I had a remarkable and revealing exchange with a Cuban taxi driver when I was in Santiago, Chile last September. With today’s news about the re-establishing of relations between the United States and Cuba, I thought it a good time to post this.
Archives For Chile
Radio: Putting a leash on Santiago’s half-million stray dogs
People who live in Chile’s capital Santiago hardly notice them anymore. But as an outsider, you can’t miss the thousands of stray dogs all over the city.
I’ve visited my family there many times and the dogs are always there: on the corner, in the park, at the market rummaging through garbage, on the stoop in front of the shop. A shabby pack of strays has even made its home on the grounds of the presidential palace, La Moneda, downtown.
And no wonder. A recent survey found there are half-a-million stray dogs on the street in Santiago’s capital region.
Come along as I follow a team of veterinarians tasked with helping the government contain the exploding stray dog population and find out why the problem is so out of control.
This piece aired on CBC Radio’s As It Happens in July 2014.
Photo: My father, Francisco Urbina, in the corridors under the seats of Santiago's National Stadium, where thousands of political prisoners were held.
Radio: Black Box – breaking the silence of my father’s past
Last September, Chile marked the 40th anniversary of the military coup that toppled elected Marxist President Salvador Allende, on September 11, 1973. The coup led to 17 years of brutal dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet that deeply affected so many families, like my own.
The anniversary gave me chance to talk to my father about what had happened to him during that dark time, something he’d never talked about before with anyone.
My afternoon with the judge who put Pinochet on trial
The morning had been eventful enough. I’d just finished double-ending an interview for CBC radio’s The Sunday Edition and then conducted my own with former judge Juan Guzmán, the Chilean judge who prosecuted Pinochet for crimes against humanity in Chile. As our interview wrapped up, I made an off-hand comment that set me up for an amazing afternoon.
Selling on Santiago’s Alameda
The narrow streets and even narrower sidewalks of downtown Santiago give way to the breadth of the city’s main avenue, La Alameda. Ten lanes across, split down the middle by wide pedestrian islands, the Alameda is constantly bustling with activity, people surging onto the broad walkways from the metro line beneath.
It’s the nexus of business, government and transit for Santiaguinos moving through the capital’s downtown core. It’s also the perfect place for street vendors.
Click below to see more photos of the Alameda by day and by night.
Behind the article: Chile on the 40th anniversary of the coup
The image above is of an article I wrote for the CBC News website while in Santiago, Chile for the 40th anniversary of the country’s military coup, on September 11.
What struck me while I was there was the feeling of being in the midst of a month-long period of national catharsis, both of the people and of the country’s media outlets, an opening of wounds that were never given a chance to heal and a telling of stories that had never before been heard. And they poured out.
The morning of September 11, 1973, my father Franco Urbina — 16 years old at the time — went to school like any other day. Unlike other schools, however, the iconic National Institute was only a block from La Moneda, the presidential palace in the heart of downtown Santiago.
At 9:30 the headmaster informed the students that it was best if they all went home because something was going to happen. Young Franco didn’t know quite what to make of it and as other older students gathered to figure out what to do, he and a small group of classmates left the school.
Only steps away from the Alameda, downtown Santiago’s main avenue, the teenagers soon realized the gravity of the situation. Bullets had begun to whiz through the air and they quickly decided to go their separate ways and try to get home.
Pots and pans echo through Toronto as ‘casserole’ protest takes hold
The clanging of pots and pans rang through Toronto’s west end Wednesday night as an estimated 2000 people of all ages came out to march in support of Quebec’s student movement and against the province’s Bill 78.
“We were both inspired by what was happening in Quebec and we’d both spent some time there in the last couple of weeks,” said Leila Pourtavaf, one of the event’s organizers. “Coming back to Toronto we wanted to both show solidarity, but also recognize that austerity is not affecting only Quebec.”
Wearing red t-shirts, hats, jackets, accessories and the now famous red squares of the Quebec protest movement, people gathered at Dufferin Grove, a west end park, and began the percussive protest at the appointed 8 p.m.
From the outset, the protest had the makings of a family affair. Claudio, a native Chilean, attended with his wife and four-month old daughter. He noted that pots and pans protests were originally used against the Allende government in Chile in the early 1970s, and were later renewed during resistance to the Pinochet dictatorship.
Founder of Montreal pots and pans protest surprised by success
Hundreds of people stood at the corner of Beaubien and Christophe-Colomb in Montreal banging on their pots and pans Wednesday night to protest Quebec’s Bill 78.
