Last week while sitting at my desk at uni a man started singing, at the top of his lungs, to me…
There is famous song in Chile with my name in it… Te Recuerdo Amanda. After one of the ladies in the room sighed loudly and sharply spoke a phrase in Spanish, the singing came to an end and we all got back to work.
It turns out that the song, Te Recuerdo Amanda, is actually a sad song that is used as an emblem to mark the tough political journey Chile has had over the past fifty years. It is this very political journey that you cannot ignore while spending time in Santiago.
A Christian Democratic government sought to modernize Chile through the introduction of significant social reforms to address major disparities between the affluent and less-affluent citizens fifty years ago. By the time the next government lead by socialist Salvador Allende came into power, the nation had become polarised. It was during this time that political activist Victor Jara used his songs to tell stories of life in Chile from a communist perspective.
The song Te Recuerdo Amanda (one of his most famous) is a love song about Amanda and a factory worker, Manuel. Manuel however is a victim of the working class struggle and dies.
As if the song wasn’t sad enough, I’ve been told that the Victor Jara went on to be detained, tortured (along with tens of thousands of people), and murdered for his political activsm during the time of the September 1973 coup, where Augusto Pinochet took power (and he stayed in power until 1988).
I have discovered from my time in Chile that there are many people (especially the older generation) who are very proud of the Pinochet government that come into power at this time. They don’t like to call it a “dictatorship” as that is not how they view it. They see the Pinochet government as a savior from communism that helped lead to the vast economic development of Chile. This being said however, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who is proud of what happened to communist supporters such as Victor Jara.
There is also a very different and ever-present school of thought opposing the memory right winged Pinochet government. Everyday the sound of student protesters flood my inner-city apartment. Students both young and old are taking to the streets calling for education reforms because of an over privatization of education which is thought to be unfair for people of lower economic status. Check out a really great blog entry on this: Middle Class in Chile, Student Protests and More.
I am aware of my lack of knowledge on this topic however so am wise enough not to boast an opinion. What I do know however is that we’re 20 years on, and Chile has done a lot to develop both socially and economically. Trade agreements have been established with the European Union, the United States, South Korea, China, Panama, Peru, Colombia, not to mention the multilateral P4 trade deal that most kiwis will be familiar with, between New Zealand, Singapore and Brunei, and the current (democratic) government have made the goal to be the entrepreneurial hub of Latin America.
Yet, there are evident class divides in Santiago, I felt like I was in two different countries on the weekend, just from spending time in the areas of the city with varying social-economic standards. Los Condes, Santiago is a modernised suburb that has the feel of any clean modern city, whereas Puente Alto houses some people in shack-like buildings, and its residents have an ever present awareness of the dangers that lurk outside due to local hooligans.
Chile isn’t “there” yet – but it’s a country full of promise and amazing people who deserve nothing less but the best. One thing is for certain, Chile is a beautiful country and I feel that right now is an exciting time – and that it’s only going to get better.