Chile From Within

Transantiago, Bloomberg News, C.hileno

Posted in Chile culture, mierda, Pinochet, Santiago, transantiago, Viva Chile by tomasdinges on May 20, 2007

“The Mapocho River once carried away the bodies of opponents to former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. These days, it’s just a sluice of raw sewage cutting through the heart of Santiago.” When interviewing a street kid at the river-side homage for a teenager whose body was swept away after he jumped from one of the many bridges crossing the Mapocho, I spied the sad, bloated carcass of a dead dog on its concrete bank.

The great lede by Matthew Walter, of the financial news service Bloomberg, was for a recent article on changes in Santiago which was picked up by the Miami Herald (who, in a side note, have an increasingly reduced budget for freelance articles). Santiago is changing its image in an attempt to become a financial hub of activity for multinationals operating in Latin America, and thus stimulate economic activity and jobs here in-country. These changes are reflected in a plan to rescue the Mapocho River waterfront, new toll roads and new office building construction. It is a livability drive, apparently.

In his Chile blog, C.hileno strikes back, questioning the definition of livability, and for whom. He unloads a constructive, and occassionally erroneous, rant criticizing the view of Stgo as described by Walter.

C.hileno has recently been more constructively critical, as opposed to when he was approximating XXX XXXX arguments, on his experience in Santiago. Still he is overly critical if one reads the whole Walter article. The following are some of my issues with C.hileno’s post, which all things considered, are minor. Lets start from the top, getting things straight:

I quote C.hileno:

“What’s behind this frenzied yearning to whitewash Chile? … Is it forgivable ignorance about a small, relatively unimportant Latin nation that causes these journalist-typists to accept whatever “news” makes it out of here, like Chile is on the rise, socialism is robust and the vast middle class have now become intelligent, naturally-blonde consumers and the last wisps of smog are being blown out of clean-air Santiago?

Reading Matthew Walters article today’s Bloomberg, titled Chile, Seeking First World Status, Tackles Santiago River Mess, one would think so. A happy-go-lucky Gringo, ignorant yet optimistic. Except he doesn’t pull it off that well. Matthew Walters lives in Santiago.”

That’s fine as a general declaration. First Matthew Walters and then C.hileno.

Now “In February, the city inaugurated its first centrally operated transit system, which, despite some start-up glitches, put new, pollution-cutting buses on the roads.

Start up Glitches!? Transantiago is now a world famous transportation catastrophe that has increased smog by putting more cars on the streets! People have died in armed protest against Transantiago. An old man got smothered to death in the over-crowded metro, because of Transantiago. And even if Transantiago had worked, it would have reduced smog by 5%. But according to a recent editorial in La Tercera, car and truck emissions cause about 50% of smog in Santiago. And there are absolutely NO other initiatives to combat emissions, besides these billions flushed into failure.”

Questions for C.hileno:

1. Why are more cars on the streets? Give me statistics, or a citation. I’ve never understood this argument. Transantiago failure most affects poor people. Poor people don’t have cars, and if they did they would probably car pool. I would argue that rich people with the option to drive don’t make up a significant enough of a car driving demographic to contribute to pollution. That leaves the middle class, about which I have no opinion, because i have no fucking idea of the status of the middle class in Chile, what they do, how much money they have or what their priorities are… You are correct at least in principle on the no other initiatives to combat emissions in a significant way…who regulates big industry at night, for example. What is the budget for enforcement of emissions laws? Where is the EPA here?

2. Who died in armed protest against Transantiago? I couldn’t find it, nor remember when someone died in “armed protest.” Someone please help me.

3. An 89 year old man dies on the Santiago metro. Was he smothered, or did he have a a previous history of heart problems and whose family chose to throw out accusations against the Metro. (But, a 42 year old guard did die of a heart attack that same day in the metro.)

But in general, I agree with C.hileno’s analysis of Santiago. But not with the portrayal of the journalist, or the profession. While written from the perspective of a financial news agency, it was not a lazily reported story, nor typewritten by, for example, an El Mercurio reporter, a soft-bottom, as the English would say. Walter cites multiple sources, interviews multiple actors and gives a comprehensive vision of

What it doesn’t do is take a critical look at development in Chile, and how people really are living, now. But the article didn’t try to do this…So don’t complain, C.hileno…read Walter’s other Transantiago article.

