Tag Archive | "Chile"

Chile: Villarrica Volcano Erupts, Thousands Evacuated

Villarrica Volcano erupts in Southern Chile (photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkovic)

Villarrica Volcano erupts in southern Chile (photo: EFE/Ariel Marinkovic)

The Villarrica Volcano, close to the town of Pucón, in southern Chile, erupted at around 3am this morning, forcing over 3,000 people to leave the area.

Chilean authorities decreed a red alert, as the volcano began spewing ash and lava up to 3km into the air. President Michelle Bachelet organised an emergency meeting at the government house, La Moneda, with the Interior, Defence, and Health Ministers and the director of the National Emergency Office, in order to gather all the information available and to coordinate the response measures, including the evacuation of 3,385 people in the towns of Pucón and Conaripe. The president also indicated she will travel to the affected area today.

Pucón mayor Carlos Parra said that “the volcano is completely passive” after the eruption which lasted for 20 minutes. By 4.30am the town was already “back to normal”, though the roads that link Pucón with Villarrica and Curarrehue remain closed. Classes have been suspended and various schools have been made available to house the evacuees.

The 2840m-high Villarrica volcano is located 780km south of the capital Santiago, in an area popular with tourists and hikers. According to the country’s Mining Ministry, its last major eruption was in 1985.



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Out Now: El Vals de los Inútiles

“This is a special moment,” announced Natalia de la Vega, Argentine co-producer of ‘El Vals de los Inútiles‘, to an audience gathered for the premiere of the documentary in Buenos Aires last Thursday. “The president of Chile has just signed off the first phase of education reform.”

Two days earlier, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet had approved key changes to Chile’s education system, adding an extra reason to celebrate at the showing of a film about the struggle for education reform.

Edison Cájas’ first feature film tells the story of Chile’s movement for free education through the experiences of two characters who took part in the “Maratón por la Educación” in 2011. Students calculated that it would cost US$1.8bn (or US$1,800m) to fund public education in Chile for a year, and as such committed to collectively running 1,800 hours around the Palacio de la Moneda, the house of the government in Santiago.


The evolution of the protest is presented through the eyes of 17-year-old Darío, a quiet high school student, and Miguel Ángel, 58, whose life revolves around tennis. De la Vega notes that in the film “you’re not going to see the well-known faces from the movement. We are interested in telling the stories of the regular people.”

The characters were deliberately chosen for their contrasting lifestyles: “All of the people had to sign up on a list to run. Darío was the youngest, and he interested us because he was a student at the Instituto Nacional de Chile, the most prestigious high school in the country. And Miguel Ángel was one of the oldest people on the list, and we knew that he had been tortured during the Pinochet era.” During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, which ran from 1973 to 1990, tens of thousands of people were illegally detained and tortured.

By repeatedly showing the everyday experiences of the two characters, interwoven with scenes of the runners, the film subtly illustrates the gradual building of the strength of the relay. The shot of the silent solo runner at night is followed by an image of other runners weaving through the crowded streets of the city by day, increasingly supported by car horns and clapping pedestrians. Slowly, the solo night runner transforms into a pack of runners, who continue even during the dark hours of the early morning.

The Waltz / El Vals de los Inútiles from 3boxmedia on Vimeo.

This kind of subtle repetition contributes to a sense of slow, persistent change that has characterised the student movement as a whole. Little by little, Miguel Angel and Darío become increasingly drawn into the movement. Initially, Miguel Ángel is hesitant to involve himself in the protests. His experience exemplifies the hesitation of the generation that lived under Pinochet to actively protest against the government. Gradually though, he begins to support the students and revisit his own past of torture and repression by the dictatorship.

In one of the rare moments in which he speaks during the film, Miguel Ángel tells his daughter the story of his own kidnapping and torture. “He hadn’t been able to tell his family until that moment,” says De la Vega of the scene. “He couldn’t do it before.” Through the film he demonstrates “overcoming fear, leaving fear behind when he sees something more important.” Despite the fear that still lingers from the Pinochet era, the students of Darío’s generation are able to speak freely. In this way the film offers a powerful insight not only into the current movement for free and accessible education, but also of the country’s broader progress since the return to democracy.


The day the activists run the final hour and complete their goal of 1,800 hours, the celebration is brief. The school that Darío and his classmates had occupied as part of the protest is cleaned, the floors mopped, and the students once again don their uniforms to return to classes. Despite the achievement of the marathon’s goal, the final scene leaves us with a feeling of the quiet, persistent fight, in which nothing really changes – but no one gives up. Although the ending leaves the viewer with a sense of an unfinished story, De la Vega points out that that is the intention. Despite the lack of closure “the film has a spark of hope, there is a light at the end”.

“When we finished filming, nothing had been done. For that reason it is called ‘El Vals de los Inútiles’ [The Waltz of the Useless]. The [current] reforms are good because, in some way, they give new meaning to the film.”