“It’s a casserole frenzy here,” said François-Olivier Chené, the movement’s Montreal founder, speaking over the clamour as the crowd continued to gather near 9 p.m. – well past the 15-minute window suggested for the cookware protests.
The boisterous protests are a reaction to the Quebec government’s highly-contested Bill 78 that puts strict limits on public assembly and imposes stiff fines on protesters, among other measures aimed at putting a lid on over three months of student protests.
Quebec student protests echo movement abroad, as noose tightens
Note: This article originally appeared on OpenFile Montreal, to which this blog post linked for the full text. Since September 2012 OpenFile’s website has been “on hiatus” and the news organization shut down due to financial insolvency. Therefore, the full text of article is now posted below.
By day, then by night, they came out en masse to protest the cost of education. Months of protests only ended in increasingly violent episodes by the police baton, if not by the student’s stone, peppering a political landscape dominated by the student movement.
No, this isn’t Quebec. It’s the streets of Chile and the massive student uprising that has overtaken the country for close to a year now.
“The mobilization has been quite similar, but of course the tension at protests in Quebec has been toned down compared to Chile,” said José del Pozo, a Chilean native and professor of Latin American history at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQÀM). “Social conditions and historical and cultural factors in Chile mean that there is a greater degree of aggression towards the carabineros.”
And of course, in Quebec, there are no water cannons.
Still, in both places, marches brightened by costumes, sticky slogans and a festive air have given way to tear gas, broken glass and projectiles, as tens of thousands of students have flooded the streets in the biggest upheaval seen in decades.
This week the parallels multiplied as legislation to stymie protests was introduced Thursday and Quebec’s education minister, Line Beauchamp, resigned. Chile has pushed forward a proposed law that would impose severe penalties for public assembly and has already seen two education ministers expire in the heat of boiling student tensions, with corresponding cabinet shake-ups.
The pressure, however, hasn’t knocked Quebec’s three main student groups off balance. In Chile, “they had to build the unity of the movement to be able to go into the streets united and strong against the government,” said Marianne Breton Fontaine, a student at UQÀM who also believes unity has been “decisive” in Quebec because of the sheer number and diversity of student associations.
Breton Fontaine, a member of the Communist Youth League, had followed the Chilean crisis, but got to meet a central player when Camilo Ballesteros, one of the movement’s three original leaders, came to Montreal as part of a cross-country tour.
Ballesteros spoke to a group of over 100 students and members of the public at UQÀM about the origins of the Chilean movement and what they seek. “We demand free, accessible and quality education,” he told Breton Fontaine in an interview.
CLASSE, called the most radical of the student groups in Quebec, has also proposed moving towards free post-secondary schooling.
Ballesteros conceded that free university in Chile is not immediately possible, but that students want broader change in how public money is managed, insisting that Chile’s natural resource revenue must more widely benefit society.
Though, as Del Pozo argued, both movements’ demands are mainly economic, Chileans are facing tuition fees that shackle families with debt.
“In Chile tuition fees are triple what they are in Quebec and that’s in absolute terms,” stressed Del Pozo. Part of the problem is the privatization of Chile’s education system brought about by reforms introduced during the Pinochet dictatorship in 1981. Students argue this has made education a lucrative business. And with Chile’s gross domestic product (GDP) per person pegged as the lowest of the OECD countries, high tuition is salt in a large wound.
UQÀM masters student Simon Morin has written about the Chilean conflict in his political science studies. “We can’t understand what’s happening in Quebec without also looking elsewhere,” he said.
Like Jean Charest in Quebec, Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera has held a hard line. Concessions made to students this week and in April failed to inspire Chile’s students.
Public support, however, has not been comparable. Chile’s students have consistently held the support of a large majority of Chileans, whereas support in Quebec opinion polls has dropped after hovering near 50 per cent at the outset.
Public disturbances and clashes with police have not helped. Ballesteros has publicly denounced disturbances which seem to favour the student movement. Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, spokesperson for CLASSE, has seemed unwilling to do so.
And where has it all led in Chile? President Piñera’s approval rating hit record lows and stands at 24 per cent as of April with an election coming in 2013 and education the hottest issue among Chileans.
If their latest public plea is any indication, Quebec students want to negotiate. “Students want to participate in defining the solution, the conditions of the return to class and the management of university funds,” said Morin.
“In short, they want to participate in the society in which they hold a stake and the situation is very similar in Chile.”
Photo: Luis Fernando Arellano — Student march May 16, 2012, Santiago, Chile – High school and university students march, demanding free, public, secular and quality education.