Now…for Walter:

4. “Start up glitches”??? says Matthew Walters…

That is an absurd simplification of a complex and magnificent infrastructural catastrophe which has required millions and millions of dollars to patch, highlighted the manly arrogant incompetence of former president Ricardo Lagos and the womanly intuitive (yet inactive) incompetence of the actual president Michelle Bachelet, generated speculation on the international financial market about the short term effects on political stability and economic growth and now has major actors, like the Banco de Chile, threatening to pull out if the financial feasibility of the system is not fixed shortly. Transantiago can’t even figure out how to capture payments from passengers, and then distribute those funds to the bus owners, the so-called “clearing system”. Buses, like one I rode recently from Plaza Egaña to Vicuña Mackenna, run their daily routes for free because they haven’t installed the electronicmachines to receive payment from passengers. People want to pay, even.

When I emailed Walters congratulating him on a great lede, and questioning the usage of the phrase “start up glitches”..he responded with the following…:

“My point here was to acknowledge that the transantiago system has had problems without turning this into another story about transantiago. we’ve written so many stories about it already.”

“What was more important here was to show how the city has changed so much,” he continues. Fine, but man, that is a gross simplification that leads one to question the coherency of your editors.

C.hileno wonders why your story, or stories, doesn’t talk about:

“Dead babies, increased asthma, cancer, higher geriatric mortality caused by smog, which proportionally thickens as the income bracket drops, overcrowded prisons, abysmal reproductive rights, religious parliamentary moves to eliminate all forms of contraception, massive imprisonment of Mapuche Indians, grocery store clerks who wear diapers because their supervisors won’t allow them even 10 minute bathroom breaks (Santa Isabel/Cencosud/Horst-Paulmann). That’s Chile! ”

‘Tis true that Santiago is changing, rapidly, for the benefit of its masters, like the multiple construction companies building twenty story apartment buildings in Santiago center with miniscule square footage, “american” kitchens, thin walls, narrow passageways and ZERO architectural inspiration. They are neo-poblaciones for a rising middle-class purchasing illusions on credit. They still won’t be able to have sex in private or sit at the dinner table without hearing the toilet flush of their neighbor, above, below, or to either side, like they did when they had less income.

So now Ill engage in speculation and bring us back to the original sentiment of C.hileno, that there is a desire to gloss over a crude reality which exists in Chile, maybe so as to better serve the interests of the dominant business class which economic quarter by economic quarter profitably capture and hold the economic reins of servile, poorly informed and uncritical masses of Chileans who aspire to a better life in Chile post-Pinochet/post-Concertación.

Why not.

The unfettered hold on the Chilean people reminds me of an auspicious time, that of the glory days of the nitrate mines in the early 1900’s. English and American mine companies exploit workers endlessly, paying them in chips, or currency only valid within company stores.

Consequently, in 1907 workers organize themselves in advance of the Bolshevik Revolution, in the north of Chile, and are subsequently massacred in the elementary school Santa Maria de Iquique.

This past week DyS (Lider) and Falabella merged together, creating a $15 billion dollar supermarket and department store conglomerate. Now, your in-store credit card, CMR/Presto, which charges disadvantageous interest rates with complicated conditions, goes that much farther to facilitate your social ascension and self-esteem via purchases of made in China, and if you can’t pay for it the day after…increasing your Faladeuda.

How are things different now, one hundred years later? Banks and groups like Falabella/DyS are making money hand over fist, on the basis of services with astronomical prices and often hidden fees, goods which are of mediocre quality and monopoly.

When will the people rise up and question their sad state? When will they cease to be complicit in their own corruption, and in the corruption of Chile?

6 Responses

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  1. Chileno said, on May 21, 2007 at 12:42 am

    >>>2. Who died in armed protest against Transantiago? I couldn’t find it, nor remember when someone died in “armed protest.” Someone please help me.

    I remember hearing something like that but, as a lazy blogger (i don’t blog as a journalist), I can’t find where. Probably didn’t happen. So I’ve deleted it from my blog until further notice. Thanks.

  2. Chileno said, on May 21, 2007 at 1:31 am

    >>>1. Why are more cars on the streets? Give me statistics, or a citation.

