowd, only to be shouted off quickly.
Jokes about women getting impregnated while riding the bus, or old ladies riding around in order to score touches or pills to calm sensitive organs in tight situations have abounded. Bachelet called for a “mano dura” in prosecuting men who sexually harass women, or commit as they say here, “tocaciones deshonestas” while on the public transportation system. There is even public testimony of men harassing men.
Over the last few weeks, the Metro has been closing stations for periods of 3 to 15 minutes in order to clear up platforms, much to the anxiety of patrons, who in some cases have broken the locks and forced the gates back open. All this, mind you, starts at 630 in the morning, when the masses of laborers on Santiago’s outskirts begin their cold march to the three municipalities in which 70% of jobs are concentrated, Santiago, Providencia and Las Condes.
The Transantiago launch had been postponed multiple times, last in October, 2006, and Lagos was accused of manipulating the issue for electoral purposes. The former public works minister and subsequently president of Chile was an immensely popular president recognized for his connection to the people, slightly dictatorial demeanour and political effectiveness. Now he is getting duly getting questioned for his role in designing the program. If it were allowed, he would have run for a second six-year term, before this “episodio bochornoso.” Former coordinator of the planning of Transantiago during the government of Lagos, German Correa, has come out saying that his calls indicating that the magnitude of this change was to imply significant trouble fell to deaf ears in the government of Lagos. “I couldn’t convince him,” he stated recently in hindsight. I wonder what Lagos could be doing, if anything, behind the scenes, to rectify the situation that he has created.
foto by JI Stark
Ricardo Lagos is a “progress” oriented Socialist and ex-MAPU. I would say he was a progressive populist who was essentially a capitalist who ran roughshod over environmental and community concerns in order to facilitate the creation of industrial production outlets like cellulose plants and hydroelectric dams, and set up the network of toll roads that run the length of Chile, through neighborhoods and nature preserves. He lunched with the economic elite every week and chastised people who spoke out of turn at press conferences.
He would be a style of parent who forced nasty tasting cough syrup down your throat even though for one, it tasted bad, and two, it made you feel funny and weird, yet you, as a child, couldn’t articulate your intuition, and even if you could, it wouldn’t be listened to because your father said that this was to be good for you.
So be it then, that Ricardo Lagos Weber, the son of Ricardo Lagos and the minister current government’s spokesperson, is feeling uncomfortable with government and is feeling excluded from important decisions. La Tercera newspaper reports in a good Chilean way by speculating. “In moments that the system of transportation has strongly eroded the the relation of former president Ricardo Lagos, the forced exit of Lagos Weber could create a strong impasse with Lagos’s political sector.” It didn’t happen, of course, although it was speculated that he should have gone. Lagos jr. calls his relation with Bachelet, “intact.”
I see this as the failure of the public-private concessionaire model classic to Chilean infrastructural development. Its just too bad that the public side is too weak as an administrator and the private side to avaristic for the public good. I just said that without any backup, but its my feeling that I´m confident others could confirm.
To top this all off, Transmilenio, the Bogota, Colombia plan which was seen as the model for the Chilean transformation is taking criticism for poor service for users as well as being a chronically inefficient public service, generating regular losses for the municipal budgets of Bogota.. See this chilean blogger Teodoro Veloso, an urban planner and architect who is closely following and reporting on Transantiago. He did a bloggers comparative analysis between the two systems.
And speaking of online contributions to this discussion…lets start with the designers of virtual worlds, Second Life, who say they have 5 million online users, which Im not sure exactly what it means, and who did an online and totally virtual and programmed protest to Transantiago, viewable on Youtube here .
The saga shall continue…
Meanstwhile enjoy these videos on YouTube, part of over 300 videos now online. Some are edited, some raw footage and others animation or computer graphics. I think I like the animation the best.
–Transchina – a selected clip from a Jackie Chan movie, with spanish subtitles adapting the film to the Chilean context of Transantiago
–Transantiasco II the life and time of El Mono
–caos Transantiago short animation, soundtrack by Napalm Death, my personal favorite.
–Transantiago persecución mortal techno pop, politics
-viewed 58,000 times, Nov. 21, 2006, this is probably the slickest production yet The Termicreitor has transantiago buses coming from space to conquer Santiago, and forecasts a clever battle between the old bus system and the new bus system.
–el fuck Transantiago 😄 flashes of the word transexual, a laborer who loses his job because he arrived late to work, “Transantiago es una mierda, Transantiago es gay.”
-Here is one of a series of shorts blaming Ivan Zamorano, famous football player and spokesperson of Transantiago. Informative and journalistic.
-A television account on Chilevision of the first day of Transantiago.