Chile From Within

New York heart Chile, Melodic Death Metal

Posted in chile, Chile culture, Pinochet, Santiago by tomasdinges on November 30, 2008


ProChile, the country’s office for promotion, has leased a corner of SoHo for a new store named Puro Chile. Apparently it will be about more than fruit, one of the raw elements that makes Chile wonderful, but also, “gourmet Chilean products, distribute tourism pamphlets, and maintain a wine store in the back of the shop.” Wow. exciting.

It is news for me, far from the AIDS/HIV fiasco in which thousands (maybe two) of Chilean’s diagnosed with AIDS/HIV were not informed of their status and thus not prescribed life-extending anti-retroviral drugs, or the release of a secret video  in which a high general states at a cocktail party that,”in these difficult times with our neighbors…any Chilean who enters the country will leave in a coffin. And if we run out of coffins, then we will use plastic bags…”

It is to be seen if Chile can finally, for once in its tortured life, present itself as one in a time in its history where a pluralistic, democratic society is beginning to have meaning.

A country tourism office leases a 1,000 square foot corner for $100 a square foot in one of the hippest neighborhoods in New York City. That is a sign of changing economy, they say. That corner spot, should go to a bank, says Crain’s.

Even a bank is hipper than Chile in Soho.

Chile has a strange, incoherent history with the promotion of itself. Maybe it is because it’s base level of division and insecurity.

A proud country with proud countrymen, it is a fragmented society. I speak not only of Pinochet, but of the feudal and colonial history.

I am not sure that the Basque immigrants lauded by some as the reason for Chile’s current economic success would applaud the Mapuche indian warriors Lautaro (Lef-Traru, in their language Mapundungun, or Speedy Crested Caracara, a falcon-like bird of prey) or Colo-Colo. These were main leaders of the last stand of the Mapuche people who in the late 1500’s rebuffed the Spanish colonialists under Pedro de Valdivia.

Now Colo-Colo is the name of football team that was famously sponsored by Augusto Pinochet, a middle-class military officer who was not part of the landed ruling class.

The immigrants (Basque’s and other Spaniards) and orphans (Bernardo O´Higgins was the bastard child of an Irish-born, Spanish military leader  who would lead the drive for independence from the Spanish in the early 1800’s) would form the first landed elite. Later, British and German’s primarily would form the other immigrant group.

The Indians became marginalized and modern Chile began to grow based on the latifundista system, separated between the patrones and the peones in the fertile valley’s throughout Central Chile.

Wealth and culture were generated in rural areas, and society as we know it was reinforced. Then things moved to Santiago. The Mapuche’s tried to blend in, erasing their last names and shedding their past. The elite secured their hold on finance and society.

What was unique and commonly appreciated by all Chileans is a tough one.

I’m not sure that the sopaipillas or jote would be celebrated by the patrones. Violeta Parra (radical), Gabriela Mistral (lesbian), or Pablo Neruda (Communist) would be cast-off as well.

And then there was Pinochet, who made it all worse.

A divided Chile was solidified and cultural icons became politicized. Chile began to talk poorly of its own country.

Upper class would be disdainful of anything but their class, while those underneath would be enconsced in their lack of opportunity and racism and classism rampant through society.

Would the Chilean go the mountains to appreciate nature, No. Would they celebrate the beach, yes, but calling it cold and rough. Often times a visitor will find the first question posed to be “Why did you come here?” Chileans will often refer to their own country as  “the ass of the world,” or, “el poto del mundo.”

They say there is no culture here.

Well, the Swedish melodic death metal band The Haunted, doesn’t think so.

According to the lead singer’s blog post about their Friday concert in Santiago, where they played at Rock y Guitarras in Nuñoa,

“I’m exhausted, it’s a couple of hours after the show we just played in Santiago de Chile. How did the show go? It was insane. Really…

“I am so fucking grateful my heart is about to burst. The shows we’ve been playing so far this year have by far been the most intense ever since we started the band back in ’96/’97. It’s as if the bullshit macho crap that was there for a while at shows we played is gone. It’s unbelievable and so relieving. It’s as if people are finally getting the whole fucking point to this music. To go fucking nuts. To just fucking lose it and let all the tarblack fucking ugliness out and be fucking done with it; TOGETHER. An hour and a half of sheer undiluted fucking release. I surrender to this completely.”

Oh, and the old Chilean tourism logo and jingle, a product of an expensive research campaign that didn’t seem to have asked anybody whether they actually liked the final product:

“Chile: All Ways Surprising”


The Shadow Crusader

Posted in chile by tomasdinges on November 19, 2008

There are public heroes and private heroes in this world. Spanish judge Juez Carlos Castresana is a private hero. His legal strategy set in motion the downfall of now deceased Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. This article was from 2006.

