First we took the "off-beat" walking tour with Tours for Tips with our sociologist guide. First thing we learned is that Chile is ridiculously seismically active. I'm from California, so that really means something when I say it. There is a BIG earthquake every decade. In fact, there was a 5-pointer the week before we arrived in Santiago, one while we left Santiago, and the most famous one was the big one that hit just outside Santiago in 2010. The 2010 earth quake (or torremoto) was ranked the 5th largest earthquake recorded on the Richter scale. This walking tour involved learning about the Lachimbo (sp?) side of Santiago. Since the Spanish colonization, Santiago has been a very class-based society. It still is. Lachimbo is a Quechua word for the equivalent of the "undesirables." It is the poorer part of town where the impoverished and the immigrants live. It is separated by the Rio Mapoche from the classier side of the city. Judge Corregidor built the first bridge, Puente Cal y Canto, to connect the two sides of the city, uniting the upper class with the lower class.
Market with the swapped building with Uruguay
Immediately after crossing over the Rio Mapoche, we checked out a couple markets. The first one has a funny story. The beautiful structure that housed the produce area of this market was actually built for a market in Uruguay. There was an accidental switcheroo. The architect built two market structures that were pretty identical and swapped them. The twin markets still stand today in the wrong locations. The second market is La Vega. A huge produce market with 16,000 clients that shop there everyday, 900 vendors, and 10,000 employees! There is even an aisle for Peruvian vendors. You can differentiate between the Chilean and Peruvian vendors because Chilean food is bland. According to our Chilena guide, garlic and onion is too much. Peruvian food has more peppers and spices. Another win for Peru: my guide said "The best food in Chile is Peruvian. Peruvians make better food and better Pisco." Viva el Peru! Btw, Peruvians constitute the largest community of immigrants in Santiago. Other minority groups include Palestinians (most are 3rd or 4th generation; their great-grandparents immigrated to Chile when the Ottoman Empire fell), and North Koreans.
La Vega market
Next we took the very impressive metro to the Cementario General de Santiago. It is a huge cemetery with a lot of history and important historical/political figures buried there. I didn't realize how much about history and culture you can learn about a place at a cemetery. This cemetery was very interesting because of the way people were buried. People liked to be buried with their families or fellow workers in mosoleums (sp?). For example, there are mosoleums for the military, the carabineros (police), and even the shoemakers and insurance companies. This represents the society's emphasis on class.
An interesting tidbit about Chilean culture is the belief in "Animitas." An animita is a revered person that the people annoint as an unofficial saint. Through stories spread my word of mouth (like the game telephone), these animitas become legendary and the people pray to them for help. The most popular animita is Carmencita. Her legend has two very different stories. The most common one is that she was a 9 year old girl who got very sick and died. The other one was that she was a 37-year old prostitute who died of disease. Nonetheless, she is adored and people pray to her for miracles. The people love the animitas and adore their graves with flowers, presents, and plaques.
The grave of Carmencita, the animita
The most important grave we visited was former President Salvador Allende. Warning: seriously ugly history ahead. If you're politically conservative and very patriotic about Amerrrrica, you may not like what I have to say in the following paragraphs. True, there are two sides to every story. Chile was in a socioeconomic crisis before and after Allende's time. His presidency is probably romanticized because of the horrible way the military coup of 1973 ousted him and followed with Pinochet's 17 year brutal dictatorship. Salvador Allende was a medical doctor and ran for presidency as the head of the socialist party. He was Chile's first socialist, democratically-elected president. Before his term, the very few upper class had all the wealth and power. During his term, he did a lot of land reform and social changes. Naturally, the upper class wasn't too happy about this. Today Allende is celebrated at Chile's most loved president. However, the Chilenos back then and today are politically divided. I think Chile is more extremely bipartisan than the United States.