    4 citations:
    “el encargo de coches nuevos se ha visto multiplicado cuando la idea inicial era reducir el número de vehículos en las calles”

    …that’s after a 30 second Google search. Not sure about the source but at least it does corroborate what I’ve heard from a 2 other friends. 4th citation:

    Denise Pascal, a PS socialist MP quoted in El Mercurio saying:

    “Ahora con Transantiago todos sacamos los autos a la calle para no usar la micro o el Metro. Tenemos una situación complicada porque los ciudadanos no tenemos conciencia del esmog”

  3. Chileno said, on May 21, 2007 at 2:14 am

    >>>I agree with C.hileno’s analysis of Santiago. But not with the portrayal of the journalist, or the profession. While written from the perspective of a financial news agency, it was not a lazily reported story, nor typewritten

    I never said that Matthew Walters was lazy or being a typist or lived far away from Santiago. I said that one might think so based on reading this particular article. Or at least I did, because I also live in Santiago. I went on to say that Matthew Walters doesn’t pull it off well. “Pull it off well,” was in reference to his clear intention to advance the notion that Santiago is increasingly livable. To me, the piece was unconvincing, because, again, I live in Santiago.
    But his article was good, good enough to hoodwink people who don’t live in Santiago.

    I mean, in terms of facts the piece was impeccable. Certainly, Transantiago has put cleaner buses on the streets. That is a Fact. But why that fact. Why not the fact that smog reached its highest levels in 8 years a week ago, while Transantiago had promised to end pre-emergency levels? Isn’t that also a fact?

    So the more professional, exhaustive, well-researched and journalist-to-north-american-standards his article, the more suspicious I get.

    One might argue that Transantiago could improve, that we better hold off until we see its effects. But its performance up to now doesn’t inspire confidence. In addition, even perfect implementation won’t/wouldn’t bring smog down to truly safe levels. Buses were and are only a tiny fraction of the smog. According to El Mercurio, 5%.

  4. Ani said, on June 9, 2007 at 7:16 pm

    When will they cease to be complicit in their own corruption, and in the corruption of Chile?

    Perhaps when the novelty of their new “purchasing power” wears off. Eventually (or I would hope) the masses would realize they are getting the short end of the stick and become savvy enough not to purchase overpriced products. Sadly the public votes with their money. As long as the public keeps buying these subpar products the stores will keep dishing them out. The notion of educated consumerism and money manegement should be thought to the ones who a few years back were not part of the buying public. These people are the ones most likely to become seriously indebted.

  5. Stuck in Chile said, on July 31, 2007 at 2:53 am


    It’s true man I think Lagos did a great job of marketing this country but there are some many problems with corruption and poor people getting screwed that I have no doubt that the copper wealth will be completely wasted much like salitre was. Transantiago is the most stupid design and implementation ever. It is amazing for a country that prides on being somewhat intelligent to see how utterly impractical and poorly it has implemented the most important transportation project in it’s history (after the metro system which used to be Santiagos pride and glory). Transantiago ruined metro (up to six users per /m2) and also promoted the use and purchase of new automobiles (as has been widely reported- no google search needed…trust me). A real third world kind of mess here and until Chileans figure out that not only your income per capita statistics make you into a developed nation (your quality of life has something to do as well). Smog in Santiago has reached historical levels in July 2007 and because of amazing bureacracy and stupidity NOTHING major is being done about…SANTIAGO SUCKS.

  6. tomasdinges said, on August 6, 2007 at 12:54 am

    Your right on the design thing. It is mindboggling that a country filled with square, unfeeling technocrats enslaved to ideas of progress, efficiency, “how you should do it” engineers, can screw up something like Transantiago, SO BADLY. This is Lagos’s generation. He was head of the MOP, or Ministerio de Obras Publicas, Public Works, before getting to the presidency.

    Everybody is an engineer. Chile is like the kid in sixth grade who was perfect, got straight A’s or puro Siete’s, was liked by all the parents, yet shunned by all the classmates. This kid has no soul.

    Also, note the dangerous exit ramps on highways Americo Vespuccio Norte and the current reconstruction of the highway going south out of Stgo.

    Providencia actually advertises that its the first municipality to be ISO 9001 certified…they advertise on the bus stops. What percentage of these people waiting for the buses actually knows what the hell ISO is.

    I wonder how Chileans would respond to the question of “What is does the phrase “Quality of Life” mean to you?”

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