Friday, October 29, 2010

Inconvenient truths: The Chilean story we did not hear in the media

John Pilger in the New Statesmen, Antonio Castillio in New Matilda  and Malcolm Coad and Patricio Navia in Open Democracy write about some of the inconvenient truths about Chile that were not heard during media coverage of the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners.

The writers acknowledge that the extraordinary rescue of the miners was filled with pathos and heroism , but told only partial truths about contemporary Chile.

Navia writes that Chile has achieved much since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship in 1990. The credit for these achievements lies with four consecutive centre- left governments which governed Chile from 1990-2010. However, Navia writes that Chile faces major challenges, particularly its high levels of social and economic inequality, poor quality of public education, poor safety and labour market standards and poor working conditions experienced by the great masses of Chileans. Navia, like Pilger and Castillio argues that Chile's treatment of Indigenous people (Mapuche) continues to be a blight on the country.

Pilger, Coad and Castillio write that the mining disaster was a consequence of a private industry with an appalling safety record and an economic system that has changed little since the dictatorship of General Auguste Pinochet. In 2009 there were 191,000 recorded workplace accidents and 443 fatalities . Miners die because because safety is ignored and the mining companies put production and earnings above all else.

The mine in which the Chilean miners were entombed had previously been closed due to safety concerns and in the months before the disaster concerns were expressed about serious safety deficiencies, however no action was taken. The day after the rescue another miner lost his life in a nearby accident.

As John Pilger (and others such as Naomi Klein) remind us, the current Chilean economic system that contributed to the mining disaster was largely the consequence of the free market experiment imposed on Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, with the support and advice of free market economists associated with Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago.  The consequence is that Chile has one of the most unequal distribution of wealth in the world.

Castillio writes that the current Chilean President Sebastien Pinera was a major beneficiary of the policies of the Pinochet dictatorship. Pinera is a billionaire financial speculator who made his fortune during and after the Pinochet military dictatorship from privatized industries such as energy, mining and retail. His brother was a senior Minister in the Pinochet dictatorship with responsibility for privatization of state owned assets. His right wing coalition includes political parties that supported the Pinochet dictatorship, although Pinera opposed it.

Castillio tells us that  a number of the rescued miners were themselves victims of the Pinochet dictatorship's terror campaign. The miners had lost parents, grandparents and family members who were executed by roaming death squads during Pinochet reign's of terror.

While the mine rescue has fostered a strong sense of national unity, none of the writers are optimistic about the likelihood of significant renewal and reform to address the long standing and entrenched social, economic and political inequalities in Chile.

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