Pinochet’s regime eliminated free higher education in 1981, reducing the role of the state and moving control of education towards the private sector. As a result, even public universities charge tuition.

This creates an enormous financial burden on the part of Chilean families and the students themselves. According to a 2013 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 21.4% of primary and secondary education funding comes from private investment, the majority from families themselves. In higher education, 87.9% of expenditure comes form private sources. Middle- and lower-class students are especially punished by this system, as many barely finish their studies and are forced to begin working to pay their enormous debt. Protesters claim that in this privatised system, education has ceased to be a mechanism of social mobility, and instead reproduces and amplifies inequality.


Students argue that education should be free, especially when looking to their South American neighbour, Argentina, where education, including in the prestigious public universities, is completely free.

“Chileans saw us as a model for an educational system,” says De la Vega. “I come from a poor family, and if it weren’t for the public education in Argentina I would not be where I am now.” Her appreciation for the opportunity to study moved her to participate. “In this movement no student alone can affect these changes, but together we certainly can.”

On 27th January, two days before the documentary’s release in Buenos Aires, President Bachelet signed off the first part of her education reform plan, which had played a major part in her election campaign for a second term in 2013.

The changes approved include prohibiting schools that receive state support from charging fees. Additionally, the reform ends the admission process in primary and secondary schools based on previous academic performance, socioeconomic factors, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, or disability. The new law, which punishes violators with a fine, will come into effect on 1st March 2016.

“This is a victory but there remains much to be done. It’s a long process, and there are many more parts of the reform that have not yet been sanctioned,” explains De la Vega.

‘El Vals…’ is a welcome variation from more traditional offerings in the genre, which provide extensive explanation of the context and the main players. It seeks, through images rather than words, to give its audience an emotional view into the biggest protest in post-Pinochet Chile; a protest which, as De la Vega says, “is a great step”.

The film will be playing at Cine BAMA Roque Saenz Peña (Diagonal Norte) 1150 every day at 1.50pm and 7.20pm, and general entrance is $40. Learn about updates on the film’s Facebook page.


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Chile: Government Introduces Bill to Partially Legalise Abortion

President Bachelet introduces the bill to legalise abortion (photo: Chile's Interior Ministry)

President Bachelet introduces the bill to legalise abortion (photo: Chile’s Interior Ministry)

Fulfilling a campaign promise, president Michelle Bachelet signed on Saturday a bill to legalise abortion in specific cases.

The bill allows for the interruption of pregnancy up to the 12th week (or the 18th week for girls under the age of 14) in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is at risk, or when the foetus is “unviable”.

President Bachelet explained the “extreme situations” in which an abortion will be allowed: “The first cause is when the woman’s life is at present or future risk. The second has to do with the unviability of the embryo or foetus which suffers from congenital or genetic structural alterations incompatible with intrauterine life. Finally, the third is in cases of rape. In this situation, the woman or girl became pregnant against her will. It’s a brutal aggression against her dignity, which is why we can’t demand that she continues on with the pregnancy if she doesn’t want to.”

A diagnosis by one or two doctors will be necessary to carry out an abortion under all three circumstances. However, in cases where the mother’s life is at risk, an intervention can be carried out immediately. The bill respects the rights of the doctors -but not of institutions- who refuse to perform the procedure claiming a moral objection.

The Catholic Church has opposed the bill. Head of the Church, Ricardo Ezzati, threatened to take actions against the Catholic legislators who vote in favour: “If I’m a Catholic and I approve a doctrine contrary to my faith, that’s serious. I’m not saying it’s going to be excommunication in all cases or automatically,” he said, referring to the measures his church may take against them.

The rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile -one of the most prestigious in the country- Ignacio Sánchez, said that “if there are doctors of the Red UC [the university’s healthcare network] available to practise abortions, they will have to go work somewhere else.”

Currently, abortions are completely banned in Chile.

Also on Saturday, President Bachelet promulgated a gun reform law. The law increases the requirements to purchase guns, which will include physical and psychiatric evaluations, and the penalties against illegal possession of firearms.

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Chile: Congress Approves Same-Sex Civil Unions

LGBT groups in Santiago during gay pride (photo: Wikipedia)

LGBT groups in Santiago during gay pride (photo: Wikipedia)

After hours of debate, the Chile’s Civil Union bill was approved by 86 votes to 23, with two abstentions, in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday. The Senate passed the bill last year.

The new law will recognise the civil unions of couples living under the same roof, whether the couple is heterosexual or same-sex, and provides them with certain legal rights.

Many LGBT rights advocates argue civil unions are still a step away from full marriage rights, though grassroots groups in Chile have largely welcomed the Chamber’s decision as a step in the right direction.

Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBT advocacy group, praised the vote.

