South American Sophistication

Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
Trip End Aug 01, 2007

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Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, June 10, 2007

He Said:

In our travels this past year we have been to a LOT of cities. Most have been dirty, corrupt and plainly unlivable. Santiago is far from all of that. Although other than a few museums and modest sites, is doesn't have much to offer the casual tourist. But with that in mind, Santiago is a city that I found totally livable. In a way it reminded me a bit of Kuala Lumpur, but without the huge shopping malls and with far less traffic!

In our 48 hours here in the central city we spent time wandering the varied shopping centers, strolling through the manicured parks, perfect neighborhoods, and soaking up the thoroughly European ambiance. The central square (Plaza de Armas) of the city has got to be one of the most animated and colorful places we have encountered on this trip so far. Santiago is vibrant, civilized, and interesting city. What it lacks in sites it more than makes up for in habitability.

Here is the obligatory history blurb to add a bit of context:

About 10,000 years ago, migrating Native Americans settled in valleys and coast of what is now Chile. The Incas extended their empire into what is now northern Chile, but the area's barrenness prevented much settlement. After Spanish colonization in the 1500's and their gradual degradation of power, Chile was proclaimed an independent republic in 1818. Of course all the usual turbulence followed that typically happens after a nation gains independence.

In 1970 in an attempt to address some of the dramatic social inequalities that had lingered for the 151 years following independence, a socialist government was elected led by Marxist Salvador Allende. His socialist programs and nationalization of U.S. and other foreign-owned companies led to increased tensions with the United States. The Nixon administration brought severe economic pressure to bear to restrict international credit to Chile. Simultaneously, the CIA funded opposition media, politicians, and organizations, and created a campaign of domestic destabilization. A CIA orchestrated coup overthrew Allende in September 1973 and a military government, led by General Augusto Pinochet took over control of the country. The first years of the regime had serious human rights violations. In 1973, at least two thousand people were executed during the first six months of Pinochet in office, and at least two thousand more were killed during the next sixteen years. Some 30,000 were forced to flee the country, and tens of thousands of people were detained and tortured.

Pinochet is yet another example of the credo "My enemy's enemy is my friend" that guided US foreign policy during the Cold War and brought the CIA to financially support all sorts of wonderful people (Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Contras to name a few). During Pinochet's nearly 17 years in power, Chile gradually moved away from state involvement, toward a largely free market economy. In election in 1988, General Pinochet was denied a second term as president and the military dictatorship finally came to an end issuing in a period of democracy that has continued to the present day.

She Said:

I first heard of Santiago playing the computer game "Where in the World is Carmen Santiago" when I was a kid. It always sounded so exotic and so far away. And yes, it is far away (same latitude as Cape Town, South Africa!), but I'm not sure about the exotic part. Santiago was extremely civilized, and at times I forgot where we were. It was difficult to pick up any "uniquely" Chilean culture, but that could be because we just didn't go to the right places. We did wander around the city on foot for about 8 hours and managed to climb to the top of a big hill called Cerro San Cristobal in the middle of the huge Metropolitan Park. There were impressive views of the city and the Andes Mountains from the top, as well as a giant Virgin Mary statue presiding over the city. Other than that, Barney was out in full force over the weekend (not Rubble, the big purple dinosaur). We ran into Barney selling balloon animals on the street three times in a two-hour period in completely different parts of town! How can Barney be in multiple places at the same time? Probably the same way Santa can deliver all those gifts in the same night!

Tomorrow we are off to Buenos Aires! Looking forward to eating meat, shopping, and being in a BIG city!
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