Chile and patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel

It was originally conceived as an inkling of Chilean “ressentiment” when our guide in the Atacama desert raged against Bolivians and when, three weeks later, in Pichilemu, a beach resort town in central Chile, a hotel waiter thought it apt to accuse the same neighbour of deceitfulness when he babbled the following – what has revealed itself as being – biased laden tripe:

A Bolivian is having a party and he asks a Chilean if he could rent him a couple of tables for a couple of days. They agree on a price and the Chilean supplies him with the tables. Two days later the Chilean goes to collect the tables, but when he arrives and asks for them the Bolivian tells him that they were sold to him and that they are now his.

“La patria” is writ large in Latin America and there, as indeed anywhere else where  the “dulce et Decorum est” drivel holds sway, it purposely sets about preventing any cognitive processing that might lead to an objective conclusion. In other words, what do the guide in the Atacama and the waiter in Pichilemu know about the War of the Pacific, which started in 1879 and finished in 1884 with victory for Chile and that country’s acquisition of territory from both Peru and Bolivia? An acquisition that left Bolivia without a coastline.

Of course, such ignorance is hardly unique to Chile, or indeed to Latin America and stuffing people’s heads full of shit is a useful ploy by elites all over the globe. In a world where Samuel Johnson’s adage “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” remains pertinent, the “never forget national humiliation” narrative seduces the masses in our “three wee monkeys” middle kingdom, while Donald Trump’s “America first” policy strikes a chord with, perhaps, the majority of Americans.

And what does it all mean? Well, almost one hundred years after Wilfred Owen’s war, “the war to end all wars” , not only do we know that the wars never really stopped, but we also know that they are still fueled by the same old lie dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” and behind that old lie is still the same biased laden tripe. And would it not have been a waste of time had someone pointed our waiter in Pichilemu to a link which shows that it might in fact have been the Chileans who were the thieves?

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No flat white coffee in Valdivia and difficult to find one in Valparaiso

IMG_6137Llanquihue in Chile’s los Lagos region to Valdivia is little more than a two-hour drive and it sort of mirrors the experience you might expect if you were to set off from a little village in the Cotswolds and end up in the centre of Birmingham. Possibly being a little unfair on Valdivia, but then my expectations were hijacked by a Chilean of German descent who described it as being “sehr schön”.

With its dilapidated buildings, obvious lack of public investment and poor infrastructure, it is not unlike many other Chilean cities away from the richer suburbs and, even if this might hold true for some Western European cities, it is the predominant malaise that extends to the town centre that accentuates the difference that you might find between a Burnley and Bath. In the main city square attempts to attract tourists give way to locals, sometimes employable and sometimes not, occupying benches, whiling away the time. With a bottle of booze, unmanageable debt, or nothing at all, it is “siempre mañana” for many.

The flight north and Valparaiso has brought a contrast. The poverty is still evident, but, even if, here and there, there are posher cafes and restaurants, this is a city of no illusions. But, then we should have no illusions too. The character is retained, there is an obvious left-wing culture, a proud working class, and a plethora of bars and cafes that cater to those who know how to have a good time within their means. However, the process of gentrification is underway and one wonders what the readily available flat white will really cost when it prevails in a couple of years time.

Still, perhaps, South America’s major port should be grateful. After all, unlike Valdivia, it will have the option of the flat white culture. Yes, maybe it is much of a muchness in this neo-liberal world of winners and losers. “Ten thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire”, and “yesterday’s paper, telling yesterday’s news”, but no flat white in the Valparaiso Cafe pictured above.

 

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Conversation in Chile and rentier capitalism

Castro on the island of Chiloé is a pleasant little town and, despite the occasional dilapidated building, the town appears quite prosperous. As usual, it is the targeted conversations that reveal a different picture and when you are informed that the country’s minimum wage is about US$ 400 per month and you are told that possibly half of Chile’s working population live on that you cannot help but wonder if the girl’s smile at the Unimarc checkout disguises some very real “Ängste”.