“We dedicate this day, this moment, to the gay and lesbian families that have suffered a historic burden of misunderstanding and prejudices,” he said in a statement. “Today it will be the state’s turn to strengthen them and protect them on equal terms.”

President Michelle Bachelet has stated she supports full marriage equality rights. When she began her current term in March 2014, she vowed to prioritise the civil union bill, but said marriage rights remain her long term goal.

Legislators also voted Tuesday to overhaul the country’s electoral system to make it easier for small parties to compete.


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Chile: Senate Approves Electoral Reform

Chilean Senators debate the electoral reform (photo: Chilean Senate)

Chilean Senators debate the electoral reform (photo: Chilean Senate)

The Chilean Senate approved a bill that changes the current electoral system from a binomial to a proportional system. The bill was passed after a 12-hour debate by 24 votes in favour, three against, and seven abstentions.

The current binomial system will be replaced by a moderate proportional system. Deputies will be elected in 28 districts (down from the current 60) of between three and eight seats each. The total number of deputies will increase from 120 to 155.

The size of the Senate will also increase, from 38 to 50. Each of the country’s regions will become an electoral district of between two and seven seats. Seats will be allocated using the D’Hondt method.

Other changes introduced by the bill include a quota for women, whereby at least 40% of the candidates in each ballot must be female, and the requirement for independents to obtain the support of at least 0.5% of the number of voters in the last elections in order to participate in the election.

The approval of the bill was celebrated by the government. “This allows us, after 25 years, to do away with an electoral system not used anywhere else in the world and which, of course, did a lot of damage to Chilean democracy,” said Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo, whilst Senate president Isabel Allende felt “hugely proud to be able to say that we have achieved something historic after 25 years.”

Senator Hernán Larraín, from the right-wing Unión Demócrata Independiente (UDI), lamented “having lost an enormous opportunity to make a change shared by all, an agreement by all political parties,” and considered the bill to be “mediocre” and favourable to the ruling Nueva Mayoría coalition.

The binomial system, which sought to strengthen a two-party system to the detriment of smaller parties, was established by dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1989. Under this system, only two candidates are elected by district, and the winning party needs 66.6% of the vote to obtain both seats; otherwise the second party takes the second seat.

The reform was passed by the Chamber of Deputies in August 2014, and will now return to the Lower House which will vote on the changes introduced by the Senate. According to the president of the Lower House, Aldo Cornejo, there should be no obstacles for the deputies to pass the bill on the 20th January sitting.

The new electoral system is expected to be implemented in the 2017 legislative election.


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Chile: Dakar Rally Pilots Arrested for Archeological Damage

Dakar rally route map (image courtesy of Dakar rally)

Dakar rally route map (image courtesy of Dakar rally)

Two Dakar rally pilots were arrested yesterday in Antofagasta, northern Chile, for wandering off the official trail and causing damage to an archeological site.

Italian motorcycle driver Matteo Casuccio and Dutch quad bike pilot Kees Koolen were detained by the Chilean Investigations Police at a resting camp, where they were staying after completing stage 5 of the rally. They were released after giving testimony, and will now have to appear before a judge.

The drivers explained that they got lost and crossed along a forbidden area, a route used by the Chilean army in the Pacific War, causing damage to an excavation site. “We didn’t mean to break anything and we apologise for what happened. It was just a mistake,” said Casuccio.

Casuccio and Koolen were allowed to continue on to the next stage in the race, from Antofagasta to Iquique, which took place today. However, doubt remains as to whether the Chilean judge in charge of the case will allow them to leave the country and cross over to Bolivia with the rest of the rally drivers on Wednesday.

The Dakar rally started in Buenos Aires on 4th January and will return to the city on 17th January, after completing 13 stages through Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. It is the seventh time the race is held in South America.

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Chile: President Sends Labour Reform Bill to Congress

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.

President Michelle Bachelet yesterday signed a bill to reform Chile’s Labour Code and replace the one adopted 35 years ago by General Augusto Pinochet. The bill will now be sent to Congress for debate, starting on 5th January.

The key reforms in the bill include an increase in the scope of collective bargaining rights to include apprentices and contracted workers, and more negotiating rights for labour unions. It also prohibits companies from replacing striking workers, a cornerstone police of the Pinochet regime, while also demanding that female workers are included in negotiations.

“We are settling a debt with Chilean workers,” said Bachelet. “Like any developing nation, there are matters pending, and the important things is to have the will to bring us up to date.

Bachelet added that the aim of the bill was for “Chileans to access better work, good salaries, fairer working relations, and for a more productive workforce.”

However, business leaders have criticised the proposed reforms. Andrés Santa Cruz, president of the Confederation for Production and Commerce (CPC), said it gives too much power to unions. “This is not a good reform for Chilean workers,” he told Diario Financiero. “They were too concerned with making union leaders happy.”

