Reports from Argentina
hanging out in Chile
Posted: Feb. 21 2003, 00:37Well I made it to Santiago de Chile.
I never realized this before, but Chile is just one long mountain range with a few scattered cities in the valleys. I don't think you can look anywhere without seeing some gigantic mountain.
If I had to compare Santiago to any place I've ever been, I'd say Albuquerque, New Mexico. What's that? You've never been to Albuquerque, New Mexico? Bad comparison I guess. Santiago is hot, almost as hot as Buenos Aires, but much drier. There's a pretty constant breeze and at night it gets damn cold.
The trip was actually pretty nice. It took almost exactly twenty-four hours, but the bus had comfortable seats, multiple meals, a bus-flight attendant, and a showing of the Brad Pitt classic "Spy Game."
In Buenos Aires and especially in the provinces of Argentina, it's easy to tell that you're not in Kansas anymore. Everywhere you see people begging for money, whole families rummaging through garbage, and children selling batteries or pens in the subway.
Not so in Chile. Everything is shiny and modern. The subway is brand new, the restaurants are trendy, SUVs are all over the place. My compañeros assure me poverty is widespread in Chile too – the difference is that Chilean cities are laid out in such a way so that the rich can go through their day without ever coming into contact with the poor. So far I've only been in middle-class and bourgeois neighborhoods, and everything I've seen could be taken straight out of any affluent American suburb.
On the bus I was seated next to an American who had been to Argentina several times over the last few years. He assured me that in 2000 Buenos Aires was just the same as Santiago is now. "If there was any difference between Buenos Aires and some Italian metropolis, it's that Buenos Aires was more expensive." The youth of the Argentinian middle class used to be fanatical about clothing and – at least according to this guy – would go through three different shirts a day. And everybody had a cell phone, just like in Europe.
You don't see much of that anymore. Now the "normal people" (middle classes) can't afford to travel outside the country, can't afford computers or TVs, can't even think about getting a car. If you look at anybody's CD collection, you can see no CDs were bought in Argentina since 2001.
Chile is still doing fine by comparison. The politicians like to pretend this is the "Switzerland of the Americas," totally immune to the economic plagues of the continent. But the signs are there: rising unemployment, shrinking GNP, reduced exports. It's only a matter of time till an Argentinazo comes to Chile, and all the cell phones, trendy clothes, and nice cars go bye-bye. It's happened in every other South American country, and there's no reason it won't happen here.
The party in Chile, Clase Contra Clase, is much smaller than the PTS. I'm not sure it can even be called a party – it's really just a propaganda group with limited influence at the university and in the schools.
But tomorrow I will have a meeting with some of the compañeros to talk about our respective groups. So I'll report more then. One interesting thing I've noticed is that almost everyone in the group has parents who were in exile during the Pinochet regime. Not sure what about the group attracts this type of exile-children...
– Dzhon Rid
p.s. I've noticed there aren't nearly as many internet cafes in Santiago as in Buenos Aires. Why? Millions of Argentinians have lost their computers and even their telephones in the last year (30% of all telephones were disconnected in 2002), so they have to go to internet cafes just to make a local call!