It is, of course, the same the whole world over, and in neo-liberal Chile running up debt is the only solution. Have a look here Europe, if you want to see what they have in store for us. And in a country where the “clever guy” President had an idea, an idea that we had in Europe a long, long, time before he did. In other words, he didn’t really have an idea at all, but he did introduce credit cards to the country and he gets a little, little, bit of every transaction and ends up making an awful lot of money from nothing.

Indeed, with Capitalism seeking its saviour worldwide in rentier capitalism and the departure from adding any real value to anything, a cursory look at a couple of very real aspects of the  Argentinian and Chilean economies, which are being held up as examples by the IMF and the World Bank, needs to be taken.

Productive capitalism and adding value is practically non-existent in Chile, and is only a small part of the Argentinian economy. The elite, who see Communists, at every turn, import whatever is in short supply in the country and sell it on at a substantial profit, or they simply sell off the country’s raw materials and pocket the money. Or, they get really clever and introduce credit cards into the country and then become the billionaire president of the country. Oh, that sounds familiar and, while this one is in office for a second term, we can at least hope that the guy a few thousand miles to the north east of this rather beautiful country will be denied that privilege.

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Chile, stupendous scenery, and the Chicago Boys stopping me getting a decent coffee

These are only observations, but the prices being charged in Chile are similar to those in Western Europe, but the service is not. Moreover, while the stupendous scenery does more than compensate for the lack of infrastructure, the poor roads, public services, and abscence of good coffee, should still be mentioned.

The mandatory hike in and the more comprehensive tour of Torre del Paine have been completed and today is being spent walking around Puerto Natales. A pleasant surprise at the bus station where a real coffee barista trying to eke out a living served a real flat white and the smile returned to ego’s face after a confrontation with the over-expensive “hot water, sold as coffee” that has a monopoly outside of Santiago.

The purveyor spoke fluent English too, which is quite an anomaly in Chile, where the lack of skills in any second language is right up there with the Anglo-Saxons, and the conversation moved to me asking why he doesn’t set up down town in Puerto Natales? The rents, it would seem are prohibitive and it would appear that it is going to be very difficult for a poor man to break into a wealthy man’s market, even where he is offering a better “mousetrap”.

Again, only observations, but with camping in Torres del Paine costing $100 US per night, with the couple of cafes in Puerto Natales either serving hot water as coffee, or refusing to serve it without food, with extremely poor roads going into and out of the park, it would seem that there are a lot of people here in Chile making money without really doing anything for it.

Of course, those people will tell you that is an example of the Chicago boys capitalism working, instead of realising that with bad public transport systems, no comprehensive medical care, second-rate services, poor infrastructure, and no easy access to a flat white, it is in fact an example of why that model doesn’t work.

Still, the scenery shown in the picture does ease the pain of the bumpy roads, make you forget you haven’t had your morning dose of caffeine, and, yes, turn a blind eye to all those people doing “nada de nada” and lining their pockets. At least while on holiday.

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Reflections on Chile during five days with no internet

This was written on December the 29th. On the 24th the plane from Calama arrived in Punta Arenas after a change-over in Santiago and a total of some five and a half hours flying time. On Christmas Day the boat set sail on a trip which would round Cape Horn and mean five days and nights without an internet connection.  It wasn’t missed and the Bitcoin price, the football results from Ibrox and Celtic Park, the continual FaceTime, WhatsApp, and WeChat messages, and the daily drivel from ‘The Guardian’ all paled into insignificance against the backdrop of this, that, and the next glacier and what is probably some of the most stupendous scenery on the planet.

Time for a chewing of the cud, and with no access to cutting and pasting various bits of the “no news” news, a cognitive processing of what might be important based on observations. Santiago would be a good place to start and in what is more, or less, a first world city, the copybook is blotted by the occasional shanty town, beggar, and the hordes of poor that descend on your car offering something or the other, even if it is only the hope that they can clean your windscreen for a few pesos. Still, that is essentially similar on the old continent and it would be difficult to detect anything too different in Barcelona, London, or even Munich.

The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting well, if not poorer, which would be almost impossible, more in number. Still, what you invariably still have in Europe are bits of a safety net that does get most people access to a doctor, an education of sorts, and a basic income which, even if it is hardly enough to live on, does ensure that the short sharp shock many Chileans might be exposed to doesn’t quite happen, or at least not in the same way. The geographical extremes being experienced here, have an economic parallel.