Juez Carlos Castresana has three young children, all of whom now have medals to wear when imitating their father. One was acquired in Spain as a recipient of the National Human Rights prize, another was granted by Guadalajara University for his legal work in Spain. Last week, a third medal was granted to him in Santiago, Chile, the country which has most dramatically benefited from his fastidious and meticulous legal work as a Judge in Spain’s Supreme Court.

Castresana is the architect of the legal strategy that resulted in the dictator Augusto Pinochet being captured in London. Pinochet ruled Chile from 1973 to 1989. Under his regime tens of thousands of people were systematically tortured and more than 3,000 died.

Castresana was in Chile for the reception of an honorary degree at the Universidad Central Law School, where the former Chilean prosecuting judge in the Pinochet Case, Juez Juan Guzman is now dean.

The ceremony was held in a cavernous, gray atrium at the law school. Hundreds of people sat on the floor, stood in the aisles and hung off of balconies.

Judge Baltazar Garzon, the prosecuting judge of Castresana’s investigation, took the stage expectantly, with the stride of a heavyweight champion. Castresana took his ovation like he really appreciated it. A broad smile and proud chest communicated how “emocionante” the experience was. He would confess later to be most concentrated on keeping his knees from shaking.

This is an emotional first visit to Chile he told me later, “after ten years of knowing its cities, the people, the events, the places and the circumstances…all on paper,” and in personal testimony.

“You can get some sort of an idea. You obsess over something for one reason or another, for good or bad, and you are working for ten years on that country, a place where you have never set foot,” he explained to me in a rushed ride to the airport. “And then, one day you find yourself there.”

In 1996, Castresana worked at the recently formed Special Prosecutor’s Office against Corruption in Madrid. The caseload was non-existent. Him and a few others in the office spent all day reading newspapers. When he opened up a paper to see photos documenting the routine of notorious former Argentine military dictator Jorge Rafaél Videla and news that he strolls leisurely through posh neighborhoods in urban Buenos Aires, Castresana began to plan action.

Looking through the legal library led him to a one-line reference in the Spanish Legal Code that asserted universal legal jurisdiction for “crimenes de lesa humanidad” or crimes against humanity. That principle had never been tested. But really, “I was just dusting off the Nuremberg principles”, something which has been buried by the great powers of the Cold War, he said.

So, two years before General Augusto Pinochet took his ill-fated trip for surgery to London in 1998, a legal strategy was in development. For the untried legal concept to have an effect within the Spanish legal system there needed to be two cases, one to set the precedent and the other to confirm the original court decision. The first case, in 1996, was against the Argentine dictator for the murder of Spanish citizens. The second case was to be against General Augusto Pinochet. Both murders were conducted within the aegis of Operation Condor, a transnational effort coordinated by Augusto Pinochet to eliminate armed leftist organizations and political threats throughout Latin America and Europe

“Very shortly after I began to understand that my job was really just beginning, when I begin to meet with the victims,” said Castresana.

In 1973, Joan Garces was a young advisor to the former president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Now, the Spaniard was a lead lawyer for la Fundación Allende of Spain and closely connected with the Chilean exile community in Europe. Garces saw the developing case in the newspaper and immediately called up Juez Castresana. “Whatever you need, I am here to help,” said Garces, recalls Castresana.

“When the people come to you and they explain that for 25 years they have been seeking someone to listen to them. I realized I had gotten into something that was not going to be very easy to get out of,” said Castresana. “Things from there on exploded, it’s Pinochet, just imagine.”

For two years, Chileans knowledgeable of the experience of the Spanish citizens and others killed in Chile and Argentina filed into Castresana’s office in Madrid to leave their testimony with these judges. They were promptly put in contact with local media.

Slowly, the experiences of torture, disappearance and terror began to unfold with regularity for the Spanish public. The Spanish had been prepared for the great protagonism that their country and legal system would take on when Juez Baltazar Garzon received the case, says Castresana.

Juez Juan Guzman, Juez Carlos Castresana

Juez Juan Guzman, Juez Carlos Castresana



The fascist image of Franco, thirty years dead, became reincarnate in Augusto Pinochet.

On October 15, 1998 General Augusto Pinochet was in London, England for medical care. He was preparing to return home the next day.

In Madrid, Judge Garzon made a late night decision and formally sent an order of detention to Scotland Yard and the English legal system before Pinochet departed that next morning for Chile.

Juez Baltazar Garzon Real (yes, Royal) is a man with movie star good looks, more than thirty honoris caucis and a penchant for the media spotlight. As a prosecuting judge, characteristic to the Spanish legal system, he would be in charge of the most visible aspects of the case against Pinochet.