Salvador Allende's grave
On September 11, 1973 (9/11 is not a good date for many countries, apparently. This was the same day the USSR fell, too. Coincidence?), the Junto Militar, led by General Pinochet, commenced the military coup. I can't remember the names of the other generals, but they appointed themselves as chief of the air force, navy, and police. The coup started when the navy (armada) took over Valparaiso. Then, the coup took over Santiago beginning at 6am and ending at 6pm (the first night of the forced military curfew). The Junto Militar started by taking La Moneda (the equivalent of the Capital Building) hostage and threatening President Allende to leave. Allende had his chance to flee the country into exile, but that was not his style. He stayed in La Moneda until its violent end. The coup shut down all radio towers, except for one, Radio Magallenes. Through Radio Magallenes, President Allende gave his final speech to his beloved Chilenos, "los trabajadores" (the workers), through flying shrapnel and bullets during the coup's attack on La Moneda. It was a beautiful speech (I listened to it at the Museo de Memoria y Derechos Humanos: the Memory and Human Rights Museum). Allende's last speech inspired the Chilenos enough to carry them through the dictatorship and finally overthrow Pinochet 17 years later in 1988. Shortly after his speech, Allende supposedly shot himself. The Junto Militar bombed La Moneda and took all of his aides under detention and torture. At the time, Allende didn't want to rally the people to La Moneda to fight against the coup when they were up against bombs. The deaths would be in vain. So he sacrificed his life, hoping he could stop any more bombings and deaths. Originally, Allende's body was buried in Valparaiso. After Pinochet's reign, the people brought his remains to Cementario General so he could be properly buried in Santiago with his people. A beautiful memorial stands where he is buried with a plaque with an inscription of his last words to his people.
Cervezas for the dead
It was impressive to see how well kept the graves were. Not just of the country's heroes, but of normal people. Chilenos believe in animism (hence, "animitas'). To honor their dead loved ones, they not only bring them flowers, but also earthly things they might want, such as cigarettes, food, cervezas, birthday party decorations and invitations on their birthday. At the end of this tour, we walked across the street from the cemetery entrance to a local bar called, "Quita Pena" (leave/drink your sorrows). We got to try the famous Chileno drink, called "Torremoto" or earthquake, because when you drink it, it makes your world shake lol.
The next day we took a tour of Pablo Neruda's house, La Chascona. Pablo Neruda is a famous writer who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, among many other distinguished awards for his poetry. His house was located in the same neighborhood our hostel was, Bella Vista, the artsy/bohemian barrio. Neruda built La Chascona for his third and last wife, Mathilde Urrutia. He had three houses: La Sebastien in Valparaiso, one on Isla Negra, and La Chascona in Santiago. His first wife was from Holland and 20 years his senior. Sadly, he was widowed by her. His second wife was an Argentinian woman. After their separation, Pablo and Mathilde fell in love after knowing each other for many years as friends. Because divorce only became legal in Chile in 2004, Pablo & Mathilde had to hide their relationship for a long time. Eventually, they found a loophole: because Pablo and his Argentinian wife weren't married in Chile, it was not a legitimate marriage under Chileno law. Together, Pablo and Mathilde built La Chascona, hidden against a hill in barrio Bella Vista in Santiago where they could live together in secret. The couple had many close friends who were prominent figures and artists who helped keep their secret. Eventually they were married.
One of the bars in La Chascona
Neruda was a marinero (in the navy) and was fascinated by the sea. However, he was never actually deployed out to sea. He did travel the world frequently by ship. His obsession with all things naval is why he built his houses with a naval theme and were decorated with furniture and works of art from the countries he had visited. He was an internationally acclaimed poet and a prominent socialist. Pablo Neruda died of "natural causes" on September 23, 1973 (less than a week after the military coup. Coincidence?)
After touring La Chascona, we went on the other Tours for Tips walking tour of the basic touristic areas in central Santiago. A significant fact I learned about Chileno politics is that the dominating Catholic order in Chile is the Opus Dei. Heard of the name before? You may have if you've read the Da Vinci Code. Scary. The Opus Dei are very rich and powerful amongst all the other Catholic orders. I think they are also very prominent in Spain. This order has a lot of power in the Chileno government, which is why divorce has only been passed recently in 2004 and obviously abortion is illegal without any medical exceptions.
One of the most important sites we visited was Londres (London) street. During Pinochet's dictatorship, 94 young people were detained, tortured, and killed here. Just at this one site. I hate to think about small that number is compared to the total number of people killed in this political genocide. These people are known as "Los Disparacidos" (the "disappeared" because they did disappear). In memory of them, there are bricks among the cobblestones of the street with their names, political affiliation, and age. Most of them are my age or younger. Such brave youth. Among the bricks and cobblestones are pieces of floor tile from the inside floor of the building because the floor inside was the last thing they saw before being publicly executed.
Bricks on Londres Street with the names of those publicly executed at the site
On our last day, we visited the Museo de la Memoria y Direchos Humanos (Memory and Human Rights Museum). It was one of the best and definitely the most intense museum I have ever been to. It was build by former President Michelle Bachelet so that Chile will never forget its history and so that it will not be repeated. The museum is huge and very modern, and it's free to the public. You only need to pay for the audiophone. The museum also displayed the human rights violations in countries worldwide. Because the museum was so big, we only got through half of it! It was very detailed and informative. It displayed original media documents and radio/television new footage, and real video testimonies of survivors and victims and photos. I listened to the original radio recording of Salvador Allende's final speech and watched the original television footage of the Junto Militar and General Pinochet's speech shortly after the coup. We watched video testimonies from survivors of detention and torture by DINA (the dictatorship's central intelligence agency whose sole objective was to irradicate socialists). About 40,000 Chilenos "disappeared" during Pinochet's dictatorship. It was political genocide.
Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos
Despite how terrible the dictatorship was, the country was still divided, close to 50/50, in its political views. Despite the 6pm curfew and public executions and detentions, the pro-capitalists (the upper class) supported Pinochet. Families are still divided today. In 1980 the Junto Militar changed the constitution. In order to legitimize it, they held elections. Curiously enough, the electronic voting registry was not used... People had to vote Si or No. Si to support Pinochet's government. No to overthrow Pinochet. The Si vote won by 64% to 46%, although with suspicion. In 1988, there was another election: same thing Si or No. This is when the NO propaganda took full force. The first Chileno film ever to be nominated for an Oscar (earlier this year!) is about this propaganda. It is appropriately called, NO. Spoiler alert: the NO vote won this time, finally overthrowing Pinochet.
It is astounding to me how 40,000 people were detained, tortured, and or murdered during Pinochet's dictatorship. The majority of whom were my age. Yet they kept fighting on fearlessly. Even high school and elementary students demonstrated. The Chilena women even had their Women's Rights movement during this chaotic time and demonstrated against the dictatorship. Now their are hundreds of memorial sites up and down Chile, honoring Los Disparacidos. These sites are built over former detention centers, socialist headquarters, and mass graves. The most infamous mass grave site was Plot 29 in Cemetario General. The anonymous grave cross is on display at the museum. The Organization for Truth and Justice is still working on identifying the remains at Plot 29. At the museum you can even look up people who had disappeared on their touch screen computers.
The most powerful thing about this museum is seeing the reactions of the adult Chilenos visiting the displays or looking up names of their loved ones. They had lived during this time. It was so recent! That blows my mind. Although Chile is a well-developed country with a strong economy, thanks to the open capitalism of the dictatorship, the country had to pay a terrible price to get to where it is today. Was it worth it?
My first guide, told us that Chile is a business entrepreneur's Disneyland. There are no government regulations and no workers' unions. Employees are easily exploited. 1% of the population has all the wealth while the 99% stay where they're at socioeconomically and can't move. Education absurdly expensive. Public education is a joke. Economically, the country does not invest for the long term. The Chileno economy will eventually collapse and will have nothing to fall back on. Hence, lots of social movements are on the rise now.
Now I'm going to talk about the United States' role in Chile's ugly history, not to mention in South America's history in general. Operation Condor, enacted from 1975-1978 and restarted in 1981, under Presidents Ford and Reagan, was a CIA operation to support, fund, and supply military dictatorships in Chile, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay in assassinating socialist leaders and eliminating the communist party. For example, the military coup led by Pinochet here in Chile. The Cold War was a crazy time. I cannot comprehend the lack of ethics in this operation. U.S. ideals such as Freedom and Democracy is such bullshit when you think about it in the scope of this operation. What the U.S. wanted to and still wants to spread is Capitalism, so that it can reap the rewards of profit. Freedom and Democracy is just a beard. The Chilenos were free when they democratically elected Allende, a socialist. Freedom means being free to be socialist of you want to be. They were oppressed by the capitalist dictatorship of Pinochet. Capitalist dictatorship does not equal Democracy. I wasn't alive back then. I don't know what it was like during the Cold War with the McCarthyism and Red Scare, I realize this. I remember learning about it in history and thinking it was stupid, like people being scared of the boogie man. But this kind of political puppeteering by the U.S. makes me sick. The U.S. government funded a political genocide and is still funding war through the School of the Americas... just look that up I can't handle typing anymore.
Thank you, Santiago, for giving me my South America history fill. I truly hope we learn from this ugly history.
Citations: everything I have learned and created my opinions on were based on my walking tour guides' knowledge and the Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos
Travel tips in Santiago:
Hostal Bella 269- 9,000 pesos per night for dorm plus 10% discount with Get South
La Chascona - 4,000 pesos for a 45 minute tour of Pablo Neruda's house
Tours for Tips- free walking tour. Meets at Museo Bellas Artes. 10am for the off-beat tour. 3pm for the normal tour
La Emporio Rosa ice cream parlor- ranked 20th best ice cream in the WORLD
Puente Allemena- really good sandwiches, even visited by Anthony Bourdain
Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos - free to enter. 1,000 pesos for the audiophone