Mining firms also expressed concerns, especially over proposed new restrictions on the length of collective contracts that are common in the sector.

“We do not oppose changes to strengthen the country’s economic and social development, but we are concerned about legal modifications that could impact on the working environment, especially against a backdrop of slowing economic growth,” said Alberto Salas of the National Mining Society.

The new labour bill is part of a raft of reforms undertaken by President Bachelet’s administration since she won re-election in December 2013. Other major reforms have been introduced to the tax system, electoral code, and the education system.

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Chile: Government Announces Free University Education from 2016

Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo (photo: Wikipedia)

Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo (photo: Wikipedia)

Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo announced that Chile will provide free university education from 2016, heeding a demand that has mobilised thousands of students over the last few years.

“In March 2016 we’re going to start with free university education, we have the resources, because we passed the tax reform,” said Peñailillo.

The tax reform was signed into law by President Michelle Bachelet in September, and it will allow the Chilean government to collect the US$8.3bn necessary to finance the education reform and other social expenditure.

Talking to Radio Cooperativa, Peñailillo said that “education issues, facing inequality, they are the people’s main concerns and that’s what we’re working on as a government.”

He added that the country will face an interesting debate in 2015 about the meaning of the new public education that the people need and demand.

The announcement came a day after an opinion poll showed that support for the government dropped to 38%, in the midst of the debate regarding the education reform.

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Chile: Mine Closed over Environmental Concerns

Mine location map (image courtesy of SMA)

Mine location map (image courtesy of SMA)

Santiago de Chile’s Environmental Tribunal ordered that a mine in the district of Maipú be temporarily shut down on environmental grounds.

Court sources indicated that Minera Panales, located west of the capital, in the Santiago Metropolitan Area, posed an imminent threat to the environment. The measure to shut down the mine’s operations was requested by the Environment Superintendence (SMA), which stated the area where the mine is located is rich in “protected animal and plant species, and contains threatened and proportionally unprotected ecosystems.”

According to the supporting documents provided by the SMA, the company Minera Española Chile Limitada has been operating in the Quebrada de La Plata area for over four years without authorisation, and with two court sentences against it for illegal logging.

The court document detailing the suspension states that “the continuation of mining activities, due to its nature, extension and location, generates imminent environmental risks, which is particularly relevant when said activity is carried out in an area with the environmental characteristics previously mentioned.”

The mine will remain closed for 30 days. The suspension can be renewed upon request.


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Chile: Government and Opposition Discuss Changes to Anti-Terrorism Law

President Bachelet headed the meeting with representatives of the opposition (photo: José Manuel de la Maza/Chilean government)

President Bachelet headed the meeting with representatives of the opposition (photo: José Manuel de la Maza/Chilean government)

President Michelle Bachelet and Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo met with representatives of the opposition to discuss changes to the anti-terrorism law, in the aftermath of the bomb attack on the Santiago metro on Monday.

“A united country is always very important, because what some groups seek with these kinds of actions is not to destabilise a certain government, but to destabilise a democratic system,” said Bachelet.

During the meeting, which took place at the government house, La Moneda, representatives from parties across the political spectrum discussed the possibility of introducing changes to the national intelligence system and to give more power to the police. One of the main changes proposed by the government consists of defining an act as terrorist only if it was carried out by an organised group and not by a lone person.

“Today, the [opposition] parties have given us their word that they will fast-track [proceedings] in Congress so that Chile will soon have an efficient anti-terrorism law that’s been legitimised by society [and] a National Intelligence Agency with the right conditions and built within this political context,” said Peñailillo.

The minister also pointed out that the decision to modify the anti-terrorist law was not made after the Santiago bombing, but it is part of the government’s platform, and that a team of specialists has already delivered a report on the subject, which will soon be reflected in a bill.

The recent attack has left the country in a state of tension, with numerous false reports of bombs in the metro over the last couple of days. On Tuesday night, a home-made bomb exploded at a supermarket in Viña del Mar, injuring one person.

Within that context, the commemorations of the 41st anniversary of the coup that deposed president Salvador Allende were taking place in Santiago, with an official ceremony headed by President Bachelet at La Moneda and rallies on the streets. A total of 1,600 police officers were spread around the 38 points in the city defined as “critical”.

This morning, military organisations published an open letter in newspaper La Tercera defending the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet and criticising the judicial processes against those who participated in the dictatorship. “We salute all Chileans in the day that marks the foundation of 21st century Chile. The work of reconstruction carried out around the nation by the Armed Forces from 11th September 1973 onwards, is still recognised by those Chileans that love order and safety,” said the text.

The open letter was widely condemned by human rights organisations.

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24th March marks the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought Argentina's last dictatorship to power, a bloody seven year period in which thousands of citizens were disappeared and killed. Many of the victims passed through ESMA, a clandestine detention centre turned human rights museum

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