Upon his visit to Chile, accompanied by Castresana, two weeks before the 32nd anniversary of the military coup, it was Garzon who received the epithets from tens of Pinochet supporters, generally older women, outside of the Universities, or shouts in airplane cabins and threatening heckles in airports. His comments appeared on the front pages of newspapers documenting his travels. A right-wing politician whose father, the former military general Fernando Matthei, was subpoenaed in the Pinochet case, called him a “desgraciado”, the equivalent to “bastard” or “asshole.”

But the surprise for many was Castresana. “The first day I was here no one knew who I was or what I did, and then…hugs and slaps on the back, which, truthfully, communicate their thanks,” he said.

His rousing speech brought the audience at the Universidad Central to their feet and individuals to glassy-eyed emotion.

Both Spanish judges have a deep commitment to human rights, but the words of Castresana were particularly eloquent. He spoke from the perspective of a creator and witness to the genesis of a legal strategy that he thought would be good for law schools, but had no chance of success.

His colleagues in Spain and Argentina had called him crazy, but it was that spirit that set in motion the multinational judicial process and a reevaluation of the concept of universal jurisdiction of human rights.

“If they call the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo crazy, then I must be going in the right direction,” he commented in his speech. He spoke from a personal perspective forged by repeated interactions with witnesses and victims of abuse, he said, that has galvanized a seemingly indefagitable quest all around the world for a legal system to effectively defend human rights, everywhere.

He spoke eloquently and maybe it is because of his total immersion in the case. Castresana researches, investigates and crafts methods exploring human rights and law in a modern context, based in real experiences in warehouses, courthouses, and with documents and victims.

In meetings with victims groups, legal associations and immigrants rights groups, like the hot, cramped conference room of a group, a two-hours before his flight from Santiago, he talks about the “Pinochet precedent.” But, he also forcefully asserts the universality of human rights and highlights how far behind the curve of globalization that judicial systems have fallen.

“We are currently facing a battle against impunity. Victims fall, without a capacity to respond or rescue them. The laws are there, but we are not capable of applying them. A very simple concept is that judges should apply the law correctly.” With impunity present in a system, there is no democracy, he said.

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to violence in the Congo, to the illogical immigration laws in the United States, it is people who are subjected to this impunity.

“The State has lagged behind in guaranteeing the minimum protection for individuals,” he said. “The Law of the Weak is best represented by what happened in Hurricane Katrina, where those who suffered and died where the most poor and the most forgotten in society.”

In the speaking hall a distracted hum persisted in the moments before Castresana’s speech. There was a sense that no one really knew who Castresana was then and didn’t care much when he was introduced. On the thick matte invitation, Garzon had the face of a gallant crusader who had been photographed before. Castresana appeared meek and boring, as the civil servant that he is.

All this contributed to a speech that had an astounding effect. After riveting the crowd he spoke the words of the former president Salvador Allende.

It was especially resonant for the standing-room only crowd of law students a generation distant from the infliction of the wounds that still traumatize Chilean society: “Sigan uds,” said Castresana, to rising applause, “Carry on.”

“Carry on, knowing that much sooner that later, the great boulevards will open.”- Salvador Allende

In 2007, Castresana was named the head of the International Commission against Impunity for the United Nations in Guatemala.

Breaking News, Obama Wins…

Posted in chile by tomasdinges on November 5, 2008

It was too late. A visceral fear of socialism so easz to inspire was seeded to late in the game. Political advertisments bz John McCain had failed. These advertisements, as his campaign, had reduced to being the object of satire.

Obama had alreadz consolidated his message with the help of a crucial endorsement bz C.hileno and last night, Tuesdaz night, he was declared the President-elect of the American electorate bz a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, or 62.6 million people to 55.5 million people. The radio station National Public Radio in the United States and German television station ADR are calling it a landslide. (From this station now I write, and the z is where the y is.) Students, and later, a more diverse crowd, collected in the thousands in a humid, sometimes rainz, night in front of the White House in Washington D.C. Some came to give a jubilant fuck zou to the outgoing President George W. Bush. Others were there to celebrate the election of a candidate for whom thez had gone to North Carolina, New Hampshire, and the deep red doorsteps of Virginia. Thez also came to celebrate a candidate that made manz of its citiyens proud to call themselves American, some for the first time ever, some for the first time in a long time.

A new political culture begins in the United States. (See the offer of Chief of Staff of teh new administration to Rahm Emmanuel.) For analzsis read Tom Edsall at the Huffington Post, formerlz of the Washington Post and author a book explaining American political historz and the failure of the Democratic Partz in the context of race, rights and taxes

A Frenchman I spoke with is enamored, starrz-ezed. He sees an impact of Obama on his countrzs own redefining cultural and social makeup. Germans are jubilant and relieved. Go to Global Voices project Voices without Votes for more perspective around the world.

What saz zou Chile?