Nevertheless, as stated, that might be a difference in kind only and the increasing homeless and alienation to be found in the Europe go a long way to indicate that a variation of the theme “Chile” is on the doorstep. However, to reiterate, when you get away from the hopelessly desperate and destitute, the access in most European countries to basic health care, pensions, an education of sorts, and, in most cities, a good public transport system, can sometimes alleviate the worst effects of the spectre of neo-liberalism that is roaming the planet.

Santiago, a modern and developed city, and deep pockets are needed for a “decent” school, the city’s metro doesn’t reach the outlying suburbs, doesn’t even get to the airport, has no facilities for the physically challenged, and the public buses are on a par with those that might be found in Lagos, or Addis Ababa, but certainly not Edinburgh, or San Francisco. The native elite might genuinely believe that spreading their money about a little for the public good will conjure up “Communist” ghosts of the Allende past, but one must suspect that the two cars in the garage in their plush suburb home, and an element of greed, has culminated in a weird understanding of what community could and should mean. Chile might be held up by the neo-liberals in Washington and the IMF as a model of sorts, but it is not a model that Europe should tolerate.

 

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bonkers Britain to issue new passports

After the supposed concessions made to the EU, the British government can think of nothing better to buoy up the Brexiteers than tell them that they will be getting little blue passports once the UK leaves the European Union. Of course, the news coming from litte England has about as much relevance as the “piece of paper” referred to in Neville Chamberlain’s speach from the 30th September 1938, which is just about where the heads of those who voted to leave the union still are.

Indeed, the news that such a move might move Brits to the back of the queue when it comes to crossing their neigbours’ borders, will not worry these morons one bit. After all, for the most part the Brexiteers sole trip to the continent consists of a package tour once a year, if at all. In the meantime, we all make our own arrangements for our impending D-day, with “Ulster’s” unionist community secretly smug that they can all access a European passport and those of us who have spent most of our time living on the continent taking steps to get hold of a second passport where possible.

Back to bonkers Blightly though and your heart really must go out to a younger generation that for the most part voted to stay in the EU and who will now be second class citizens in their own continent.

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Chile, Piñera wins, and living the story

img_0184.jpgA few weeks are being spent in Chile and once again BBC World is actually being accessed. A lot of promoting their own drivel and for the busy beaver who cannot find the time to tune into worthwhile news the “live the story” narrative might not be questioned. The story, however, is to be found simply by opening your eyes wherever you are.

In Hong Kong there are pensioners collecting used cardboard in order to live, while just up the road from there in the “three wee monkeys” mainland you will find a picture of Mao grinning down at you in a hovel, while in a private conversation, in a better part of one of China’s first tier cities, a member of what is a rapidly expanding privileged elite, will tell you in no uncertain terms that he, or she, doesn’t really believe the shit that is spouted out in Beijing. And is there any point in informing the head of the hovel that while “Mr 70% good, 30% bad” was running the show, it was they in particular who were shafted?

The news here is that Sebastián Piñera has just won the presidential election and after a televised meeting with Alejandro Guillier, his opponent, he has stated that “Chile needs dialogue and collaboration more than confrontation” . Of course, even ignoring the par for the course soundbites, this is indeed hollow hyperbole and the few short conversations and fleeting observations made inform me that the rich will indeed continue to get richer, and the poor poorer. Or, has something been missed in the observation of the up-market cars bedecked in Chilean flags driving through the Barrio Lastarria this evening.

No, nothing will change, until, of course, the shit really does hit the fan, but then that is no different in Hong Kong and mainland China, indeed, it is the same the whole world over. Moreover, it is not something you need to get from one of the BBC’s “live the story” pseudo journalists. Free health care, free education, sound social security systems, a retreat from neo-liberalism and wreaking havoc on the environment might save the day, but again it might be expected that none of those things will happen until the shit really does hit the fan and by that time it will probably be too late.

The picture is of another “loser”, this time in Santiago de Chile, another essentially rich city.

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