Chile From Within

Victor Pey Casado v. Republic of Chile

Posted in Viva Chile by tomasdinges on May 22, 2007

Victor Pey, 92 years old, disputed owner of El Clarin, Biblioteca Nacional de Chile

The Curious Case of Victor Pey

by John Dinges

published in the May/June issue of the Columbia Journalism Review

“The irony of Chile’s media is that there was more ideological diversity and journalistic energy in the printed press in the late 1980s, in the waning years of the hard-line dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, than now when he is long gone and proponents of democracy are firmly in control. Two daily newspapers, El Mercurio and La Tercera, dominate. Both are politically right of center. Their virtual monopoly is a legacy of the scorched-earth ideological repression that took place when Pinochet took power in the 1970s, confiscating or closing all media organizations that did not cheer on his military government. Chile’s newspaper market became what one study called a market ”duopoly… accompanied by an ideological monopoly.”

One might think that such an unbalanced press would have been remedied in the sixteen years since Pinochet left power, especially considering that the center-left Concertación, a coalition of moderate Socialists and Christian Democrats, has won all the elections. But one would be wrong.”

The article relates the story of a country which seems to have all its principles backwards and inside out, one in which works actively to stifle the creation of a press which could advance a more profound democratic transition in a desperate country.

The exhaustively reported piece also tells the story of why the most recent of Chile’s failed newspaper/magazine, Diario Siete/Siete Más 7, run by Mónica Gonzalez, is an extension of the actions and beliefs of the government which have led to the on-going legal battle by Victor Pey.

Victor Pey is the 92 year old owner of the extinct Chilean daily paper, El Clarin, and was a friend of two of Chile’s most notable historical heavyweights, Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende. These figures died around the same time that El Clarin and its printing presses were confiscated by the military junta led by Augusto Pinochet in 1973.

His life in Chile in some ways hinged upon the lives of those three men. It was Pablo Neruda who arranged for the ship Winnipeg to go to Barcelona, Spain and pick up the political exiles being persecuted by the Franco dictatorship, among them Pey and his family. Check out this set of interviews in the BBC with Pey in 2004. It was Allende whom the newspaper El Clarin supported faithfully and succesfully in his rise to the presidency in 1971 and it was Pinochet’s government who placed Pey on the list of people to report to authorities in the days after the coup, whom were later killed. Pey instead found haven in a foreign embassy and soon left the country.

The newspaper, its printing presses and all documentation where snuffed out, shut down and destroyed. Upon return to Chile he set out on a long and laborious paper trail which has provided the foundations for his legal case against the Chilean government to recover financial compensation for the newspaper. The reasons for why the Chilean government acted this way is in the CJR article He was still on this paper trail when I took his photo before entering the periodicals room of the Biblioteca Nacional, looking for a newspaper article on microfilm. The records were not there. His next stop was the periodicals room of the ex-Congress of Santiago. He promised to help me navigate the multiple, disparate archives registering Chilean history in my future quest to tell the history of my family in Chile.

He awaits a decision by the ICSID (CIADI), a body of the World Bank which arbitrates and conciliates conflicts between foreign private investors and governments. A positive resolution would grant him between 100 and 500 million dollars in reimbursement from the Chilean government. He plans to set up the newspaper again.

9 Responses

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  1. Mark Eisner said, on May 23, 2007 at 7:53 am

    increible.. earlier tonight i was in the lobby of the mayflower hotel in sf, with a writer whose grandmother started the hotel in the 1920s and gave Octavio Paz a free room as he read William Carlos Williams in Golden Gate Park and then the beginning of the labryinth of solitude, and this woman’s other side of the family were immigrants from spain in the 1920s to california and were faced by great racism and class divisionn and i was talking all about how different the spanish generation that pablo brought over on the winnepeg was for chile, but also that there was great concern about them coming al principio and Cerda almost backed down from saying for them to come and after a poetry reading in the haight i return to read this about victor y todo… if it werent for the shot keyboard on this loaner laptop while mine is in the shop i’d be able to explain my thoughts with a little more distance and flow…

    great post. john dignes has done some great writing over the years about chile. i met his wife once at an essential neruda event.

    gracias, tomas
    hasta pronto,

  2. Ani said, on June 6, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    Victor looks great for 92! Still dresses drapper!

  3. tomasdinges said, on June 6, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    Ani, when was the last time that you saw him? He is still quite sharp of mind and dress.

  4. Ani said, on June 6, 2007 at 11:05 pm

    Umm . . . . . to be brutally honest . . . .never! For a man who will soon be a century old. Don Victor is holding up pretty well. They sure don’t make gentlemen of that caliber like that anymore.

  5. Mauricio said, on August 9, 2007 at 6:32 am

    Nos prestas la foto de Victor Pey para un artículo. La publicaríamos con los créditos correspondientes.
    Esperando buena acogida

    Saludos desde Chile

  6. Mauricio said, on August 9, 2007 at 6:37 am

    We wrote an article on Bugler in El Ciudadano. You would lend the photo to us of Victor Pey. We would publish it with the credits.

    Waiting for good welcome

    Greetings from Chile

  7. Mauricio said, on August 9, 2007 at 6:38 am

    We wrote an article on Clarin in the Citizen. You would lend the photo to us of Victor Pey. We would publish it with the credits.
    Waiting for good welcome

    Greetings from Chile

  8. jon said, on October 14, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    hello –
    I am wondering if it is possible to contact this man. I am doing some research into the Spanish Civil War and would like to speak with him. A women who heads the Neruda Foundation in Chile has given me a phone # but it does not seem to work. Any ideas?
    Great article by the way.

  9. Jeanne said, on February 17, 2012 at 4:42 am

    If there were any way of contacting Victor, I would like to know if he recalls many years ago when he visited the Mina Sara near Altamira in the northern area of Chile.

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