30 October 2008


Our time here is rapidly coming to an end. I just put my new Switchbacks on my skis so I really, really hope I have a chance to try them out at least once more before we leave. The prospects for my other two winter projects look dim. I'm not hopeful for the condition of the snow. We have a million other things to do so I'll also be forced to prioritize. Vamos a ver.

One thing I can find time to do is to reflect on what I will and will not miss about this country. And because, as a backcountry skier, I believe in pain before pleasure, I will start with a few of the negatives.

I will not miss:

1. Chile's social, cultural, political, and economic systems based on good ol' fashioned classism.

This insidious disease trickles down to almost every aspect of daily living and contributes to one of Latin America's greatest disparity between the rich and the poor. Skin, hair, eye color, and family names are the first and most obvious discriminatory springboards but this also affects the nation's health care and educational systems as well as incorporates itself into everyday words and expressions. Thus, public and private institutions are not only based on a rigidly delineated system of inclusion/exclusion but the same is true for the mundane concerns of day to day life; it's a part of the Chilean world view. It's a mentality and it is one that Chileans must work very hard to defeat.

2. los cuicos.

If there is one group of people who perpetuate class differences in this country it's the cuicos, or nouveau riche, or new-moneyed brats.

With no thanks to Salvador Allende, the Chile of 30-ish years ago was poor, poor, poor. Don Augusto put a swift and violent end to that. Under the General and his team of Chicago Boys the "miracle of Chile" worked and the country experiences one of the most stable and prosperous economies in the world. And that's great. Problem is, civility and culture aren't able to transition as quickly.


For a population that supposedly enjoys Chile's good life (expensive cars and homes, expendable income, leisure time, decent health care and education, mistresses and masters, etc), these are some of the most miserable, nervous, aggravated, uptight, pushy, and arrogant people I've experienced. And don't get me started on the self-righteous Opus Dei. Outside of their tan bodies, pressed shirts, and fast cars the only thing that seems to exist is their own sense of entitlement.

Definitely worse than the new rich we lived around in Guadalajara, Mexico, though that might be because the rich in Guadalajara are most likely criminals forced to keep a low profile. And, if it were not for the fact that the cuicos don't carry guns and aren't really physically dangerous, there would be a close race for the Most Insufferable People On the Planet award between them and the new rich of Kazakhstan.

3. Santiago.

Chile is a centralized country and all roads lead to Santiago. Nothing but nothing lives or dies if it isn't cleared through Santiago first. And the reality is that apart from agribusiness, tourism, or mining there is little opportunity for prosperity outside the capital city; people keep showing up here because there is not much to do anywhere else. This, like the problems associated with #1 above is part and parcel a legacy of Colonial Spain.

I've posted some pictures of Santiago's smog (as well as an excellent Lee Hazlewood song to go with it!) before so I won't repeat that complaint. Somehow, someway the problem with Santiago is much more than the pollution. Beyond the poor air (is there anything beyond air?), beyond the sprawl, congestion, and horribly segregated neighborhoods the problem with Santiago is that there is no here here.

Earthquakes have destroyed most of the city's historical buildings and modern development seems like it's about to destroy anything else of value. Shopping malls have replaced plazas and interesting neighborhoods are few and spread between sizable distances. The only thing convenient and efficient about Santiago is its metro system. Above ground, however, the city lacks (sorry about the cliché) a heart, something that holds all the fragments together. I suppose the assumption in a centralized nation is that the center is so exemplary, so dynamic that there is valid reason to throw all the resources into the pot. Here, I think, the opposite is true: Santiago represents the worst aspects of this dynamic country. Class divisions, competitive narcissistic stress, and, yes, an environmental disaster is what breathes below its contaminated haze.


Carlos said...

Hi Steve, and what about the positive things?! Not everybody is a "cuico" neither Chile is Santiago...Look forward to your additional negative comments and also the possitive ones.

steven hatcher said...

Pronto, Carlos, pronto. Thankfully, cuicos are in the minority. And though Santiago might think it´s Chile, Santiago no es Chile.